Both Muslim and Christian leaders are focusing on the aftermath of the war in Iraq, warning that Chrisitan-Islamic relations may suffer. As reported by several media on March 30, Pope John Paul II has expressed fears that the war might lead to a “religious catastrophe,” possibly sparking off a wider confrontation between Christianity and Islam.
In those parts of the world where tensions already exist, they might still increase, he added. Those fears have been echoed by Anglican Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal, a Palestinian Christian, regarding the situation in the Middle East: he has expressed fears that the war could have a devastating effect on Christian presence in the area, since the war is perceived by a significant number of people in the Middle East as a “crusade” against Islam, according to Ecumenical New International (March 21). BBC reporter Martin Asser confirms that Christians in Jordan are worried as they see their Muslim neighbors becoming suspicious toward them (March 24).
The fact that a significant number of Christian leaders around the world have spoken against the war has been reported in Muslim countries, but not everybody seems to understand the variety of views on such issues found within the Christian world.
Despite the widespread feeling that Muslims shouldn’t participate in the war against Iraq, not all Muslim clerics accept the idea of a “jihad” against America. Leading Muslim authorities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt stressed that anger about developments in Iraq could not justify any kind of terrorism, according to AFP (March 26). BBC Monitoring Service noticed that there had been calls to jihad in some places (for instance in Lahore, Pakistan) and many statements claiming that the war was fought for the sole benefit of Israel, while prayer leaders in other places took a more cautious line On March 28. The Islamic Research Institute, affiliated with prestigious Al Azhar Islamic University in Cairo, issued a fatwa stating that, “according to the Islamic Shari’a, if [any] aggression takes place against the land of Muslims, jihad becomes an individual duty on all Muslims, male and female.”
However, a press review provided by the Cornelis Hulsman’s weekly electronic Arab West Report (Cairo) shows that those statements have given rise to many critical comments in the Egyptian media, expressing concerns that they might be used as justifications by terrorist groups. Al Wafd daily newspaper comments that a call to jihad issued in such a way, without specific instructions about what it should involve at a practical level, “becomes nothing but an emotional call that simply aims at mobilizing youths”.
A number of reports suggest that militant Islamic groups are those most likely to benefit from the war in Iraq. The perceived failure of current regimes in Muslim countries to respond adequately increases the credibility of the Islamic camp. In Egypt, the war is giving “a new lease of life to the Muslim Brotherhood,” reports Carn McGrath from Cairo in the Inter Press Service (March 27). In Pakistan, the religious parties united in the Muttaheda Majlis-i-Amal (holding a third of the seats in national Parliament) are “cashing in on the widespread anti-U.S. feelings,” reports M.B. Naqvi from Karachi in Inter Press Service (March 22).
In Indonesia, moderate Muslim leaders emphasize that it is an attack on Iraq and not on Islam, but “their calls may not be effective with all Indonesians,” and there are concerns about consequences for the relations between Muslims and Christians in the country, according to Inter Press Service (March 21).
(Ecumenical News International: http://www.eni.ch; Arab West Report is distributed by e-mail to subscribers only. It offers weekly translations and summaries from the Arabic press on Arab-West relations including Islam and Muslim-Christian relations. There is no website. For details regarding subscription: firstname.lastname@example.org; Inter Press Service: http://ips.org)
— ByJean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and head of Religioscope Website (http://www.religioscope.com)