French Muslim wages 'jihad' against extremists

IMAGE: CNS photo/James Martone

By James Martone

PARIS (CNS) — Mohammed Chirani
was pursuing a midlife career change in the United Kingdom when news erupted
out of his native France that Muslim extremists had attacked the Paris
headquarters of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people,
including eight of the magazine’s staff.

The news gradually worsened over
the next two days, as the extremists killed a policewoman, and then another four
people inside a Paris kosher food market.

For Chirani, the events were
devastating; he felt he and other Muslims were being “held hostage”
by a minority of fanatics, and that it was his duty to do something about it.

He prayed for guidance and
headed back to France where, since then, he has been engaged in a campaign to
eradicate extremism. He calls his mission a “jihad,” playing on same
word that some Muslim extremist groups use to describe their violent actions.

“Mine is a jihad of
testimony, of citizenship and spirituality,” explained Chirani, who lived
from ages 9-19 in his parent’s native Algeria, where he learned Arabic, studied
the Quran, and was a member of the Algerian Muslim Scouts.

“The real meaning (of jihad)
is effort, a spiritual and ethical effort. For (extremists), jihad means only
to kill and harm,” Chirani told Catholic News Service recently.

He spoke to CNS at a Catholic
institute of learning in Paris, where he was studying world religions to
strengthen his skills at interfaith dialogue. In the meantime, he said, he has
been focused on beating Muslim extremists at their own game via French press,
radio and television, where Chirani was busy “desanctifying” the false
pretenses he claimed the extremists groups used to justify their violence.

He looked tired yet steadfast. In
November, extremists had struck France again, killing 130 people and wounding
hundreds of others in coordinated attacks across the capital.

“We are at the mercy of
fanatic delinquents, fanatic scum, who have taken religion from 1.6 billion
people,” he said, referring to an estimated number for the world’s
Muslims, whom he described as “peace-loving.”

“When you have people who
kill holding a flag on which is written ‘there is no God but God and Muhammad
is his prophet,’ when you have people cutting the throats of innocents crying
‘God is great,’ when you have people killing journalists and then saying ‘we
have avenged the prophet’ … this is being held hostage,” said Chirani,

“To justify their fight,
they use verses of the (holy Muslim scriptures) Quran and Hadith outside of
their context, which I call ‘false sacred.’ We, therefore, have to undo this
false sacred with the real sacred, that is to explain, and to put (verses) back
into context,” Chirani said.

He cited instances when extremist
groups have used 1,500-year-old texts that speak of Muhammad’s battles with polytheists
of Mecca in their attempts to incite attacks now.

“These verses are not
universal, and not for all times and places,” Chirani said, adding that the
world’s major religions called for “wisdom” and “reason” in
deciphering the meanings of sacred texts, and that Islam was no exception.

“In the Quran when God
speaks, and he says, ‘Do the true jihad,’ what is jihad? It is … to testify
that God is mercy and peace. We are working for a true god, God of mercy and
love,” Chirani said, adding that those killing in the name of Islam were “in
the service of a satanic sect.”

He made the same points just days
before, on national television, where he had been invited to speak about the
Paris attacks, and about what could be done to prevent the spread of the extremism.

He had begun speaking Arabic in
the middle of the live interview and directly addressed those behind the

“Know that our dead, the
innocent French citizens, are in paradise, and your dead, the terrorists, are
in hell,” he told the extremists, emotionally.

Then he waved a copy of the
Quran along with his French passport and French ID and warned the extremists: “We
are waging jihad against you, with the Quran” and “we are kissing our
(French) documents.”

The rhetoric gained him national
acclaim, but also led to death threats from extremist groups, Chirani told CNS.

“I defy those who have
threatened me,” he said, explaining how he had declined offers from French
security to provide him with police protection. “I put myself under God’s

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