030 - In the name of God: peace or war?

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Realta’ Nuova No. 5 September/October-November/December 2004

We all know that in the word Islam there is the root of the word peace and we remember how Jesus presented to his people the first mission entrusted to them: “Whichever house you enter, say first of all: peace in this house”. The word peace in the Koran is one of the ninety-nine most beautiful names of God.

“Al salam aleikom”: peace be with you. “wa aleikum el salam wa rahmat ilah wa barakat”: and with you be peace, God’s mercy and His blessing, a term used several times in the day by any Arab. A wish for peace that is part of the daily rhythm of life in the Arab world. An obligatory wish in relations between Muslims, but if it comes from and with a Christian to a Muslim, the whole phrase of peace is often not reciprocated, from Muslim to Christian.

In 1956 I was enlisted in the Egyptian militia to defend my country against tripartite Anglo-French-Israeli aggression after the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. During this war we had the first martyr for our country: an Egyptian Christian launched himself with a small individual submarine and blew up a ship. He did it out of a spirit of patriotism and not as a martyr of God, not using the name of the Creator for an act of war.

The use of the Islamic religion for acts of war spread after the advent of petrodollars. The religion was used as a bulwark to curb the expansion of communism in Arab countries.  Saudi Arabia, much enriched after the 1973 oil crisis, used most of its resources to expand its Wahabi Islam, the most rigid and fundamentalist.

The expansion in the name of Islam and the integral application of Sharia law, was done first in the Arab world, training Arab language teachers and then sending them to all Arab and Islamic countries considered lukewarmly Islamic, then to the millions of emigrants who had gone to work in the Gulf countries, then later to the whole world, financing thousands of mosques, prayer centres, universities, propagating Wahabi Islam. In addition to using all the means available to modern technology, the propaganda flooded the markets, also the Western ones, with tapes and videos with sermons verging on vilification and, always in the name of Islam, encouraging contempt and violence against non-Muslims. We know how dangerous the word can be, it can set hearts on fire and cause more damage than a war with guns. Violent preaching sows hatred and can be considered an act of war just as it can soothe hearts and bring peace. Today, from Saudi Arabia, the sermons of the most influential Arab religious leaders are broadcast via the internet to preachers around the world who can do so if they are there and for their sermons.

When we talk about the law of Islam I will refer to Sharia, (a term that includes the Koran and the acts of the Prophet Muhammad “Hadith”). Between the 7th and 10th century, men of law give the Muslim world a body of law that refers to the Koran and the acts of the Prophet.  After the X Century, the legislators limit themselves to the application of the principles of one of the 4 schools of belonging, thus closing the doors of the Ijtihad, a doctrinal effort which completes the Shariah and the doctrine is crystallized).

When talking about peace in the Koran, it is necessary to keep in mind that Muslim law considers the world as divided into two parts: Dar al Islam or Abode of Islam (countries where Islam is ‘predominant’) and, in contrast, Dar el Harb or Abode of War, which reads ‘to be conquered little by little and to be subjected to Islam.

But we see how the highest religious authority in the Arab world, the “Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy” (IRA), defines war or peace. I would like to point out what this authority declared on March 10, 20 Knowing each other to co-live and build peace“. According to Islamic law, if the enemy sets foot on Muslim land, jihad becomes a religious duty for every Muslim male or female”. The declaration appeals to Arabs and Muslims all over the world to do battle to defend their land, honour and nation. Then, he adds: “It is a religious obligation to help the Iraqi people against aggression by prohibiting Arab or Islamic governments from providing assistance to foreign invading forces in Iraq. And “the majority of the population believes that the main objective of the aggression against the Arab and Islamic nation is our faith, perceived as cheating the Arab nation”. It is a perceived statement similar to a hypothetical appeal by the Pope to all Catholics to defend the faith through a just war. The appeal to holy war, is the Jihad made by religious leaders despite the fact that Arab governments do not provide military assistance to Iraq.


