Religious leaders react to Osama bin Laden's death
When Hisham Hashish heard that Osama bin Laden was dead, his first thought was: "Finally. It's about time."
But then Dr. Hashish, a forensic pathologist who attends the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, felt regret that the terrorist leader wasn't tried for crimes against humanity and against Islam.
"I wanted his ideology, his sick mind exposed to show how he twisted the teaching and the values of my religion and used it to serve whatever crazy ideas he had in his head," he said.
His reaction was typical of Muslim Americans. Among religious organizations, Islamic groups in the United States offered unreserved praise, although many individuals said they wished he had been tried in court. Christian and Jewish leaders were more likely to express concern about rejoicing over the death of an enemy.
The word "relief" ran though statements from major American Muslim groups, including the Islamic Society of North America.
It thanked President Barack Obama "for fulfilling his promise to bring Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida and perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, to justice. We hope his death will bring some relief to all the families, of every faith and walk of life, who lost loved ones on 9/11 and in every other terrorist attack orchestrated at the hands of Osama bin Laden."
The Vatican stopped short of giving thanks for his death.
"A Christian ... sees it as an opportunity to reflect on each person's responsibility, before God and humanity, and to hope and commit oneself to seeing that no event becomes another occasion to disseminate hate but rather to foster peace," said the notice from the Vatican press office.
Imam Atef Mahgoub, of the Oakland-based Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, said members began calling him Sunday night. None were upset.
"Some of them were excited and said that now justice has been implemented on the earth by the elimination of the leader of al-Qaida,' " he said.
But the imam also wished that bin Laden had been put on trial to show "that he's a psycho."
Because of the trauma of 9/11, many Americans don't realize that al-Qaida and its offshoots have killed far more Muslims than Westerners, said Haider Ala Hamoudi, an associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in Islamic law and is involved in drafting a constitution for Iraq.
Al-Qaida's offshoot in Iraq "was engaged primarily in an attempted genocide against the Shia [Muslims]," he said.
His interpretation of Islam was so far outside the major streams of Islamic scholarship that it's a strain to call it Islamic at all, Mr. Hamoudi said.
Bin Laden was "someone who knowingly and consciously goes against a broad, centuries-long tradition of Islamic law ... and tries to derive his arguments based on a very contentious reading of some of the earliest texts," he said.
He believes that a strong case can be made that bin Laden's killing was justified under Islamic law, the most likely argument being that he was a "brigand" who brought "terror and corruption on the earth."
"I would have preferred a trial, but I don't mean that as a criticism of anything that happened. They got him the only way they could."
While there is a pacifist tradition in Christianity, the dominant belief is that war may be justified as a necessary evil under certain conditions. Jason King, chairman of the theology department at Saint Vincent College, believes that bin Laden's death falls within that.
Military action can be used for defense of the innocent when there is no other way to neutralize a killer, he said. "In bin Laden you have someone who presents a perpetual threat."
The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman is a retired ethics professor and was senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington when Bill and Hillary Clinton attended. He gave counsel about military ethics.
He said he would be disturbed at bin Laden's death if it turned out he could have been taken alive. But if killing him was the only way to stop him, "then this is very welcome news," he said.
"I would have welcomed his capture so that he could answer for what he did. I think that might have been a better example to the world."
Some conservative Protestants had only straightforward praise for bin Laden's death.
"All persons of good will can rejoice that the U.S. military has successfully ended Osama bin Laden's career of terror," said Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. "Hopefully there will be greater appreciation for the Church's historic stance that God ordained the state to punish the wicked."
But there were also more cautious evangelical voices.
"[T]his action is legitimately viewed as an expression of self defense. But as Christians, we believe that there can be no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to Scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall," said David Gushee, an ethicist known for his opposition to torture, on behalf of the New Evangelical Partnership.
"For me it's not about vengeance in any way, shape or form," said Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation in Squirrel Hill. Rabbinic tradition holds that if someone is "pursuing to kill" then it is acceptable to kill him to prevent the death of an innocent party, he said.
First Published May 3, 2011 12:00 am