Leading Muslim figures in Egypt, Australia and France have condemned the terrorist attack on a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen in France, on Tuesday (26 July) in which an elderly priest was murdered. Father Jacques Hamel was leading a morning service when two followers of Islamic State (IS) entered the church, took him and five others hostage and then slit his throat. In response to the attack, the UK police have written to churches urging them to review their security measures.
In a statement, Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Shawki Allam, expressed his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and the French people, and said, “what the extremists did was a criminal act that dissents from what God has commanded in all religions”. He added that “all divine religions maintain the necessity of preserving religion, life, intellect, progeny, and wealth”.
In a similar statement, Australia’s Grand Mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, said, “Isis is an evil organisation that has hijacked the religion of Islam for its own brutal and nihilistic goals. The betrayal of the Islamic faith and violation of its core principles are enough to refute Isis’s false and absurd claims.” He continued, “The sanctity of all human life, and especially that of people of religion, religious leaders of all faiths and their places of worship, are of paramount importance in Islam.”
In France, Dalil Boubakeur, a physician, a Mufti, and current rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, expressed his “deep sadness” at the attack, calling it a “blasphemous sacrilege which goes against all the teachings of our religion.” Dalil Boubakeur has in the past courageously called for a French Islam and for Muslims to embrace French culture. This has led to him being threatened by Islamic extremists and needing protection from police and security forces.
Remembering Father Jacques Hamel, one priest told French publication Le Figaro, “He was a courageous priest for his age. Priests can retire at the age of 75 but he preferred to continue to work and serve his people since he still felt strong.” He continues, “He was a simple man, who avoided extravagances in life and lived in the simplest way possible. We really learned from his experience and wisdom at the Parish of St. Etienne. He was a wonderful priest who was always there to serve people throughout his life.”
Meanwhile, following the attack in France on Tuesday morning, anti-terrorism police in the UK have written to churches urging them to be vigilant against potential attacks. Neil Basu, the Metropolitan police’s deputy assistant commissioner, said, “As we have seen, Daesh and other terrorist groups have targeted Christian as well as Jewish and other faith groups in the west and beyond. Following recent events in France, we are reiterating our protective security advice to Christian places of worship and have circulated specific advice today. We are also taking this opportunity to remind them to review their security arrangements as a precaution.”
The Home Office also this week announced a £2.4m fund for churches, mosques and other places of worship to improve their security. Earlier this year, Barnabas Fund released a booklet called “Pray and Protect” which seeks to help churches plan and safeguard churches and ministries against potential attacks. For further details of both the government funding and the booklet, please click here.