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2019 Mar 15

Statement by His Eminence Dr Ahmed El Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Elders on the New Zealand attacks

It was with deep sadness and sorrow that I followed news of the terrorist attack which targeted Muslim worshippers performing their Friday prayers in the New Zealand city of Christchurch and which led to nearly 50 people losing their lives, including a large number of children and women. This was an awful massacre, which has shocked the world due to its awful nature and for violating the sanctity of a holy place of worship through the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent lives.

This cowardly terrorist act, whose perpetrator ensured that it was recorded and live-streamed for the world to see, was not too different to the barbaric beheadings committed by terrorist groups such as ISIS. They are two branches of the same tree watered by hatred, violence and extremism with no compassion, mercy or humanity.

It has now become clear to those that attribute terrorism to Islam that such heinous acts have no identity and we sometimes struggle to establish the exact motives behind them. As Muslims, we can never attribute such a crime to Christianity or to Jesus Christ despite the attacker’s that he is a follower of the religion. There is no real difference in the way that religions are used by such people to promote their sick and twisted ideologies and motives. We understand that when a terrorist act is performed by a Muslim person then those actions are right away attributed to Islam and Muslims, but when it is done by someone who belongs to a different faith they are described as “right-wing extremists”, and in some cases their terrorism is simply referred to as a “crime”.

What does “right-wing extremism” mean? And why is it that Muslims often pay the consequences of this form of extremism which is often referred to as “Islamic Terrorism”? Has the time come for people from the East and West to cease the use of the term “Islamic Terrorism”?

The rise of Islamophobia as well as racist groups in the West has not received the desired attention till now, despite its obvious threat. We must move to counter such movements by stripping them of any political or religious covers they may have while promoting the values of tolerance, coexistence and positive integration and respecting religious values and beliefs.

At this time, we must remember the ‘Human Fraternity Document’ which was signed by Al-Azhar and the Vatican this past February which stressed,” To confront tendencies that are individualistic, selfish, conflicting, and also address radicalism and blind extremism in all its forms and expressions”, while also stressing that, “Terrorism is deplorable and threatens the security of people, be they in the East or the West, the North or the South, and disseminates panic, terror and pessimism, but this is not due to religion, even when terrorists instrumentalize it. It is due, rather, to an accumulation of incorrect interpretations of religious texts and to policies linked to hunger, poverty, injustice, oppression and pride.”

I send my deepest condolences to all the victims of this atrocity and their families as well to all Muslims around the world and to those with a strong sense of conscience. I also call on Almighty Allah to have mercy on all the victims and accept them in paradise and wish all the injured a speedy recovery.