In June unknown assailants kidnapped four singles and a family of five in the northwest part of Yemen. The group consisted of a German family, two German ladies, a Korean lady, and a British man. Assailants took them while they were picnicking not far from a hospital where they worked. Within days Yemeni authorities recovered the bodies of the three women; all had been tortured and shot to death. The German family and British man are still being held by unidentified captors. The Yemeni government has offered a $250,000 reward for any information about the hostages.
Hostage taking in Yemen has happened dozens of times as different groups have tried to use foreigners in negotiating with the government. But this is the first time in 10 years that any hostages have been killed. Many speculate that the three ladies serving as nurses at the hospital may have been killed because of their Christian identity. If so, this would mark yet another one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Christian martyrdoms across the Middle East in the 21st century.
Simple access to the internet will show a picture of the two German ladies, both in their twenties. Their photo, authorized for release to the media by their parents, reveals two spirited, pleasant, intelligent young women. Their willingness to take two years in their early adulthood to work as nurses in such a difficult and dangerous place as Yemen reveals a humble love and compassion for others, an example of practical self-sacrifice. At their funeral in the northern German town of Wolfburg, two thousand people packed the chapel to celebrate and honor the lives of the three women and pray for the safe release of the other captives. The three young ladies, whose only fault was seeking to heal the sick and serve the suffering based on their personal convictions, have died, yet they did with the hope that they shall live again.
The normal response to such a tragedy is to ask if it can be avoided again in the future, can a solution be found to the problem of Islamic militants killing Christians, Jews, and others who do not share their religion. What are the causes of such hostage takings and killings? Common wisdom would tend to look for political and economic causes. The blame can be cast on the West for colonialism or for Zionism. Is it lack of education? Do educated, modern, civilized folks behave in such a way? Is there a solution to the problem so that radicalized elements would become de-radicalized, brought into the mainstream of the human civilization, learning to live with tolerance in a pluralistic global society? A different approach is to say that the best way to avoid conflict and death is to keep foreigners and Christians out of Muslim countries, just isolate the radical elements giving them no opportunity to strike at those they consider an enemy. This would have to include all tourists and international business-people as well, since it is sometimes hard for Muslims to make any significant distinction between non-Muslims. This last option seems completely impractical given the nature of global travel.
The difficult fact for many Westerners to accept is that a tendency, one could even say a mandate, for conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims is built into the Islamic worldview, with concepts such as Dar-al-Islam (The House of Islam) and Dar-al-Harb (The House of War). In other words, Islam casts a worldview that sharply divides the world between persons who have been submitted to Allah and his Shari’ah law (the word Islam implies submission, or being conquered) and those who have not and therefore are adversaries. Some more tolerant Muslims make a third category called ahl-al-Kitab or People of the Book, referring to Jews and Christians, pointing out the Qur’anic verses like this one, “Contend with the people of the Book only in a mild way-except with those who are a bad lot” (29:45). The Qur’an does contain verses urging a sort of conditional restraint, even tolerance, in dealing with non-Muslims, but it also has verses urging conflict and dominance, so the question among Muslims is which verses have greater authority.
In Obama’s recent Cairo speech he liberally used verses from the Qur’an, while failing to quote the whole text because of its counter-peaceful conditions. Trying to promote a peaceful interpretation of Islam, he quoted from the Qur’an 5:32, “On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person it would be as if he slew the whole people.” Unfortunately, the verse actually has a condition saying, “On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person-unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land-it would be as if he slew the whole people.” Obama’s chosen verse has two problems, first it says this was an ordinance for the “children of Israel” who clearly were not Muslims. Second, what is the condition “spreading mischief in the land?” Did the murderers in Yemen and all the other Jihadists conclude that their foreign victims were guilty of spreading mischief through their compassionate service in the name of Christ?
With such deeply intractable problems embedded in the thinking of many people, the search for finding a peaceful solution is proving to be difficult. When looking at the photos of the three young ladies, whose modest dress and compassionate character shows on their faces anything but “spreading mischief” one can hope that million of other folks living across North Africa and the Middle East will come to a much different conclusion than the Jihadists. Maybe they will weigh things in the balance and decide that something is inherently wrong in a line of reasoning that pushes people toward such heinous crimes and reconsider what kind of heart and soul carried the three vibrant young ladies into the dry, gritty, dangerous desert to see their last day under the hot Arabian sun.
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