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Is It Wrong to Celebrate Osama bin Laden's Death? Religious Leaders Weigh In

ground zero celebration.jpg
euronews.net
A crowd celebrates at Ground Zero in New York Sunday night.
By now you may have seen the quote that went viral on Facebook this week following the death of Osama bin Laden. The statement, allegedly from Martin Luther King Jr., said: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy."

The only problem? MLK Jr. never said such a thing. The quote was coined by a magician-turned-political-pundit who then credited it to the great Baptist minister and civil-rights pioneer ostensibly to give the words more gravitas.

Odd, yes, but it does raise an interesting point: What do religious leaders think of the celebrating we've seen in recent days over the killing of bin Laden? And what does the Koran and the Christian and Hebrew bibles say about rejoicing over the death of an enemy?

Yesterday Daily RFT caught up with a local pastor, rabbi and imam to discuss. (We caught them walking into a bar together. Just joking. We reached them by phone.) Here's what they had to say:

Muhamed Hasic, Imam of the Islamic Community Center in south St. Louis

"I don't think it's possible to control the celebrating. It's a natural reaction, especially for people who've felt the consequences of  his actions. That said, I cannot think of any example in sacred texts suggesting that it's okay to celebrate someone's death. I don't think any of the prophets would condone such a reaction."

"I've been a bit surprised that few of the people who've come in for prayer this week have mentioned bin Laden. I think for many Muslims, they're wanting to put the incident behind them. You have to remember that more Muslims died as a result of bin Laden than anyone else. Still, he managed to do a lot of harm to the reputation of Islam. I think people are ready to move forward."

Matt Miofsky, Pastor of The Gathering United Methodist Church in St. Louis

"There is a strong tradition in scripture of hoping for and celebrating the fall of enemies (a perfect example is Psalm 137 where the Nation of Israel prays blessings for the one who takes the babies of the Babylonians, their captors, and dashes them against the rocks). But there is also a consistent warning that comes to us from Jesus and the Old Testament prophets that we must be reflective and prayerful in our response to enemies. Ezekial 33:11 reads: 'As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.'"

"I think warnings like that point out that there are pitfalls we must look out for in our drive to overcome evil. For the Christian, no matter what one feels about the death of Osama bin Laden, we must weigh Jesus' words in the Sermon On The Mount carefully, to love enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This love is not an emotion, it is not well wishes or leniency towards evil. Rather, it is a principled way of acting and responding in light of who God is."

Hershey Novack, Rabbi of the Washington University Chabad on Campus

"This is an interesting question and one that I posed on Facebook that's generated dozens and dozens of comments. It's also especially close to me. I was living in New York at the time of the 9-11 attack and volunteered with the Red Cross's ministry outreach immediately following. That said, I think there are two ways of looking at this, and they're both from the book of Proverbs by Solomon. Proverbs 11:10 reads, 'When the wicked perish there is song.' The implication there being that some sense of jubilation is appropriate. But then Proverbs 24:17 counters: 'When your enemy falls, do not rejoice. When he stumbles let your heart not exhalt.' I think Solomon prescribes a healthy balance there. It's hard not to feel a sense of relief and comfort in knowing that a bit of evil has been extinguished."

"I've heard some people express concerns that it looks bad to see people in the U.S. taking to the streets to celebrate bin Laden's death. But I don't like that argument. September 11th was not any better or worse because some people in foreign countries took to the streets and celebrated the attacks. That reflects on those people but it didn't make what happened here on 9-11 any more or less bad. It's hard to argue that stopping bin Laden is not inherently a good thing.


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