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Stabbing a bishop to defend Muhammad

Attack in Australia is part of a common, ominous trend

Security officers stand guard outside Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Sydney, Australia, on April 15. Associated Press/Photo by Mark Baker

Stabbing a bishop to defend Muhammad
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In a recent terrorist attack in Sydney, Australia, a bishop, a priest, and a few churchmen were stabbed by a “religiously motivated” attacker during a church service.

The attack was captured on a church livestream: During Mass at the Orthodox Assyrian church in Sydney, Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was preaching his sermon when a 16-year-old young man walked to the pulpit and began aggressively stabbing him. At least four people suffered “non-life-threatening” injuries when they rushed to stop the attacker.

After stabbing the bishop, the attacker reportedly “spoke in Arabic about the Prophet Muhammad,” and stated, “If they didn’t insult my Prophet, I wouldn’t have come here.” He reportedly screamed “Allahu Akbar,” while justifying his attack by telling the police that the bishop “involved himself in my religion.” While investigations are still under way, the police said, “they are satisfied this is a case of religious extremism.”

Police Commissioner Karen Webb declared the attack “a terrorist incident,” and the attacker “religiously motivated,” but she declined to disclose the religion of the attacker.

Despite diligent attempts by police and media propagandists to conceal the religious identity of the attacker, we now know he is Muslim, especially as a Muslim community leader reports that the father of the attacker “saw no signs of his son’s extremism.”

While we should all be thankful that the bishop and the people of the church are recovering after the stabbing, this attack is one more example of how Muslim extremists resort to silencing anyone who dares to speak about Islam or Muhammad. This is clear from what we know about Bishop Emmanuel and his preaching.

Bishop Emmanuel, 53, was born in Iraq and has a strong social media following. He openly evangelizes Jews and Muslims. In many of his YouTube videos, Emmanuel is clear about presenting Jesus as the only Savior and the only way to heaven. He also fearlessly and explicitly questions Muhammad, comparing his character and actions to the works and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Without a doubt, Bishop Emmanuel’s message and outspoken critique of Islam and its founder didn’t sit well with a Muslim extremist.

We should never accept or support anti-Muslim hatred, but we must always appreciate and defend truthful critical assessments of Islam and its claims and texts.

While many Muslims wouldn’t condone violence or attacks on innocent people, many Muslim extremists don’t reason, but seek to attack critics—openly and viciously—to send a clear message: Islam and Muhammad are untouchable and cannot be critiqued.

But the attempt to conceal the religious identity of the attacker by the police and the media appears flimsy—it won’t help anyone, especially as it reflects a concerted effort to shield Islam against criticism. When the police identify the attack as religiously motivated and highlight Islamic sentiments voiced by the attacker, yet insist on covering up which religion drove the attacker, the public should see a major problem and become curious.

In a sense, this unconvincing and weak concealment can lead to more severe problems, including a blanket skepticism and hate against Muslims by lumping them together as all the same.

We should never accept or support anti-Muslim hatred, but we must always appreciate and defend truthful critical assessments of Islam and its claims and texts. Shielding Islam—by naively claiming that it’s no different than any other religion—cannot help our world. This claim is erroneous, as proven repeatedly, and we can all discern a huge problem: Self-identified Muslims openly engage in acts of terror in an attempt to defend Islam. They appear insecure about Islam’s claims, and, instead of reasoning with critics, these extremists attack them to silence their ideas.

Hiding the religious identity of terrorists will not solve the problem the world sees with Islam. Just consider the five largest international religious terrorist groups: ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Taliban, and Hezbollah. Do you notice any common thread? All of them are Muslim groups with explicit goals to advance Islam and its precepts. All adhere to Sunni Islam, except the fifth which adopts Shiite Islam. Every sane person can identify the common problematic thread.

We must all welcome evaluation of all ideologies, including Islam. Shielding it will only allow terrorists to flourish. Without identifying the texts and stories that drive terrorists, they will continue to assault critics, believing they’re serving Allah and defending Muhammad by committing awful acts of terror.

In his first comment after the attack, Bishop Emmanuel said he was doing well and that he forgave his attacker and will always pray for him. The bishop called on Christians never to retaliate and to act in a Christ-like manner.

We should all be thankful that the bishop and others in the church are healing. Clearly, the knife that sought to silence him has actually advanced and circulated his message—and the example of the true God and His forgiveness.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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