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Terrorism and religious tastes

The spate of attacks spurred by religious extremism is growing at an alarming rate. As Muslim believers the world over observe the sacred month of Ramadan, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya worries about the recurring need for revenge that religious hate can inspire.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear on ThobelaFM, a South African radio station broadcasting in Northern Sotho, that they chose to feature a Halaal dish as the recipe of the day, as it is Ramadan.

This might sound trite to those who don’t know how SA’s public broadcaster operates.  It is really more of a state broadcaster than a public broadcaster, and has historically been the extension of the apartheid state’s “Christian nation” narrative.

The decision makes for a remarkable change, or a movement towards a change, to the attitude held by many in South Africa that Islam is “an Indian religion”. Being from Soweto, I cannot count the number of times I have heard people give directions to places around the two Soweto mosques, referring to the landmark as “the Indian church”.

ThobelaFM’s choice to acknowledge Ramadan and use their platform to deal with the ahistorical and distorted ideas of what Islam is, who is a Muslim and what seasons Muslims hold in high regard is therefore worth celebrating.

If looked at on its own, it might be a small an insignificant gesture by the radio station. But in a world where religious intolerance is at a high, as it is, these small steps can go a long way towards demystifying the faith of others.

Four people were killed and a statue of the Virgin Mary was destroyed when Islamic terrorists attacked parishioners during a religious procession in the West African state. 

In the last week, 10 people have been killed in separate attacks on Catholics in Burkina Faso.

International news channel CNN reported that unidentified men had stopped a group of Catholic worshipers during a parade, set children free and then killed four adults. They then burned the statue of the Blessed Virgin.

Two days earlier, gunmen opened fire on worshippers in a Catholic church in Dablo in the central part of the country, killing six people including the parish priest.

Religious intolerance and violence hit a new low over the Easter period when Islamic terrorists killed more than 250 people attending Easter Mass in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Last week Sri Lankan Catholics returned to places of worship for the first time since the attack but it was clear that things are far from being back to normal.

The Guardian reported that police stood guard at every entrance to Lucia’s Cathedral and those attending Mass had to go through full body searches and were banned from bringing in bags. Troops patrolled the surrounding areas on motorbikes.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that someone out there might be possessed by the misguided belief that the Catholic Church is under siege and takes upon themselves the duty to avenge, as we saw in New Zealand when a white supremacist killed 50 Muslims in two Christchurch mosques.

That is why Christian leaders in general and Catholic ones in particular need to send a clear and unambiguous message on the futility of violence and hate.

Pope Francis’ words, telling those still wounded and hurting in the aftermath of the Sri Lanka attacks that they needed to forgive, must hold true for Burkina Faso as well.

“Jesus inserts the power of forgiveness into human relationships. In life, not everything is resolved with justice,” the Pope said.

“Especially where we must put a barricade against evil, someone must love beyond what is necessary, to start a story of grace again. Evil is familiar with its revenge, and if it is not interrupted it risks spreading and suffocating the whole world.”

The Holy Father called on Catholics to go “above and beyond” loving and forgiving others even when they felt this was undeserved.

Forgiveness is essential for our own healing but self-reflection must take place if we are to create a society that acknowledges and respects the plurality of beliefs. 

Greater religious dialogue and cooperation on matters that do not require ideological considerations such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless can go a long way towards fostering interfaith relations.

That however cannot be all. Our tongues and pens can sometimes be the precursor to the bombs and bullets. 

Religious intolerance that later grows into violence often starts off with the language we use. For some people, it is easier to see the death of a kafir or an infidel because they have already labelled them as something lower than human.

Christian language is not altogether blameless. The view held by some Catholics to this day that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, extra ecclesiam nula salus in the Latin, breeds the same kind of extremist religious hate as the language used by the likes of Isis. 

So as we make sense, if ever it is possible to understand such extreme acts of hate, of the Burkina Faso attacks, the best tribute we could pay to the victims, would be to do what we can with what we have. We need to build a world that is more like the food they were preparing on the radio show: more inclusive of our religious tastes.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

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