At the end of the summit held in Beirut in January 2002 and attended by more than 200 Sunni and Shiite ulema from 35 countries, the final communiqué issued stated: “Starting from their religious responsibilities, and in the name of all peoples, rites and countries of the Islamic nation, the actions of martyrdom of the mujàhidìn are legitimate and find their foundation in the Koran and in the tradition of the Prophet. Indeed, they represent the most sublime martyrdom since the mujàhidìn perform them with total conscience and free decision”. This vision is not limited, however, to the legitimation of the actions carried out by the suicide bombers, but also affects the field of education: there are many books circulating in schools in Palestine in which young people are taught the obligation of Jihad in all its forms and the deeds of those who are called “martyrs of Islam” are legitimized, explaining that they should not be considered as suicides but as heroes and that they are obstinate in Paradise because they have made a true jihad. In short, they did not behave differently from the Koran, but sacrificed themselves for the Islamic cause. In Palestine, where the war is a struggle for the national independence of the Palestinians from the Israeli occupation, the Muslim countries insist on the religious dimension and turn it into a religious war, into a Jihad for the liberation of that land.

This is another example of the underlying ambiguity for those who cannot distinguish faith from politics.

Before talking about peace in the Koran I would like to mention the Jihad, a term we often find in the Koran: holy war or spiritual struggle for peace in the heart?

The word means “the effort on God’s path to make God’s rights prevail on earth. The Islamic tradition distinguishes many ways to make this effort, privileging one or the other according to the historical times.  The most common’ is to spread Islam throughout the world; it has a universal vocation. The spread is through sermons and missions. When people refuse, it is necessary to make thm open to Islam. It is also necessary to defend the territories that have become Muslim. In both cases, Jihad assumes a military form of “holy war”. The jurists believe that it is a community obligation under the responsibility of the head of state. It becomes a personal obligation in case of necessity.  Non-Muslims are “protected” once integrated into the Muslim world.

The form of Jihad which the mystics and moralists prefer, however, is that which takes place in the soul of the believer: A war between brothers of faith ‘ illicit and inconceivable in Islamic legal terms. For this reason, if a Moslem leader intends to wage war against a Moslem country, they must first declare this country unbelieving, atheist, in Arabic kàfir. By declaring the other kafir, the declaration of war becomes legitimate and inevitable, because it is conducted against unbelievers.

That is what happened, for example, in the Iran-Iraq conflict, which caused one million deaths, or in the Gulf War. Each faction has declared the other kàfir, proclaiming itself to be the champion of Islam by issuing Islamic symbols on its flag, where they did not exist before. Iraq, a country that defines itself as secular, has thus inserted in its national flag the words Allàh-u Akbar, God ‘ the greatest, highlighting a religious motivation to attack the adversary in the name of God. Imagine the ordeal of the Iraqi Christian soldiers have to fight for the holy war of Islam! There are Religious and social pressures to change religion or emigrate to the West.

The concept of Islamic community (umma) prevails over that of citizenship (watan). A confirmation of this attitude also came on the occasion of the recent conflict in Afghanistan. The same is true for Kosovo, Chechnya, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Moluccas and wherever Muslims are at war, where we see armed groups coming from different Muslim countries to fight Jihad against the enemies of Islam (which are often Christians): they call themselves mujàhidin and operate in various countries to foment revolutions or support rebels and national liberation movements with the declared objective of defending Islam threatened by “infidels”.

We have seen this in the civil war in Lebanon when volunteers arrived from Libya, Algeria and Iran and flocked to the side of God’s party against the Christian part of the population. The West does not remain unaffected by this movement, as we see Western Muslim citizens, converted or not, who have flocked to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight alongside their Muslim brother, sometimes against their own country.

It is here that it clearly emerges that the objective of fighting the holy war for Islam prevails over national political motivation at the international level. The “war” interpretation of Islam is made by some of the loudest Muslim groups, authentic but not exclusive.

A first warning was launched by Cardinal Martini: “Islam is not only personal faith, but a very compact community reality and a watchword launched by some authoritative voice at the right moment that can recompose and bring back to close unity even the subjectivism or religious syncretism experienced by a single individual”.

Violence has always been part of nascent Islam. But the problem is that today, the most aggressive Moslem groups continue to adopt that model. They say: “We too must bring non-Muslims to Islam as the Prophet did, through war and violence”, and they base these statements on some verses of the Koran.

