Mohammed Chirani

Mohammed Chirani

January 25, 2016
JAMES MARTONE
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

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 the 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 nine to 19 in his parents' native Algeria, where he learned Arabic and studied the Qur'an.

"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, Chirani said, he has been focused on beating Muslim extremists at their own game via French press, radio and television.

He looked tired yet steadfast. In November, extremists 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, 38.

QUR'AN DISTORTED

He accused extremist groups of using verses from the Qur'an that speak of Muhammad's battles with polytheists of Mecca 1,500 years ago in their attempts to incite attacks now.

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

"In the Qur'an 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.

Those killing in the name of Islam, he said, are "in the service of a satanic sect."

Chirani has received death threats, but has declined offers from French security to provide him with police protection. "I put myself under God's protection."