A dove stands for peace

Published: August 17, 2010

The writer is the country director of the British Council in Pakistan david.martin@tribune.com.pk

Pakistani newspapers have carried reports that an evangelical church in Florida, the Dove World Outreach Centre, has plans to publicly desecrate copies of the Holy Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. This is a continuation of their controversial campaign that started with placing a sign outside their church stating: “Islam is of the Devil”.

Why would they do such things? According to the church leadership: “(Islam) is a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to mascarade (sic) itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society”.

This is certainly not my experience of Islam, having lived amongst Muslims in the Palestinian Territories and Pakistan. I realise how true is our CEO’s assertion at the British Council that “the world needs more (and better) cultural relations”. I wonder whether the leaders of the church have ever met some real Muslims and tried to understand the diversity of their faith.

My own understanding of the views of other people has been most wrong, and most tinged with racism or phobia, when I have based my opinions on received wisdom, rather than listening to the people themselves.

Brought up in the years of the Iranian revolution, I erroneously identified the Shia with fundamentalist Islam. The reality is, of course, far more complex, as I discovered as I began to understand the richness of Islam and differences between Sufi, Sunni, Shia, Wahhabi, Deobandi, etc

The Christianity espoused by Dove World has no more place in my own life as a Christian than does a ‘violent and oppressive religion’ have in the lives of my Muslim colleagues. ‘Fundamentalism’ is a term that was originally used to mean ‘Biblical fundamentalism’ as applied to Christianity. More recently it has been applied to almost any extreme and intolerant version of a religious faith.

There are two things that strike me about fundamentalists in general (and I have far more direct experience of Christian fundamentalism than any other sort): they are characterised by fear and a lack of love. Karen Armstrong in her book Islam: a Short History states that the fear arises from a conviction that the secular establishment is going to wipe out their religion. Perhaps, in recent years, there is also a fear that other religions are attempting to wipe them out. They tend to be unloving due to the belief that only they are right and that everyone else is doomed to eternal damnation.

Love of God and love of our neighbour is at the heart of the three great monotheistic faiths. In October 2007, 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals from around the world came together to declare the common ground between Islam and Christianity. The final declaration was sent to the leaders of all the major Christian denominations. Drawing on both Muslim and Christian scriptures, they demonstrated that the foundational principle of both faiths is love of the one God and love of the neighbour.

Members of the Al Fallujah forum have threatened to “spill rivers of your (American) blood” and “a war of the likes you have never seen before”. I take a different approach. The initial announcement was made on Facebook where I joined ‘In Protest of “International Burn the Koran Day”’. Within a day this group had 5,000 members, rapidly demonstrating that people of all faiths can unite peacefully against extremism in all its forms.

The British Council is a secular organisation but welcomes all its staff and customers to practice their religion. Our staff is made up of people of all faiths and none, those who have deep spiritual convictions and those who are deeply opposed to any expression of faith. That is part of the organisational diversity which we treasure.

We are united by a belief in cultural relations as a means of building trust and engagement between people. In Pakistan, we concentrate mainly on young people because they are the most susceptible to the attractions of a simplistic, extremist narrative. We urgently need more people who can counter in positive and respectful ways the extremist narrative on all sides, in the West and in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2010.

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (25)

  • rehan
    Aug 17, 2010 - 1:28AM

    God bless you David.I guess you will be doing us Muslims(for I guess you are from the Christian faith) a BIG favour if you sent a letter to Dove World Outreach Centre and explained to them.They ‘might’lend ears to a Christian.Secondly,I hope that a sane and balanced person like you can explain to your government back home the absurdity in banning Dr.Zakir Naik’s entry to the UK.Many thanks.Recommend

  • Aug 17, 2010 - 2:05AM

    We urgently need more people who can
    counter in positive and respectful
    ways the extremist narrative on all
    sides, in the West and in Pakistan.

    The last lines suggest a viable solution, sir. It’s simultaneously the responsibility of government to clamp down the extremism and hate-mongering in their respective countries. Preferably by education?Recommend

  • Waqas
    Aug 17, 2010 - 3:08AM

    Sir- I agree with you and lets pray together that human kind respect each other’s diversity and act towards coming closerRecommend

  • Amaar
    Aug 17, 2010 - 6:33AM

    Good article!

