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Silvia Romano conversion shows Islam is for peace, terror merchants must be shunned

Silvia was seen wearing full Islamic clothes after she stepped off an Italian government plane at Rome-Ciampino International Airport.

EDITORIAL | It seemed there was some good in every bad when Italian aid worker Silvia Romano arrived in Italy on May 9, following 18 months in captivity by Al-Shabaab in southern Somalia.

Silvia, who changed her name to Aisha after converting to Islam, had worked in the Kenyan county of Kilifi for an Italian NGO when Al-Shabaab militants attacked her residence in November 2018 and fled with her.

The details of what happened in those 532 days or so are scanty and it has led to rumours the Italian government paid a ransom of about $3M million to have her released. As is the case of any ransom payments, the Italian government also denied the claims.

What is clear though, is that her conversion to Islam was out of a free will. Aisha herself has indicated she did so out of an individual decision, after months of reading the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

When she touched down in Italy, she wore a green Hijab, full Islamic clothes, and was in a jovial mood. But it was disappointing that an enthusiastic public quickly turned to hate-mongers after she declared her new religion. One politician even called for her to be hanged.

He has later deleted the post after it drew ire.

Italy, one of the countries in the West to witness a strong nationalistic movement in the past five years, has a group of online and physical hate mongers, often targeting Muslim migrants and blaming them for all ills affecting the society.

In truth, there is no study yet which indicates that social ills affecting Italy or any other Western nation are caused by these migrants or their religion. Indeed, it was soothing to see Ms Romano [Aisha] herself defend her decision to convert to Islam.

There are lessons we can draw from Aish’s horrid captivity. This platform routinely defends freedom of worship and other civil liberties due to humanity. We abhor the use of religion for violence or other evil against a particular group of people in society.

That is why we condemn terror merchants and their cowardly acts. But we think Islam is a religion of peace, as has been expounded both in readings about Prophet Mohammed and other scholars.

Indeed arguments that Muslims are violent have often been disabused in case of studies just closer home: It turns out violent people, in nature, exist in almost all religions. In the Central Africa Republic, for instance, a terrorist group anti-Balaka which declared itself Christian massacred thousands of Muslim Selekas. In Myanmar, Buddhist nationalists targeted Rohingya Muslims, exporting them as refugees into Bangladesh.

In general, there are rare occasions when those violent incidents in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, or the Central Africa Republic, where Muslims were targeted, to be associated with other religions. Except commentators often cite the assailants simply as acting separately from their religions.

This rule should apply when speaking of Muslim terror merchants, al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. Here is how: Islam globally has about 1.5 to 2 billion faithful. Many of these people routinely and peacefully go about their business without hurting a fly, following teachings about compassion and faith.

Clearly, if Islam was a violent religion, there would be as many violent people globally, assuming the staunch following. This platform, however, does not stick its head in the sand. We do admit there are violent among Muslims.

But this type of group focuses on a particular type of practice already dismissed by scholars as illegitimate.

Focusing on the religion, rather than individual criminal groups, as bad risks the danger of the world seeking solutions against terrorism in the wrong places.

There are further examples to show Islam is for peace. For example, Muslims routinely greet each other by saying “peace be upon you” and there are teachings against anger and for forgiveness.

There is an obvious shame in the fact that it was Somalia that hosted Aisha in captivity. But that dishonorable tag is mitigated in the fact that it was neither public policy nor a stand for Muslims to kidnap her.

Somalia has borne the brunt of terrorism just like other countries across the world. It is a constant reminder that we must shun terror merchants, but see Islam as a peaceful religion.