When Religion Becomes the Cause of Terror

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If religion becomes the cause of enmity and bloodshed, then irreligion is to be preferred. For religion is the remedy for every ailment, and if a remedy should become the cause of ailment and difficulty, it is better to abandon it. – Abdu’l-Baha

As a non-Muslim living in the West I am expected to bash Islam whenever another paradise-bound youngster shouts “Allah-u-Akbar” whilst unleashing his Kalashnikov in a crazed fit against innocent bystanders. In solidarity to the victims I should at least quip sarcastically about “the religion of peace” once again carrying out “business as usual”.

Many blame Islam for the barbarism in Paris last week. Many have blamed Islam for the travesty in Peshawar and Sydney last month. Should we also blame Christianity for the massacre of Oslo in July 2011? Norway is gradually recovering from the terror attacks where seventy-seven people, mostly youth gathered at a summer camp, were gunned down in cold blood. The shooter was a self-identified Christian and an Islam-hater. But by doing so he made a mockery of the noble name of Christ. Ironically, an attack perpetrated by a Christian fundamentalist rather than a radical Islamist remains the most barbaric terrorist attack on European soil in recent years (albeit this record may still change).

It needn’t be reminded that these fanatics make a mockery of the high-minded moral virtues enshrined in the Bible and the Qur’an. But remind we must. Both blaspheme against the God of Christianity and of Islam. Both seek to justify vindictive and violent personal motives by ripping isolated and often mistranslated verses out of their original scriptural contexts where they read in a much more balanced way.

We are living in an age where mankind is painfully learning the evils of particularistic creeds, ones that elevate one particular group of people above another. Such creeds breed prejudice and conflict. What happened in Paris last Wednesday is simply three angered and impressionable youngsters having been persuaded to embrace an extreme version of such a creed. Exclusivist religious doctrines embraced by millions of good faithfuls morph in the hands of a fanatic into a hate creed. It is not enough to develop early-warning systems to detect the psychological cues among the youth pointing to personal grievance or mental breakdown. It is equally, if not more essential, to uproot prejudice-breeding creeds and preaching from the face of the earth. Occasionally it may even require some theological self-cleanup within major salvationist world religions. God does not breed conflict but unity. If anything, Oneness is one of His names.

Let us as Baha’is be distinguished by our adamant refusal to label people or groups into saved or unsaved, pure or impure, progressive or backward, based on their views and behaviours. Not all the intolerance in the world can be blamed on questionable religious dogma. Even the most “tolerant” amongst Western liberals often betray a strong tendency of condescension towards those that disagree with them. It produces a fleeting self-serving thrill to belittle the more traditional communities as “backward”, “medieval” or “barbaric”. The Baha’i way differs starkly from both of these divisive tendencies, which is one of the reasons Baha’is do not become embroiled in partisan politics — even when they have an opinion.

The Muslims, the Jews and the Christians are not the problem. Let alone the Tanakh, the New Testament or the Qur’an. Prejudice is the bane of our time. Religious prejudice is particularly stubborn. Prejudice colours how we interpret one another’s holy books, religious histories, policies, public statements and newstories. Prejudice gives rise to bad policies. Bad policies justify counter-prejudice. We’re stuck in a vicious cycle. Ultimately the most powerful means to fight prejudice is not by rallying against a certain party, a group or a government, but by education — starting from home. Educating our children to become authentic world citizens and to recognize divine revelation in every great religion, without any claim to exclusivity and finality regarding one’s own brand of truth.

A faith which thrives on denouncing others is a fragile one. It is easily shattered by the mere existence of alternative takes on life, man and God that sound convincing. True faith, if it really is true, is rather consolidated by the review of alternatives.  While they are by no means the only factor behind mindless killing sprees at Norwegian summer camps or French newsdesks, particularistic creeds by their very existence, and the mere fact of their widespread adherence, lend powerful moral justification to the actions of a few who are prepared to go a step further — using violence for their promotion.

Baha’u’llah, severely persecuted by fanatical Muslims for his Message of tolerance and unity, defied vengeful instinct by writing:

Consort with all religions with amity and concord. Beware lest amidst men the flame of foolish ignorance overpower you.1

These mighty systems have proceeded from one Source, and are rays of one Light.

Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire.2

It’s time to put an end to mutual finger-pointing and to point fingers at the real Devil — Prejudice. Gandhi was right, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. At this rate there will be only one Finger pointing at all of us. We’re not born with prejudice. We learn it. Try putting a black boy and a Jewish tot in the same play pen with a Muslim girl and a Protestant toddler.

The great Varqa who felt honoured to have met Baha’u’llah on several occasions wrote about once asking Baha’u’llah “how will the Cause of God be universally adopted by mankind?”3

Baha’u’llah said that first, the nations of the world would arm themselves with infernal engines of war, and when fully armed would attack each other like bloodthirsty beasts. As a result, there would be enormous bloodshed throughout the world. Then the wise from all nations would gather together to investigate the cause of such bloodshed. They would come to the conclusion that prejudices were the cause, a major form being religious prejudice. They would therefore try to eliminate religion so as to eliminate prejudice. Later they would realize that man cannot live without religion. Then they would study the teachings of all religions to see which of the religions conformed to the prevailing conditions of the time. It is then that the Cause of God would become universal.4

  1. The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’i World Centre, 1992 edition, p.254 []
  2. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition p.346 []
  3. The Revelation of Baha’u’llah Vol. 4, p. 56 []
  4. The Revelation of Baha’u’llah Vol. 4, p. 56 []

About the Author

Sam Karvonen

Sam Karvonen is a globe-trotter, a truth-seeker and an aid worker turned into a defence analyst. A ridiculously fortunate husband and a thoroughly entertained father. Oh, and a Baha'i of course.

