Faith Leaders Cite Justice, Caution Celebrating Bin Laden's Death


Crowds gathered in a Boston park following the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death on May 1. (Photo: Mark Zastrow)

The Islamic Society of North America released one of the first statements from the American faith community about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

ISNA "joins all Americans in thanking President Obama for fulfilling his promise to bring Osama Bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda, and perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, to justice," read the press release that was emailed shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday, May 2.

"We hope his death will bring some relief to all the families, of every faith and walk of life, who lost loved ones on 9/11 and in every other terrorist attack orchestrated at the hands of Osama Bin Laden," said the statement.

Imam Mohamed Magid, president of ISNA, expressed the hope that the nation would emerge stronger in its commitment to "peace, tolerance, respect and freedom for all."

Magid is one of the interviewees in "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims," an EthicsDaily.com documentary that aired in 2010 on ABC-TV stations.

ISNA and other American Muslim organizations have a long record of public statements condemning terrorist acts by those who identify themselves as members of the Islamic faith.

Imad Damaj, president of the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs (VMCPA), told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that bin Laden had damaged Islam.

"He tried to spread a mutated version of Islam that was incompatible with our faith and values," said Damaj, who appeared in another EthicsDaily.com documentary - "Sacred Texts, Social Duty."

"American Muslims around the Commonwealth of Virginia believe that those who commit acts of terror and killing innocents in the name of Islam are betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent. We pray for God's blessing on America and on all its citizens," said a VMCPA press release.

Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb, president of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, wrote on her blog: "The celebration, thankfully, has waned, and more somber reflection and some second-guessing is taking place as more details come out about the death and burial at sea of uber-terrorist Osama bin Laden... I am left more than anything with an overwhelming sense for the need for prayer."

Baptist blogger Ron Crawford wrote: "In a fallen world justice tends to be more closure than any real sense of setting things right. Snuffing out one well-protected life to somehow 'pay' for the 3,000 tragic unarmed deaths of September 11, 2001 is an irrational form of math."

Crawford, president of Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va., said he wished the world "had more justice and less closure."

In an email to EthicsDaily.com, Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational & Social Development and vice president of the Baptist World Alliance, said that "as Christians we are to remember that Jesus promoted a culture of peacemaking not violence and revenge."

Costa wrote that the way Christians "act vis-à-vis the killing of Bin Laden will impact whether people will believe that our message is one of love and peace or not. I believe that we can serve as better 'witness' if we are sincere in investing time and effort in addressing the root causes of injustices that are leading to violence in our region."

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The Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, "In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."

Catholic News Service reported that Christian schools in Pakistan had been closed and placed on guard.

"I don't see this as a moment of celebration or jubilation," James Persons, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Mitchell, S.D., told the Daily Republic. "I see it as a time to reflect on how we might continue to pursue peace in the world."

The National Council of Churches issued a statement on behalf of its member communions. Signatories included leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Methodist Church.

"Osama Bin Laden is dead. Just as Christians must condemn the violence of terrorism, let us be clear that we do not celebrate loss of life under any circumstances," read the statement. "The NCC's 37 member communions believe the ultimate justice for this man's soul - or any soul - is in the hands of God. In this historic moment, let us turn to a future that embraces God's call to be peacemakers, pursuers of justice and loving neighbors to all people."

Michael Lerner, a rabbi and editor of Tikkun, said that the war on terrorism would be won by "draining the swamps of hatred that have been built up as a response to the suffering generated by global inequities and injustices."

As part of the progressive Jewish community, Tikkun engages in interfaith education and action. It identifies its mission as "healing and transforming the world."

"For far too many people, the war on terrorism seems to be an extension of the football games where we cheer on our team: "USA! USA! Hey, you are tough!" wrote Lerner. "The task of spiritual progressives at this moment is to reaffirm a different consciousness - to remind ourselves that we are inextricably bound to each other and to everyone on the planet."

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