Prominent expert on Islam says violence cannot be justified with religion

People carrying out terrorist attacks are criminals and do not represent the Islamic faith, said Shaykh Abdallah bin Mahfudh ibn Bayyah, one of the world’s leading experts on Islam and Islamic law, in Helsinki on Monday.

“That is why we must not speak of the violence of Islam, but the people who try to falsely justify their actions with religion.”

Bin Bayaah spoke at the opening session of the National Dialogues Conference in the House of the Estates in Helsinki. He took a strong stand on the series of terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris on Friday.

“When someone uses religion to justify an act of violence, religion becomes one of the victims. We have to use a lot of time to articulate and explain religion in a way that promotes humanity and peace”, he said.

Bin Bayyah serves as the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, and is one of the strongest opponents of violent extremism in the Islamic world.

Bin Bayyah attended the conference as a guest of Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

Imams can be ambassadors of peace

According to Bin Bayyah, the Islamic community has recently used many different ways in attempts to counter terrorism.

“We are educating religious leaders and ordinary people to understand how different religions can coexist peacefully. We train imams to be ambassadors of peace.”

“We do not have military power, but we have the power of our words”, he emphasised.

Bin Bayyah says that spreading the peaceful message of Islam through the media and especially through social media is particularly important. By doing this, we can prevent messages that incite violence from overpowering the discourse in poor and remote regions.

“I call upon all governments to join in cultural dialogue. This is the only way to promote peace and peaceful coexistence”, Bin Bayyah said.

Participants in dialogue must have a genuine opportunity for influence

What is happening in Paris and elsewhere now shows, in part, how moderate Islamism has failed thus far, stated in her opening Thania Paffenholz, PhD, Director of the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative (IPTI) at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

“But that doesn’t mean we should give up.”

“For example, women may have solutions that men don’t have”, she said.

Paffenholz emphasised the quality of engagement and conversation in peace efforts on different conflict zones.

“The number of participants doesn’t guarantee quality. It is easy to include a large number of participants. Then you have a long and complicated discussion and at the end the same small group of old me make the decisions.”

This, she says, has fed frustration for example in peace efforts in Yemen.

World’s leading experts in peace work and mediation continue discussions at the National Dialogues Conference until Wednesday evening.

The conference is organised by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. Finn Church Aid, Crisis Management Initiative, The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission and the Common Space Initiative are involved in the organisation of the conference.

Text and photo: Satu Helin