When the Muslim armies left to conquer the Middle East and vast areas of Asia and Africa, they had first of all to gain control of the conquered lands and, only later, to think about converting their populations. Therefore, if it is true that in the majority of cases the Muslims did not force the populations to convert to Islam, the continuous pressures, both economic and social, pushed the majority of these populations to become Muslims to escape the impositions with which the Muslims fed new wars and conquests. The occupation of Egypt, for example, took place in peaceful hands, in the sense that the Egyptians surrendered by agreeing to pay the Muslims the per capita tax, the jizya, and the tax on the land, the kharáj.These taxes, increasingly heavy, have caused many Egyptian Christians to switch to Islam. And the same is true for many other countries in the Middle East. Yet the Koran says that there must be no constriction in matters of faith (“Let there be no constriction in religion! The right path is well distinguished from error. Whoever denies idols and believes in God grasps a firm grip that never breaks: God listens and knows everything! God is the patron of those who believe: “He who brings them out of darkness into the light; but the patrons of those who do not believe is idols, who bring them out of the light into darkness. The unbelievers will end up in the fire and remain there forever”; 2:256-7).

In the Koran there are both verses that are in favour of religious tolerance (not equality) and others that are openly against this tolerance. There are two readings of the Koran and the sunna, two different choices, one aggressive and the other peaceful, both acceptable. We need an authority, unanimously recognized by Muslims, that can say: from now on, only this verse has value. But this does not happen.

Peace is a precious good: it is the condition of a country free of conflicts and tensions between the different social classes, where there is harmony, equality of citizens before the law.

Given this premise, I wonder whether the Islamic law of a country can guarantee peace to its citizens, or is it itself a source of hatred and displeasure?  The cornerstones of Sharia law are: the divine source of Koranic law, the non-liberty of religious choice, the non- equality between citizens and the rights of women halved compared to men. This Islamic religious law conditions the life of the country, of families, of people and, therefore, permeates Islamic countries and Islamic centres (in Italy or elsewhere) where Muslim Arab immigrants gather. The legal situation of the Christian, and in some way also of women, is critical in countries subject to the Sharia, and does not bring peace (Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon…) unless the entire population has entirely embraced Islam (Libya, Maghreb countries, Afghanistan) or there are no minorities. I would like to conclude on a positive note for souls of good will, Muslim Christians. For us Christians, Islam has a greatness of its own that deserves to be known for itself, without the comparison with Christianity with which, we must admit, there are also critical knots that have not been overcome and that have been highlighted. Unfortunately, the image that official Islam gives today of itself is contradictory and the media do not emphasize this spirituality. It seems to pay more attention to issues that have roots in custom and tradition rather than religion (the veil, covering the woman’s body, gender discrimination) and not to the inner dimension of the person.  Of the 6236 verses of the Koran, only 3% deal with law and criminal matters, while almost all of it deals with faith and morals. “Evil must be rejected with a greater good. Repel evil with a greater good, and he who was your enemy will become your intimate friend” (41, v. 34).

For us Christians, Muslims are first and foremost believers. Beyond misunderstandings and prejudices, every believer is called to cultivate the essential values of the other and to venture on the path of mutual enrichment, with mutual respect. From Islam in Europe one can expect a spiritual revival based on the values contained in the Koranic message. “The values of prayer, silence and meditation should be enhanced, so that all may listen to God and thus learn to listen better to their interlocutors. Brotherhood in God would open the way to the brotherhood of men”, Maurice Boormans.

“In this way, Christians and Muslims are able to overcome the narrow limits of their community membership and, to question themselves about the value of the different religious families, in the light of the unfathomable decrees of God the Saviour” (op. cit., pg. 149).

There are actions that Muslims and Christians could take together for peace:

  1. Witness together their faith in the one God. Help individual Muslims to rediscover the spiritual values of Islam. In fact, individual Muslims should be helped to take this path.
  2. The challenge of the future lies in being able to give a common response to the problems of the 21st century, as well as preparing the new generations for multi-ethnic religious and cultural coexistence, starting from the experience of the Christian Arabs: “Bridging the gap which still today culturally separates the two shores of the Mediterranean and let the differences finally become instruments of mutual enrichment”.
  3. To highlight not only differences but also common values.
  4. Muslims in Italy should be helped to become aware of the religious freedom allowed by law in Italy: could they become the pivot to promote human rights and religious freedom in their country of origin? These would have positive repercussions for Arab Christians.
  5. Finally, who knows if in the future we will not be able to discover an Italian Islam purified of discriminating norms through reflection in the West?

“There is a people,” said Louis Massignon, “that no one really loves, because no one really knows, and no one really knows, because no one really loves, and this people ‘ the Muslim people. I feel the duty to dedicate my whole life to make them known and loved by Christians”.

