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Gamal Fouda, imam of Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, who escaped the massacre in March. PHOTO Sajila Image Credit:

Dubai: There is no holy war in Islam and the word jihad in some religious books has misinterpreted the religion, the imam of a New Zealand mosque who escaped the massacre in March said in Dubai on Thursday.

Gamal Fouda, the imam of Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, where 42 people were shot by an unnamed white supremacist, said the use of the word ‘jihad’ in some religious books has contributed to people, especially Westerners, thinking that Islam is a religion of extremism.

He was speaking at a session on “Instilling Communal Peace and Harmony Within Societies” at the World Tolerance Summit. Fouda’s remarks about “jihad or holy war” came when he was asked by the moderator to explain why some people in the Western world think that Islam is the religion of violence.

Fouda said: “I would like to acknowledge that sometimes [it is due to] the barrier of language. Sometimes those who introduce Islam don’t have the correct terms to explain what Islam is.”

“I found by myself that in some of the Islamic books they talk about jihad, the holy war, which in fact is totally incorrect. There is no holy war in Islam. All the wars are unholy.”

He said the Quran, instead, talks about tolerance, peace and understanding. He cited portions in Quran where prophets have been referred to as talking to “their brothers” from non-Muslim communities.

The Egyptian imam said those who introduce Islam to others need to understand their culture and speak their language. They also need to know the good books and quotes to use while introducing Islam.

Fouda shared his own experience of finding it difficult to talk to the Maori aboriginals and the Catholics in New Zealand during his initial days in the country. “I had to learn things first.”

He called on religious leaders to stand up and act for peace. “In fact, religions can bring peace if we find the correct representatives of religions.”

Peace education

He also called for the need to start peace education in schools to bridge gaps between communities.

“We need to start talking about peace education. I would like to see primary schools having peace education subject and books.”

“We need to start teaching this to our children right from their very young age so that they can accept other people…We need to foster the education for tolerance from childhood.”

He urged the Muslims and non-Muslims to interact and understand each other better and do community service together.

Attacker brainwashed

Recalling the horror of the massacre briefly, he described the gunman who attacked the mosques as a person “brainwashed by irresponsible media who cause problems and political leaders inciting hatred.”

Speaking to Gulf News after the session, he said the Muslim community stood together along with the leadership and people of New Zealand because of the way the latter had fostered the relationships, the values of justice and equality and welfare of the community.

“What New Zealand has set is a role model of tolerance and understanding for the world. The Muslim leaders there also share the same role model. We are together against terrorism that is the reason we came together and we didn’t create hatred or divide us.”

Support for victims’ families

He hailed the new laws to control the use of guns and other measures to improve security after the Christchurch mosque shootings that claimed 51 lives.

The financial and medical support and community support have helped the victims’ families to be back on their feet.

“But spiritually, people still need a lot of support because the money and all other things will never bring those loved ones back and compensate them. The country as a whole is standing together and trying to figure out how they can solve this in the future,” he said.