Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Preventing a Religious War in the Mideast

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Preventing a Religious War in the Mideast

Article excerpt

The Sunni militant group that has created an "Islamic State" across a swath of the Middle East has begun to attack the sacred shrines of Islam's minority Shiites. This tactic aims to incite a violent response by the perceived heretics and help unite all Sunnis behind the group's leader, who calls himself "Khalifa Ibrahim," or caliph Abraham, after the ancient prophet.

The attacks run the risk of igniting a wider war of religion, perhaps drawing in Iran, which is largely Shiite, and Saudi Arabia, which is mainly Sunni. This would be a dangerous course. A major war of religion has not occurred on the world scene since the Thirty Years' War in 17th-century Europe. That war saw different Christian faiths driving a conflict that ended up wiping out entire populations.

If the Middle East now descends into a Sunni-Shiite conflagration over defining the true faith of Islam, the rest of the world can hardly remain as a bystander. For one, wars over theology and religious traditions are particularly brutal. Each side, in claiming divine superiority and setting up certain individuals as God's chosen, may be prone to more easily fight to the death.

A good example was the video released Saturday that shows a sermon by Khalifa Ibrahim (who has also used the name Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi). In it he tells Muslims: "I was placed as your caretaker." By claiming he speaks for God to others, he in effect denies each person's individual relationship with God. And by resorting to the force of arms, he denies that a person's spiritual commitment should be won by peaceful means, such as invitation, grace, or by example of good works.

World leaders must persuade those Muslims eager to fight over doctrinal differences to learn from previous religious wars. In Europe, the treaties that ended the Thirty Years' War, known as the Peace of Westphalia, set the seeds not only for modern ideas about the role of state but also other ideas that blossomed during the Enlightenment. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.