    I appreciate your views.Recommend

  • amir
    Aug 17, 2010 - 8:45AM

    brilliant piece we need more people like youRecommend

  • Tippu
    Aug 17, 2010 - 9:45AM

    Very well said David. Strife suits the extremists in every religion and feeds on the ignorance of the people.
    Thanks for publishing this article in pakistan. I think it will also be beneficial if yoiur article was published in the west in general and florida in particular.

    God Bless.Recommend

  • Sh Muhammad Musadiq
    Aug 17, 2010 - 11:31AM

    Thanks Mr Martin for your article.Recommend

  • waqas fareed khan
    Aug 17, 2010 - 11:41AM

    I agree with your opinion in general but

    @Perhaps, in recent years, there is also a fear that other religions are attempting to wipe them out. They tend to be unloving due to the belief that only they are right and that everyone else is doomed to eternal damnation.

    No they don’t tend to be unloving (talking of majority). In fact, it is one of the basics of Islam that every person has the right to practice ones religion independently, no matter what his religion is.And,the Muslims are not allowed to hate them because of their religion.

    @According to the church leadership: “(Islam) is a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to mascarade (sic) itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society”.

    Someone better ask them that If Islam were a violent and oppressive religion how are the minorities able to even survive in Pakistan (as an example) and exercise the rights every other citizen does( unlike the west where you know how the Muslims are treated).As a matter of fact, the rights the minorities have here and the way they are treated is far better than any ,so called, peace loving country.So,Islam doesn’t need to deceive any one.It is a religion of peace.Don’t just pass on received wisdom. You better get to know the BASICS of Islam first (through research on Quran may be) and then you are in the position to talk about Islam.Recommend

  • talha
    Aug 17, 2010 - 11:45AM

    Your response to the issue is well-timed and I hope that the other writers will follow your steps in bringing the harmony among the Muslims and the rest of the world.
    We have to write constantly to the international print media about the good faith of Muslims and the teaching of Islam. I hope we can prove ourselves to be more compassionate in terms of dealing with the people around us.

    God bless you and God bless to your thought process. Recommend

  • Yasir Qadeer
    Aug 17, 2010 - 2:12PM

    An excellent piece. Shows that west is not against Islam and there are forces within them which are trying to explain to their own people the misunderstandings they might have about a peaceful religion.Recommend

  • Gulistan Ibadat
    Aug 17, 2010 - 2:55PM

    Dear David,

    I really appreciate for your endeavors in highlighting the key areas to focus and also to acknowledge the diversity in Muslims. It is very important to understand each other and treat with respect and dignity for a peace full society.Recommend

  • Doll
    Aug 17, 2010 - 2:57PM

    It would have taken a lot of ‘negative capability’ (as Keats would have put it) to understand a religion so misunderstood and also to differentiate the ‘fundamentals of Islam’ from the ‘fundamentalist view of Islam’, the latter propagated by imperceptive Muslims who are so cast-conscious of the ‘others’ while Islam clearly diminishes the “others” factor to impose rule of humanity. Brilliant op-ed piece but more than that, thanks for your unprejudiced and sensitive understanding. Its not easy to go beyond the terrifying apparent and you did. Thumbs up! Recommend

  • naveed
    Aug 17, 2010 - 3:51PM

    nice job sir…bt some people dnt knw abt their own religion and talks and opposes other religions..cristianity itself teaches love, peace, care…bt they r….and he is in a church ..high post..huhhh..wat is thisRecommend

  • farah
    Aug 17, 2010 - 3:52PM

    brilliantly written piece.
    @According to the church leadership: “(Islam) is a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to mascarade (sic) itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society”.

    by their acts they are only showing that what their teachings are. burning a holy scripture is truly an act of violence and oppression to the followers of the religion. Recommend

  • Gul
    Aug 17, 2010 - 3:54PM

    Thanks Mr Martin for trying to understand a religion which is so deeply misunderstood and biased against in today’s world. You are right to say that we need to have more cultural understanding and we need to respect each other’s beliefs and differences.Recommend

  • Bushra Ahmed Khurram
    Aug 17, 2010 - 4:04PM

    Thanks for penning down your balanced views on a sensitive topic like this one! I hope you will make more such contributions in future too. Recommend

