Fr Jacques Hamel’s murder in northern France last week – by men claiming allegiance to ISIS – has prompted sorrow and outrage from Muslim leaders around the world.
“This attack in a place of worship and on innocent worshippers in particular demonstrates that there are no boundaries to the depravity of these murderers,” wrote Imam Qari Muhammad Asim, senior imam at the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, England.
The knife-yielding attackers slit the throat of 85-year-old Fr Hamel and also injured two others in the church, Eglise St-Etienne, before they were fatally shot by police. Fr Hamel’s funeral was held in Rouen cathedral on Tuesday.
“In this extremely difficult time for the Catholic community, we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of all faiths,” the English imam said in a statement. “An attack on any place of worship is an attack on a way of life of faith communities and therefore an attack on all of us.”
That solidarity was evident on Sunday when Muslims leaders and community members attended Masses at the Notre Dame Cathedrals in Paris and Rouen, France, and Catholic basilicas in Rome.
Yahya Yahe Pallavicini, vice president of the Islamic Religious Community of Italy, attended Mass at Rome’s Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem with about two dozen representatives of the community.
At a gathering before Mass, he said they came to “demonstrate brotherhood and to defend the sacred values of religion.”
Across the city, at Rome’s Basilica of St Mary in Trastevere, dozens of Muslims joined members of the Community of Sant’Egidio and parishioners for the main morning Mass.
Mohammed ben Mohammed, imam of a nearby mosque, told worshippers that those who murdered Fr Hamel “have nothing to do with Islam.”
“They are dangerous and the enemies of Islam,” he said.
The support among religious leaders also was immediately apparent after news spread about the murder of the beloved priest described as a grandfather figure at the parish in the Normandy working class town of St-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
That’s in part because French President Francois Hollande not only assembled security officials after the church attack but he also gathered representatives of Christian churches and Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish leaders to display interfaith unity.
Mohammed Karabila, president of the Regional Muslim Council of Normandy, told a French newspaper he was “distressed at the death of his friend” Fr Hamel and pointed out that the two of them had worked together in an interfaith committee for nearly two years since the beginning of ISIS attacks in France.
He described the priest as “a man of peace, of religion, with a certain charisma. A person who dedicated his life and his ideas to his religion. He sacrificed his life for others.”
Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university, who met with Pope Francis in May after years of suspended dialogue with the Vatican, said in a statement previously that the church attackers lacked “any sense of humanity and all the values and principles of Islamic tolerance, which invite us to peace and to avoid the bloodshed of innocents, without any distinction of religion, colour, gender or ethnicity.”
The imam also called for an “intensification of efforts and joint initiatives to deal with the cancer of terrorism that now threatens the entire world, destroys innocent souls and threatens world peace.”
Imam Suhaib Webb, a Muslim scholar in Washington, told Catholic News Service July that Fr Hamel’s death is “difficult to come to grips with on so many levels.”
He said the priest’s death filled him with “absolute astonishment and an incredible sense of horror,” not only for the loss of a great human being but because it was “someone walking and living what he professed.”
The imam said young Muslims, who are part of his online outreach through Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube videos and Facebook, have been praising the priest because they recognise he was an ally.
Fr Hamel’s death hit particularly close to home for Imam Webb because it reminds him that he could be threatened, or worse, since this spring he and four other America Muslim leaders were placed on an ISIS hit list, accused of being apostates for their efforts to promote Islam’s coexistence within the Western world.