All religions must unite against extremism

At issue | Jan. 2 Associated Press article, "Blast in Egypt kills 21 at Christian church; police, angry Copts clash in car-bomb's aftermath"

It is a tragic day for all people when a simple act of worship or community celebration is marked by violence and innocent deaths. I speak of the recent spate of violence directed against Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria.

On New Year's Day, a car bomb explosion killed around 21 people at the New Year's mass service in east Alexandria. In Nigeria, terrorist attacks were targeted at Christians, killing at least 38 people.

In late October 2010, an al-Qaida-linked group took hostage numerous Iraqi Christians at a church in Baghdad. About 58 people were killed.

I was extremely alarmed when I heard of these attacks occurring throughout the Middle East. This region has a rich and deep history for both Muslims and Christians, a history that calls us to our better angels.

In 631 A.D., a group of Christians from Najran, a town near current day Yemen, visited the Prophet Muhammad to discuss and debate theology. They were warmly welcomed into Medina by the Prophet Muhammad, where he hosted them in his mosque and even welcomed them to pray there, which they did following the Byzantine rite.

After several days of discussion, the Prophet Muhammad and the Christians of Najran agreed to a treaty that protected the wealth, lives, property and religion of the Najran Christians. This treaty was renewed even after the Prophet Muhammad's death.

Over and over, these terror attacks by people who claim certain faiths reveal their true nature: They have no basis in religion or coherent political thought. Their only goal is domination through destruction and fear. They may try to speak in the language of religion, but their wanton destruction and slaying of innocent lives, both Muslim and Christian, expose their foul character.

As a Muslim, I love and revere Jesus Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary. I am required by my faith to believe that God almighty sent down the Gospel to his Prophet Jesus and that the Virgin Mary is the best example of a righteous woman. No practicing Muslim can reject these articles of belief.

The level of violence in recent incidents only heightens our responsibility to speak out against religious intolerance and hatred. These acts of violence require us to double our efforts in promoting religious harmony and the right of people to worship free from fear and violence everywhere in the world. The small faction of fanatics who wish to ignite religious violence and strife across the world must not be allowed to succeed.

I hope the Egyptian and Nigerian governments take all measures to prosecute the individuals responsible for these heinous crimes swiftly and to the fullest measure. An attack on any person and any religion is an attack on all religions, and our ability to live cooperatively and safely together is compromised by actions of violence and religious hatred.

It is unacceptable that Christian minorities in Muslim majority countries cannot safely and freely practice their faith. I am heartened to see that today's Muslims are rising to protect their Christian neighbors, as thousands of Muslims recently flocked to Christian worship services in Egypt to serve as human shields in the event of more terrorist attacks. This is the most powerful, the most effective weapon against religious terrorism: unity amongst God's people.

I pray for the victims, the families and communities torn apart by terrorism. I pray that God-conscious people all over the world cooperate to establish justice and mercy throughout the world.

We must unite against extremism and terrorism, whatever religion it claims. The terrorists seek not physical victories, but psychological ones. I commit myself to never tire of speaking out, condemning and rejecting their extremist ideology.

The only way forward, for us, is together, God-conscious people united against those who try to sow discord, hatred and fear.