As their flocks take comfort in Osama bin Laden’s death, religious leaders in America appeal to values

For many Americans, bin Laden’s death was quite literally an answer to prayer. Muslims who saw bin Laden as an apostate breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Ethicists and pastors searched for the appropriate space between vindication and vengeance. The killing of Osama bin Laden, a man who was America’s face of evil for nearly a decade, left Christians, Jews and Muslims relieved, proud or even jubilant. For their religious leaders, it was sometimes hard to know just what to say.

There is at least some dissonance between the values they preach and the triumphant response on the streets of New York and Washington to the death of a human being — even one responsible for thousands of killings in those areas and around the world.

The leader of one of the nation’s largest mosques was equally direct during prayers Friday.
“There is no doubt that this man was a thug, he was a murderer,” Imam Hassan al-Qazwini told worshippers at the Islamic Center of America in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. “His hands were stained by the blood of thousands of innocent people — Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”

Before the sermon, Qazwini said Muslims are discouraged from showing jubilation over death, but cheering the news of bin Laden’s demise marks an occasion where “justice was served.”

In New York, the Muslim leader behind plans for a controversial mosque near the World Trade Center site is praising President Barack Obama after the death of Osama bin Laden.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (rah-OOF’) said Monday that Obama’s actions help support “people in the Arab world who are also fighting against terrorism by their own rulers.”

At Armitage Baptist Church on Chicago’s near west side, Pastor Charles Lyons told his congregation Sunday that sometimes “evil must be stopped.” “We do not rejoice in the death of the man named Osama bin Laden (but) … truth provides a platform for justice,” he said.

The Rev. Bill Kelly, priest at Saint Mary of the Assumption in Dedham, Mass., near Boston, said he was taken aback by the celebrations because he detected bloodlust. But he added that the emotional reaction is understandable.

Reform Rabbi Eric Wisnia, of Princeton, N.J.’s Congregation Beth Chaim, observed that during the Passover holiday that ended April 26, Jews recount the 10 plagues carried out against Egyptian aggressors by dipping their fingers in wine 10 times. But they are forbidden to lick their fingers, lest they take pleasure in the pain of others.

It is a sad truth that one man’s death can represent a step forward in the progress of human relations,” said Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the Washington-based American Islamic Congress.