  • Fahed Gill
    Aug 17, 2010 - 6:26PM

    Thanks you so much Sr. david for sharing such a nice thought for everyone …
    Here we Christians need to be united as-well and protest
    against this illogical event “International QURAN Burn Day” until
    they decide to cancel it because “Christ” is the
    symbol of Peace, Forgiveness and Love…
    i took one initiative don’t know how Sufficient it will. A Facebook Page “Christen’s Against International Quran Burn Day”

    May God bless everyone Recommend

  • sean frederick
    Aug 17, 2010 - 9:25PM

    Most countries with majority muslim population treats their minorites like cattles; No freedom to profess religion, build religious structures etc. But in secular countries minority muslim population demands these rights vociferously. In such an environment in what basis general muslim population (leave alone extremists, political leaders) can claim that their religion is for justice and peace where they treat followers of other religion with unjust sanctions and stipulations.Recommend

  • Aug 18, 2010 - 9:45AM

    Well articulated thoughts on the right time, people need more publications to understand and respect ethnic & religious diversity Recommend

  • yousaf
    Aug 18, 2010 - 10:16AM

    Dear Sir David
    Thanks Thanks & Thanks for such a balanced view point.May GOD ALMIGHTY BLESS YOU.
    As suggested by my friend Rehan it will be a real service if you can help avert this Act of Desecretion, which is not going to benefit the American Society but would rather provide fuel for hatred amongst Muslims & ChristiansRecommend

  • Athar
    Aug 18, 2010 - 12:40PM

    David sir!you are doing a wondrful job.actualy the religence is not the diffrence betwee diverce cultureRecommend

  • fatima
    Aug 18, 2010 - 11:56PM

    I couldn’t have read a nicer article at a time like this. I can only hope all people can have the same view, can have the sense to read and understand a religion, culture first, before convicting them of the worst. Every religion has ‘fundamentalists” and extremists, and sadly its them that give that religion/nation a bad name. May God have mercy on us all and help us see beyond our differences. We are all human beings. One God’s creation. We all hav one heart that pumps blood,a different skin colour or religious practice does not change that. I hope our children and grandchildren will see a better world than we are facing. A more accomodating and accepting world. AmeenRecommend

  • Muhammad Ahmad
    Aug 21, 2010 - 2:43AM

    Quran is a Devine Book that told us that Jesus(A.S) was the true prophet of Allah. The Holy Quran mentioned Jesus Christ(A.S) as true prophet of GOD . Jesus(A.S) was remembered with respect in Holy Quran,
    i would like to ask terry jones that has he ever seen a Holy book (that claims to be DEVINE) of hindus or Holy book of Jews that gave as much respect to Jesus as The Holy Quran did? the answer will surely not. then why dove world outreach centre is going to act upon their evil plans? shame on those who have closed their eyes from the facts and just want to spread hate and destroy the peace of the world.
    The common message from the teachings of jesus christ(A.S) and Promissed Messiah (A.S) of this age is
    “love for all hate for none.”
    please, say no to extremism.
    I owe a depth of thanks to MR.David Martin.Recommend

  • Faiza Javed
    Aug 22, 2010 - 3:47PM

    islam is a religion of peace as this is what i heard and believed all my life, and Quran never speculates about any other religion then why islam is only targeted religion in the world and why there is so much hatred for it? we all are not a followers of our religion. Muslims don’t know that islam meansRecommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 11:52PM

    Dear David,
    Thank you for your concern and comments. I wish to make my submission in the following words:
    Dear Dove Outreach Centre members! If you are true followers of Jesus as you claim, please show respect and love to others including Muslims. You cannot blame the origin for the misinterpretations and evil practices of a reactionary section of misguided Muslims. A peaceful section of the Muslims named Ahmadiyya Muslim Association is responding to your objections one by one rationally. Please try to address these differences logically and rationally. Watch mta.tv and kindly respond to their stance logically. Burning anyone’s Holy Scripture will provoke evil. ‘Love all, hate none’ should be the motto of true Christians. This is exactly what the Holy Quran teaches.

    Your wellwisher,

    Abdul Awwal Imran, Dhaka, Bangladesh,

    September 07, 2010Recommend

More in Opinion