Glasgow Bombing

The Glagow bombing highlights the damage
extremists do to moderate Muslims in addition to the physical harm they

Among my first thoughts about the bombing of the Glasgow airport and the attempted car bombings in London is the harm extremists do to moderate Muslims in addition to the physical pain and psychological insecurity they visit upon the entire human family.

Shahid Malik, a member of Parliament whose constituency includes bombers from the July 7, 2005 London bombings, expressed strong rejection of violence only last week when our delegation met with Muslim Aid representatives. He told our group the mischaracterization of Islam and Muslims is made worse by car bombings and other violent acts. It’s unfortunate. Violence feeds the stereotype that feeds the alienation that begets more frustration and increases the potential for violence. It’s a perverse, self-fulfilling process.

Our Muslim Aid partners connect their faith with serving others, particularly the poor. One of the five pillars of Islam is the Zakat, in which the faithful are required to give 2.5% of their wealth each year to help the poor. This isn’t optional. It’s at the heart of Islamic teaching and living.

In the U.S., I have often heard people ask why moderate Muslims don’t speak out against violent extremism. Some do, of course, but moderation isn’t newsworthy, so they’re seldom heard. In the U.K. moderates are speaking, perhaps with even more intentionality than here. Public debates provide the venue for moderates and fundamentalists to challenge each other. These public exchanges give a glimpse into the diversity within the Muslim community and they reveal a more complex religious community to the wider society. This helps create a different public perception, one that helps us understand fundamentalism is not the whole measure of Islam. That’s important because tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims in the U.K. appear to be high and understanding and tolerance are needed.

The case of a young female teaching assistant is illustrative. The young woman chose to wear a veil (niqab) while teaching children in public school in the presence of an adult male. She was dismissed from her job and challenged the dismissal in court. The story made headlines and created strong negative reaction including former U.K. Foreign Minister, Jack Straw. She won, but the controversy continues.

It’s no less controversial in the U.S. A young mother wearing a veil was murdered in California as she walked her children from school, and her family believes the veil was the reason. Her husband contends it set her apart and made her a target for a hate crime.

Against this backdrop of misunderstanding and outright disagreement, violence fuels alienation and even more controversy. The veil is viewed by some non-Muslims as an act of separation, a refusal to accept minimal cultural standards. But to some women it is an expression of religious faith and Muslim women have organized to protect the right to wear it.

As I think of these differences I’m reminded of Farooq Murad, the president of Muslim Aid, who said we would do better to look at what we have in common–our commitment to serve others and to ease the burdens of those in poverty. This is not naivite’. It has practical value. When we work shoulder-to-shoulder toward a common goal, we find how much we have in common. Our differences don’t go away but they don’t become obstacles to achieving the goal.

This is why I place great hope in the agreement signed last week between the United Methodist Committee on Relief, (Christian), and Muslim Aid, both humanitarian organizations. The partnership focuses on what we hold in common–the building of the human community. That’s so much more compelling than debating about what divides us, and certainly more so than blowing up buildings and taking human life.

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