Responding to terror attacks

It can hardly have escaped your notice that in November, a series of attacks took place in Paris. Over 130 people died and many more were injured. The perpetrators identified themselves as Muslims, although the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the UK and throughout the world would not recognise this type of violence as in any way acceptable within Islam. 

It can be a struggle to help children, who are concerned about what has happened, to explore their feelings and thoughts at times like these. Here are some things you can try:

First, talk about not being afraid. I was working in Toxteth in August 2011 when there were sustained nights of public disorder. Together with other church leaders, we met to pray for our area and our city. I began with the opening verse of Psalm 27: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ When faced with danger it’s easy to succumb to fear, but as Christians we are not to hide away in fear, but rather to be confident in the love of our heavenly father.

Second, talk about praying in love for others. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43–48). I do not think we should give in to evil demands or treat the perpetrators of such violence in the same way as our closest friends, but the Early Church grew when Saul, a great persecutor of the Church, encountered the risen Jesus. Can we dare to pray that the leaders of ISIL will have similar encounters? We could:

  • Pray for relief for those who have suffered and that they will be able to return evil with love.
  • Pray for wisdom for leaders facing complex situations and problems with no clear solutions.
  • Pray for those who are violent that they will meet with Jesus the prince of peace.

Third, talk about the need to reach out with Jesus’ love. The Muslims the children see in school or on the street do not want to kill them or be violent towards them. They are probably as heartbroken about this violence as the rest of us, and perhaps as afraid, if not more so. Jesus continually crossed boundaries and blessed those whom convention said he should hate. Remember, a Roman centurion was a member of the enemy military army in the eyes of most Jews (Matthew 8:5–13). The Samaritan woman was a social outsider whom most respectable people would shun (John 4:1-42). Are there ways you can show Jesus’ love for your Muslim neighbours? Even a simple card or note saying you want to pray for them or get to know them could make a massive difference.  

Revd Dr Tom Wilson is the director of St Philip’s Centre in Leicester

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