Religion and terrorism are certainly mutually contradictory terms but religious terrorism is a historical fact and no religious community has been an exception to this phenomenon. In recent years we have witnessed all sorts of terrorist activities carried out by believing Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and others not only against the believers in other religions but also among themselves in the name of religion and in the name of God who we all believe is the most compassionate and merciful to his creation.
Academic analysis point to a multiplicity of reasons for religious terrorism, including literal understanding of scriptures, fundamentalism, perception of Truth as exclusivity, fear of the other, missionary passion, Jihad, and so on. But it is not only in the battlefield, we become religiously aggressive even in day to day debates. Among them two factors are worth the attention of world leaders: role and place of religion in modern secular contexts and politics of global supremacy.
We are ling in the twenty first century but our international relations are still defined in terms of allies and enemies. If some Muslims promote the doctrines of Jihad, Sharia, and religious terrorism for political dominance, others also rely on wars, weapons, pre-emptive strikes and regime changes for hegemonic objectives. We still live in fear of each other. We insist on separation between religion and politics but we still regard and use religion as a weapon. We wish to forget our past histories of religious wars but we promote our respective ideologies with religious passion.
In his article about the debates on some gender issues in the United States, Henry G. Brinton recalled in 2011 that “The Bible is too often invoked in today's political battles, just as it was employed during the Civil War, which erupted 150 years ago” . He remembers George Washington’s warning written 70 years earlier that "Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause."
Why? Because the religious argument frequently rests on the belief that God is on the side of the speaker. The problem is also the perception that true religion is the one to which the speaker adheres. Even though the globalized world calls for peaceful co-existence, dialogue and cooperation we have not been able to decide how to dialogue with religion, how to co-exist with multiple religions and how define separation of politics from religion.
The religious fundamentalists are most often so enchanted with their own rhetoric of interpreting scriptures that they do not realize how they have suppressed the hope of peaceful co-existence. In the words of the Qur’an: “when it is said to them, ‘Make not mischief on the earth", they say, "But, we only want to make peace!” (Al-Qur'an, 2:11)”
Almost all believers strongly believe that God is on their side. I think this is what faith also demands. But I would like to point to the other more important side of the faith. Henry Brinton who I mentioned a short while ago reminds us of Abraham Lincoln who countered his opponents saying, "My concern is not whether God is on our side. My greatest concern is to be on God's side."
I am not competent to speak on other scriptures. Let me quote from the Qur’an on the question who may be on God’s side. The Qur’an dismisses the claims of various religious groups that they were God’s favourite people. They say, “We are the sons of God and his beloved. God responds, “Nay, you are but humans that he has created”… (Qur’an 5:18) . These groups also claim: "The Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days:" God responds, Say: "Have ye taken a promise from Allah, for He never breaks His promise? Or is it that ye say of Allah what ye do not know?"(Qur’an 2:80). The verse then denies any such promise made by God to them and repeats the phrases that stress on God’s impartiality.
The Qur’an warns all believers using similar phrases about his impartiality saying, “O ye who believe! If any from among you turn back from his Faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him” (Qur'an, 5:54). The Qur'an explains, "Because Allah will never change the grace which He hath bestowed on a people until they change what is in their (own) souls: and verily Allah is He Who hears and knows all (Qur'an, 8: 53).
The Qur’an clarifies that mischief is not favoured by God. “Mischief has appeared on land and sea because of humans” (Qur'an, 30:41). Because, “ We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people” (Qur'an 5:32).
The Qur’an prescribes, “O ye who believe! stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear God. For God is well-acquainted with all that ye do (Qur'an 5:8). The Qur’an repeatedly mentions the qualities of character that he favours and the vices that he condemns. I will not go into those details. Let me conclude that the Qur’an teaches about the common goal and shared values of all religions. It calls all religion to come together. Preach peace, justice and human welfare. All religions denounce religious terrorism. We must share common grounds for combatting all types of terrorism. It is our particular responsibility to not only to refute but also to find ways to eliminate terrorism. We must work together to remove misunderstanding, fear, and hatred against each other, especially that is justified on religious ground. We should not indulge in debates on whose side God is, but we as religious persons should be questioning ourselves whether we are on God’s side.