In a rare sign of solidarity a number of French Muslims attended church services on Sunday to show their respect for Father Jacques Hamel who was murdered by jihadists claiming allegiance to Islamic State last week. Locally, the action was led by Mohammed Karabila the leader of the mosque in Saint Etienne Du Rouvray where Father Hamel was killed. Mr Karabila also indicated that his mosque would not participate in preparations for the burial of the local jihadist shot dead by police – thereby denying any opportunity for radicals to use the occasion to glorify their actions or claim the murderers of Father Hamel were “martyrs”. Mr Karabila, who heads the Muslim worship committee for the Haute Normadie region had become a personal friend of Father Hamel as a result of them both serving on an inter-faith committee for the last 18 months.
Islamist groups, whether violent such as Islamic State or those using political means to achieve similar goals, seek to portray Christians as not only inferior to Muslims, but as objects of hate and disgust. It is therefore personal relationships between ordinary Muslims and ordinary Christians, such as that between Mohammed Karabila and Father Hamel that have some of the greatest potential to prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims. Those relationships can be costly – and Mr Karabila has taken a courageous step for which he himself may well be targeted by radical Muslims.
It is important for Christians to remember at such times that when Jesus said he was sending us out as “lambs among wolves” he also said that we would find people who are “men of peace” who would welcome us and with whom we should build relationships of trust. Christ clearly indicated that those relationships would not in any sense involve compromising the proclamation of the kingdom of God (Luke 10:3-10). Rather, they would be based on a recognition that we are fellow human beings created in the image of God who has put eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11). There will therefore be those from other faiths who are sincerely seeking him, even though salvation is found in Christ alone (Acts 4:11-12).