Attacks on houses of worship remind people of faith of their duty to demonstrate to the unbelieving world, the virtues of tolerance, patience and compassion in a world filled with hate, intolerance and self-righteousness, says.
No self-respecting atheist would conclude their attack on people of faith by neglecting to point out that human history is replete with examples of wars fought in the name of one or another god. They would say, that although atheists like Pol Pot and Stalin caused human misery, they were not doing so in the name of their faithlessness.
The attack this week at the Malmesbury mosque in Cape Town coming as it does after another attack at a Durban mosque in May, and both looking like they were perpetrated by fellow worshipers or people pretending to be, would be a gift for the enemies of faith.
Police have warned about jumping to conclusions regarding motives for the attacks.
Still, the human mind does not operate on what authorities suggest to be the best move. Rightly or wrongly, fears of terror attacks perpetrated by those who operate under the name of a religious organisation have arisen.
The attack has raised fears that the religious community might be under attack. If the faithful can be attacked at a Mosque, what would stop such people from attacking believers at a church, a synagogue or a temple?
It is in such circumstances that prejudices against Muslims and Islamophobia thrive. It is also a time when Muslims, or in this case a particular strain of Islam, could be led to feel that they are under siege from enemies of their faith.
The attack in Malmesbury gives the diverse faith community an opportunity to rally together, affirming that the differences in their various traditions, practices and rites should not be used to create divisions between them.
As the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies said of the attack, “there can be no justification whatsoever for the loss of life at a place of worship. […] Mosques, Churches, Synagogues and all places of worship are sacrosanct and must be places of safety.”
With the rise of Christian fundamentalism in South Africa and throughout the world, statements such as this one by the Jewish Board of Deputies go a long way towards reclaiming the ground that has been lost with the growing noise of religious zealotry.
It is not unusual to hear or read those who claim to be Christians, speak ill of people of other faiths and blame them for whatever social or natural disasters and in the process justify the view of secular fundamentalists that religious people are dangerous and unthinking.
In what could now be seen as a prescient speech, former South African Ambassador to the United States of America, Ebrahim Rassool speaking to Muslim leaders at the launch of the Cape Accord in May warned against the tendency for one group to believe that its understanding of faith was the only valid way of seeing the religious texts.
Rassool further encouraged his audience to not rush into making assumptions about others just because they did not look like them nor belonged to the same religious groups.
“We recognise that we live in a world of diverse faiths, languages, colours, ethnicities and creeds […] and we can learn to co-exist with others.”
Though Rassool was speaking to fellow Muslims, and as a fellow Muslim, his words are also relevant to people of other faith traditions.
Rassool reminded his audience that humans were created with the capacity for intelligent speech. “Denouncing each other is not intelligent speech, mocking each other, labelling each other, distorting what the other stands for is not intelligent speech,” said Rassool.
Denouncing those who used Islam to wage geopolitical battles, recall how an Islamic sect that had sought to abrogate itself of the right to decide who was Muslim and who was not, eventually caused the wars that ended with the expulsion of Muslims from present-day Spain in 1492.
Again, this is appropriate for all religious communities who today believe themselves to be the sole custodians of deciding who the children of God are. Instead of building bridges between people of different faiths, such individuals and groups exaggerate differences between religious communities and use any opportunity they can to fan the fires of religious intolerance.
Religious coexistence thrives and secular fundamentalism is pushed back when everyone, regardless of their beliefs, recognises that irrespective of what name a community might give to their deity, any place where the name of God is exulted should be regarded as holy ground.
Anyone who in the name of defending that space, creates further animosity and division should not be called a friend of the faithful.
“Who runs to the fire with petrol except for the mischief makers? Good people run to the fire with water or a fire extinguisher,” asked Rassool.
Indeed, who does do that?
Image: The Jamia Mosque/Labeed Ahmad (Wikipedia)