By Dr. John Andrew Morrow
Crescent International (August 2021)
The churches are burning. The question is why? The answer is colonialism. The recent rash of church burnings in Canada, over 20 to date, comes in response to the rediscovery of mass graves of indigenous children on the grounds of residential schools. The news, however, is not new.
It has been common knowledge among First Nations, Métis, and French Canadians for over a century. We speak about it. Our parents spoke about it. And our grandparents spoke about it. So why the violent outrage all of a sudden? It reminds me of an anti-Semitic anecdote I was once told. “A man came out of his house with a pickaxe, one morning, screaming ‘Kill the Jews.’ His neighbor asked him: ‘Why do you want to kill Jews?’ He answered: ‘Because they killed Jesus.’ ‘But that was two thousand years ago,’ responded the neighbor.’ ‘Yes,’ responded the zealous vigilante, ‘But I just learned about it this morning’.”
This analogy, as unpalatable as it may be, serves to make an important point. The living are not accountable for the deeds of the dead. Collective groups are not responsible for the actions of individuals. Present day institutions cannot be held guilty for past crimes that they did not commit and that they did not condone. “And no bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden” (Qur’an 35:18).
Colonialism has consequences. If the French encouraged co-mingling and co-existing with First Nations, producing the Métis people in the process, the English espoused racist and imperialist ideals. When it came to indigenous peoples, their policy was “murder them, don’t marry them.” As for their children, it was “hate them and assimilate them.”
They came for our children. They took them by force. They imprisoned them in residential schools. They forced their Christian faith upon them. They prohibited their language and culture. They abused them spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and sexually. They neglected them. They malnourished them. And they murdered them.
Out of 150,000 indigenous children, mostly First Nations and Métis, who were sent to residential schools, 3,000 to 30,000 of them perished. In some schools, the death rate reached 69%. Since the mortality rate for residential schools ranged from 40 to 60%, a soldier in World War I had a higher survival rate than indigenous children who were forcibly sent to residential schools for the sake of state-mandated assimilation and acculturation.
These schools, which were mandated by the Canadian government, but operated by Catholic and Protestant denominations, are symbols of colonialism, imperialism, racism, and genocide. For the families of the victims, as well as survivors, these houses of horror are painful reminders of systemic and institutionalized abuse. It comes as no surprise that some impetuous people wish to burn them to the ground.
How should we, as Muslims, respond to the destruction of religious property, occupied, or abandoned? Should we join the woke crowd in shouts of “burn, baby burn?” Or should we respond rationally and responsibly based on our religious tradition? As Muslims, we are called upon to identify with the oppressed. Consequently, we must empathize with the plight of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, show our solidarity, and stand for justice. At the same time, we cannot condone the destruction of religious buildings and symbols.
While one could argue that these were hardly “houses of God” and more “dens of devils,” all religions are guilty of massive, institutional, historical crimes and all civilizations have engaged in imperialism, slavery, and genocide. Not only did the Aztecs conquer other tribes, but they sacrificed them and consumed them in religious rituals. Human beings are not innocent. Do we then burn all churches, all synagogues, and all mosques? If we are not sinless, then we should not cast stones.
Individuals may be corrupt. Hierarchies may be corrupt. That is the human condition. Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not necessarily embody the moral and ethical teachings of their religious traditions. The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred, and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Human atrocities should not produce a crisis of faith. We should not be Jewish because of the actions of Jews, Christians because of the actions of Christians, or Muslims because of the actions of Muslims. We should be believers because of the spiritual, moral, and ethical principles of these religious traditions.
We do not believe in God because of people: we believe in spite of them. We are believers in God: not people. God is not guilty of the sins of human beings. Religion is not always reality: it is aspirational. Human beings are not expected to eternally embody the highest of ethics and transcend the culture, politics, and policies of their time.
The treatment that indigenous peoples received in residential schools Canada has no basis in the teachings of any faith tradition. These crimes were not committed by Christianity. They were committed by bad Christians.
Who, after all, is involved in burning down churches in Canada? The culprits could be outraged indigenous people. That is an interesting, plausible explanation, and an understandable reaction. The culprits could also include the criminals involved in the abuse of indigenous peoples. Since the churches and residential schools in question are evidence sites, guilty parties, or those with vested interests in covering up crimes, could be attempting to destroy evidence.
Finally, the culprits could also consist of the same “woke” activists that have been torching churches during BLM demonstrations in the US and desecrating statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. These are the very same agents of the globalists who are active in pitting the political left against the political right, black against whites, non-Europeans against Europeans, and Christians against Muslims. Once church burnings start, once they are legitimized, it is open season on all Christians. It is ISIS in America. And since an attack against one religion is an attack on all religions, it is just a matter of time for the same lynch mobs to start torching mosques for the crimes that Muslims may have committed in the past. Should non-Muslims burn down mosques because some pseudo-Muslim psychos commit acts of terrorism?
Church burnings are attacks on Christians. Aren’t Muslims supposed to defend Christians from their enemies, according to the Prophetic Covenants? Isn’t that what the Covenants Initiative is all about? It absolutely is. As the Qur’an states unequivocally: “For, were it not for Allah enabling people to defend themselves against [the aggression] of one another, [many] monasteries, temples, synagogues, and masjids wherein Allah’s name is ceaselessly invoked would have been incontestably destroyed. And Allah will decisively help those who rally round Him — for, assuredly, Allah is most definitely almighty, prominent ” (22:40).
While we condemn the abuses that were perpetrated against indigenous peoples, demand justice and encourage healing and reconciliation, we must also object to the torching of churches in the same way that we oppose the destruction of synagogues and mosques.
And God is the Most Merciful of the Merciful.
Dr. John Andrew Morrow, author of the acclaimed book, The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World, is of Metis/French origin.