In this issue, some of our writers address one of the most urgent crises of our age: the refugees fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Lawrence Brazier, who lives in Austria, writes about hosting a displaced Afghan family. Lawrence and his wife, Romana, courageously added their names to a list of those willing to offer accommodation to refugees from the world’s war-torn zones. They thought it was the right time to “expand” their family. Thanks to the newcomers, they’ve learned about compassion, dignity, and living together, despite coming from different backgrounds. Brazier rightfully highlights the fact that “there is obviously no fun to be found in the matter,” and he describes the suffering of refugees in the voice of Hemingway’s reporting mode: The winter is coming. They sleep on the earth, wrapped in a blanket. There is frost on the blanket at dawn. They shiver, waiting for the sun.
Aydogan Vatandas looks at the tragic refugee crisis in a more agitated style, reminding us of Aylan Kurdi, the three year old toddler washed up dead on the shores of Turkey while he, his family, and many others tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, fleeing the war in Syria. Vatandas’ call is to a greater awareness, and for us, as members of the human congregation, to assume responsibility as Lawrence Brazier and his wife did: by offering at least our sympathy, and hopefully more, to those being oppressed, in different ways, all around the world.
Two speakers who attended a recent symposium – “Countering Violent Extremism: Mujahada and Muslims’ Responsibility” – in Brussels have contributed to this issue. Sophia Pandya and Jon Pahl, who left the city just days before the atrocious March 22 attacks, reflect on the concept of jihad, and explain how terrorism and violence have many causes and cannot be explained by a single issue. Pandya examines the minor and greater jihads. Referring to the “fight-or-flight response,” she believes jihad is an important self-healing tool when one feels under threat.
Jon Pahl shares his reflections on the symposium, which brought together more than 300 activists and scholars from around the world in the name of peace. Pahl had an opportunity to visit the neighborhood of Molenbeek, “which has been in the news as a ‘harbor for terrorists,’ after it became known that at least one of the Paris attackers spent time in the neighborhood.” Pahl’s talks with the Councilwoman Shazia Manzoor and the mayor Françoise Schepmans, and the similarities he observed between Molenbeek and the American experience of immigration, are no less interesting than his comments on the symposium.
The lead article of this issue touches upon a core subject: the need for freedom of faith and conscience. While reminding us that it is a universal right for everyone to independently adopt and practice a faith of one’s choice, Fethullah Gülen also points to the fact that this freedom also requires to teach and study one’s faith. For Gülen, “there is no freedom of faith and conscience when restrictions are imposed on religious practice, whether it is in the public or private sphere.”