But how can we modernize the Arab world? I try to synthesize. The action could be directed towards different paths:

In Europe:

  • towards Muslim preachers,
  • or to the Muslims themselves immigrants in Italy,
  • or to Europeans,
  • or to the institutions.

In Arab countries:

  • or women and human development,
  • or politically,
  • or at the level of international organisations,
  • or Arab Christians: take advantage of their thousand-year experience.


  1. To the Muslim preachers.

In order to have an answer ‘ it is necessary to ask the Imams (those who lead the prayer in the mosques), especially those not born in Italy, to manifest clearly their willingness to integrate and their loyalty to the society in which they live, otherwise they remain in a dangerous ambiguity. On this point ‘ a serious and constructive dialogue is desirable in order to become aware of the problems that Muslim immigration poses. The dialogue should concern the integration of Muslims in the fabric of European societies, so radically different from Islam in mentality, customs and values and the possibility of a civil and peaceful coexistence between Italians and Muslims. All the more so because behind Islamic immigration there are often Islamic states that intend to use it for political-religious interests.

  1. Towards the Muslims themselves immigrants in Italy.

“We must work to ensure that Muslims succeed in clarifying and grasping the meaning and value of the distinction between religion and society, faith and civilization, political Islam and Muslim faith, showing that one can live the demands of personal and community religiosity in a democratic and secular society where religious pluralism is respected and where a climate of mutual respect, acceptance and dialogue is established”. (Cardinal Martini, “We and Islam”)

  1. Towards Europeans.

“The relationship between Islam and Christianity in the Middle East indicates some critical issues related to the issue of cultural and religious minorities, issues of great importance also for understanding and managing the presence of Muslims in European countries”. (Agnelli Foundation)

  1. towards the institutions.

It crucial to focus onto the coexistence within our cities, aimed at preventing poor and impoverished people from turning our differences into violence. Once ascertained the will to realize this dream, it will be necessary to create a task force to develop the strategies to be adopted and study the actions to be taken.


  1. Woman and human development.

It must start from social action and witness, the promotion of human values ‘ the only basis for creating a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. We must radiate the love of Christ through the witness of life, solidarity and acceptance. In this itinerary, “women take a leading role together with human formation to reflect together, Muslims and Christians, on a common ethical charter to change mutual prejudices”. The challenge of the future for the Church and Islam will be above all cultural.

  1. At the political level.

Objective: economic development and human rights. What can States do to establish the coexistence between the two shores of the Mediterranean so far culturally separated?

2-1 the economic, cultural and social revival of countries extremely in need of western exchanges and technologies; demand at governmental level the application in the Arab world of a process of liberalization towards the recognition of human rights.

2-2 To concretely support those who fight against fundamentalism, against all forms of violence and for equality among citizens; support to apply human rights, different citizens but equal before the law; freedom of worship and conscience, distinction between a modern socio-economic order and a religious perspective, thus ending the misunderstanding that leads to identify the West with Christianity.

  1. At the level of international organizations. The attention of international organizations ‘ brought mainly to the economic development of distant countries and little interest ‘ has so far been given to the coexistence between peoples, to the mutual knowledge and rediscovery of the values of each ethnic group within our cities. To bring our attention to coexistence within our cities, anxious to prevent that differences can turn into violence by the poorest and most marginalized groups. Once we have ascertained the will to realize this dream, we will need to create a task force to develop the strategies to be adopted and study the actions to be taken.
  2. Arabi cristiani: usufruire della loro esperienza millenaria (Fondazione Agnelli).

Il rapporto fra Islam e Cristianesimo nel Medio Oriente indica alcuni nodi critici relativi alla questione delle minoranze culturali e religiose; nodi di grande importanza anche per comprendere e gestire la presenza d i musulmani nei Paesi europei.

Commento from Pietro Castagnoli Direttore della Rivista:

The practical proposals of Samir Eid deserve particular attention and study from all the European Rotarians.


Free web translation from the original in Italian


The published articles intend to provide the tools for a social inclusion of the migratory flow, shed light on human rights and the condition of life of Christians in the Islamic world from which the author come from. Knowledge of the other, of cultural and religious differences are primary ingredients to create peace in the hearts of men everywhere, a prerequisite for a peaceful coexistence and convinced citizenship in the territory.

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