NEW YORK – As authorities investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist acts in New York and Washington, Americans should resist jumping to conclusions about the perpetrators.
In particular, they must resist stereotyping Muslims, United Methodist leaders say, despite the suspicion that is being directed at the terrorist organization of billionaire Osama bin Laden.
“My feel is that it is almost dishonorable for us to attempt to guess who the perpetrators are at this time because it has caused such harm when we have done that in the past,” said the Rev. Bruce Robbins, top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. “There’ll be time enough to lay blame and deal with the consequences of possible interreligious and interethnic answers that come out.”
Muslim Americans. Although law enforcement officials haven’t accused anyone, bin Laden has emerged as the prime suspect. If he is the culprit, his culpability would likely cast suspicion on all Muslims in the minds of many Americans.
Muslims, however, are an integral part of American society and a positive presence in communities across the nation. They worship the same God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, Robbins said.
“Readers need to know that Muslims are nearly all faithful people of one of the great religious traditions of the world and to take care not to stereotype any living faith community,” Robbins said.
Racist reaction. Bishop Fritz Mutti, leader of the United Methodist Church’s Kansas Area, added that jumping to conclusions about the perpetrators could also be a racist reaction. Mutti advised that people be cautious, wait for more information and pray.
“One thing for us to remember is the role of the church,” Robbins said, “that we’re called to be agents of reconciliation, and this is clearly a time when compassion and reconciliation are so important and outreach to communities across the country that are threatened by the quick judgments and stereotyping that take place.
“I would encourage people to connect with their Muslim counterparts especially to express support in the face of the kind of blame that so quickly gets labeled against anybody who’s Muslim.”
Robbins noted that statements of compassion have come from religious leaders across the world, including Muslims.
“It’s difficult to find ways to forgive the perpetrators at this time, but it is important for us to try to seek explanation as well and understanding,” Robbins said.
Mutti drew a distinction between justice and retribution. “To me, retribution sounds like we might act before we have all the information; it sounds more like vigilante justice.”
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Basic points about Arabs, Muslims
NEW YORK – With Osama bin Laden emerging as a leading suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, understanding some key points about Islam and the Middle East becomes increasingly important.
Muslims are followers of Islam, one of the three Abrahamic faiths, along with Christianity and Judaism. Islam has members around the world and, like Christianity, most of its members are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who worship a God of love. Also like Christianity, it has a relatively small number of militant extremists.
The largest Islamic country in the world is Indonesia, notes the Rev. Bruce Robbins, top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. “It’s very important to realize that not all Muslims are Arabic.”
Arabs are a Semitic people most highly concentrated in the Middle East but also extending beyond that region. They have influenced the development of Western and Eastern civilization profoundly throughout history, in diverse areas such as the sciences and the arts.
Not all Arabs are Muslims, just as not all European Americans or African Americans are Christians.