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Discussion 12 Comments

  1. I was trying to find an answer after these confusing days, reading the nwespapers, watching the newsm but: your post was the thing, what i needed!!!
    Thank You!!!

  2. Brilliant post Sam! Nailed it! The source of all injustice, intolerance, hatred and violence in the world was and still is prejudice of all kinds!

  3. For years I also lived on the west coast of British Columbia (Victoria [Colwood] and Surrey. I was surprised by your comment that you are expected to bash Islam. From whom has that expectation emanate? I’m not looking for names of people nor their religious / ethnic identity.
    Lacking some indicators may inadvertently “cast” aspirations on the unsuspecting. Thank you.

  4. Dear Sam,
    Thanks for your wonderful article. My name is Mehrdad Jafari whom you dont know but we are connected in spiritual realms of God. Just to let you know that your article has been translated and published in couple of sites in Persian (Farsi). I guess it is very useful for people who speak Persian to get an idea as how the Baha’is think about these current issues/problems.
    I hope this action was not a disservice to your effort.
    Again, I guess (hopefully wrong guess!!!) you dont read Persian but for your information one of the websites is below.
    Well done,
    Mehrdad
    https://www.balatarin.com/permlink/2015/1/26/3785441

  5. Paris on Bahá’u’lláhs birthday 2015.

    Hundreds of innocent people are slaughtered by terrorists with automatic weapons, bombs and suicide belts in cafes, restaurants and a concert. Young lives are taken and may never be lived. Culprits who carry such an tremendous hate, that they don’t even care who they kill if it only are as many victims as possible. Their hate is that enormous that they have killed their own souls, but they are not aware of it. France and Europe sees’ the well coordinated and well planned terrorist attack as an act of war. Then starts the hunt on those who caused this bloodbath and threaten Europe with more terror in the future. Muslims communities in the big cities in will be ransacked, in a Europe which is flooded by Muslim refugees who themselves, most of them, have run from the same terror in Syria and Iraq which now struck Paris (again). And at the borders in European countries the controllers and investigators will never be sure about who are real refugees and who are wolves in sheep clothing. The paranoia in Europe will spread. Who are kind Muslims and who are evil jihadists? And how can we stop youths born and raised in Europe from going to terrorist schools in Middle East? Young people who see no future – that’s why desperate young Germans joined the Nazis in the 1920s and that’s why European Muslim youths join ISIS now. People are afraid, so afraid in Europe, and scared paranoid people can also become very dangerous.

    When can we get an official statement from the Bahá’í faith? – the religion which says that they have God’s plan for a world in peace? The pope and most leaders of the world religions have officially sent their prayers and sympathies to Paris and to the relatives to the victims 13-14 November 2015, but I have still not found any commentaries from Bahá’í leaders referred on Internet (05:00 Nov 15, 2015).

  6. Then there are the actions and results of the USA government and “Coalition of the Willing”. Look for the images and videos and you will see that those results don’t look any different than any other images of Terrorism.
    Baha’u’llah:” Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. If this be done, the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of maintaining internal order within their territories. This will ensure the peace and composure of every people, government and nation.”
    Yet war, destruction and terror is taking place by covert actions to pursue imperialist goals. It is akin to marching one’s own army onto foreign soil in an aggressive, attacking manner, which also took and takes place still.
    It is of no surprise that the able bodied portion of a victimized nation, will group together and strike back in whichever way possible. When will the world’s nations recognize these false flag operations as such and refuse to roll onto and join such unjust and evil tracks!
    The unwillingness of proper investigations of 9/11, the accusations of WMD, Arab Spring, Ukraine, the rise and support of Al-qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram, the refugee crisis in Europe are some of the consequences of the world’s most powerful nation’s foreign policies.
    Julian Paul Assange, Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning, Edward Joseph Snowden and others shone a brief light on the repugnant, evil of the corrupt, controlling and obscured portion of the US Government.
    Why are Bush, friends and their international affiliations not held accountable for their war crimes and their illegal aggressions.
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/obama-justice-department-immunity-bush-cia-torturer

    However, not all think alike:
    http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/05/12/bush-convicted-of-war-crimes-in-absentia/

    Material and Power pursuit and conquest by a tiny assemblage of evil-doers have driven the agenda of war for far too long.
    The “War against Terror” is Terror in it’s purest form.
    True Spirituality and Love for Humanity, meanwhile, is shackled up in a dungeon far away and deep inside of us.
    Let’s not be blind to screaming facts, yet not drawn into disabling paranoia or obsession.
    My thoughts mean little if not followed by positive action. Every small step counts. My question to self is: “What can I do useful today”?

  7. Hello Sam, Your article at this point would be out dated regards the many Islamic terrorist acts having occurred in Europe, US , not to mention the Middle East. Let’s take Europe – a few examples – Paris nightclub bombing (over 150 killed), Brussels airport bombing, Munich – Islamist opens fire on pedestrians, Nice France 80 plus people killed when truck runs them over (ISIS recommends using vehicles to kill people), Berlin – truck plows into Christmas market killing 12 and injuring 50………the list goes on if you follow international news.
    The nut in Norway that opened fire on innocent kids would more appropriately fit the title “white supremacist racist” then having acted in the name of Christianity. What a leap that was on your part

    1. Thanks Lory for your comment. As I wrote, the record may yet change. And it has as you aptly demonstrated. If you read Breivik’s manifest you will find out that he did act in the name of Christianity. We both know it has nothing to do with true Christianity. What I do claim is that to say Muslim terrorists are different in that they are merely applying the teachings of the Qur’an to the best of their ability, is prejudice. And that prejudice destroys mankind, piece by piece.

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