Bishops across churches condemn Catholic bishop’s ‘narcotics jihad’ remark; hope that statement is withdrawn

Syro-Malabar Catholic bishop of Pala Mar Joseph Kalarangatt had accused Islamist groups of waging a “narcotics jihad” to endanger youth belonging to other religions in Kerala, triggering a controversy

Bishops across churches condemn Catholic bishop’s ‘narcotics jihad’ remark; hope that statement is withdrawn

Ashlin Mathew

Almost a week after the Syro-Malabar Catholic bishop of Pala Mar Joseph Kalarangatt accused the Muslim community in the state of “narcotics jihad”, bishops of several other churches in Kerala condemned the bishop’s statement, while hoping that he would withdraw his statement.

Denouncing the Pala bishop’s statement, the head of the Mar Thoma church headquartered in Kerala, Dr Mar Theodosius said he would stress that a sermon in church should only be about eradicating evil of any kind from the society. “There is nothing wrong in talking about evils in the society but it should not be associated with a particular community. Religion should not divide people,” asserted Bishop Dr Mar Theodosius.

Relationship with other religious communities is extremely important and should be given priority, stressed the head of the Mar Thoma church, while adding that he does not appreciate people putting up walls against one another. The 72-year-old Mar Thoma Metropolitan advocated for harmony and peace between communities. “Everyone should be together. Irrespective of religious backgrounds, people should be together as otherwise communal forces will be able to create division in the state,” he added.

The Mar Thoma Metropolitan said the Catholic bishop of Pala should withdraw his statement. “However, if he believes he should withdraw his statement, there is nothing wrong in doing so. As a bishop and a shepherd of the church, he should be cautious about what he says in church. He should not be dividing communities with specific words that he is using. We should address the root of the matter,” explained the bishop, who took charge as the 22nd Mar Thoma Metropolitan of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church in 2020.

Adding to the Mar Thoma Metropolitan’s opinions, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church bishop Dr Yuhanon Mar Meletius pointed out that narcotics or drugs have become a major issue in all the countries in the world, not only in India or in Kerala. It is a serious issue, but we cannot link it with any religion specifically, he underscored.

“The comment made by the Bishop of Pala is unauthentic and to me, unacceptable,” added the bishop of the Thrissur diocese. The Pala bishop used the word ‘jihad’, which is an Arabic word and which has been used by certain quarters to demonise and accuse Muslims of certain activities.

“Muslims also use the word, but in a different context. Unfortunately, the word has been adopted by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to accuse the Muslims of certain crimes. Muslims, in general, are a peace-loving community; even their salutation ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’ translates into peace be upon you. A sensible person cannot use that word which has been misused all along. Therefore, I do not think the statement made by the Pala bishop should be welcomed by any community or any person. He made the statement without any foundation to accuse a particular community,” observed the bishop of the Orthodox church, which is the oldest and the third largest Christian sect in the state after the Syro-Malabar and Latin Catholic churches.

Bishop Dr Yuhanon Mar Meletius maintained that as a bishop or the leader of the community, the Pala bishop should educate the people of his own community about evils in the society and help families and individuals in his community to keep away from drugs. Secondly, if the Pala bishop had a list of people who were trying to trap people of his community, they should be brought to the notice of the authorities so that they can take necessary action.

“Instead, he was making a biased and unauthentic statement accusing the entire Muslim community, which is unhealthy and unfortunate. He is being influenced by BJP, which has been trying to make inroads in the state. He is being made a tool in their hands. Both the ruling party and the Opposition parties condemned the bishop’s statement,” pointed out Bishop Dr Yuhanon Mor Meletius.

In Kerala, it is not easy to file a case against a bishop as the Christian community is powerful socially and economically. So, any government would be cautious, said Bishop Meletius, and if a case is filed, that would be used to create further divisions in the state as the narrative that the government is against Christians can be created.

“Voices need to be raised against the bishop’s statement and hopefully he will release a statement withdrawing his comments instead of going into a confrontation. I hope and pray for this as it was an unwarranted statement from his part as a community leader. Religion is a sensitive issue in India and particularly in Kerala. Kerala is harmonious state,” added Bishop Meletius.

The bishop of the Niranam diocese of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church Geevarghese Mor Coorilos underlined that pulpits should not be misused for polemics. He said that Bishop Kallarangatt should withdraw his statement as Christians are under no such threat in the state.

“The gospel speaks of love, not hate. No one should use the altar to preach and spread the politics of hated. At a time when secularism is being destroyed, those in responsible positions should avoid making statements that will only aid communal forces. His statement has only helped whip up communal sentiments,” said the bishop of the Jacobite church. He is known to speak against communal hatred in the state.

Agreeing with the Orthodox Bishop Meletius, Bishop Mor Coorilos said the Pala bishop should have lodged a complaint if he had concerns.

The Church of South India Bishop Malayil Sabu K Cherian emphasised that usage of drugs has become a major issue in Kerala currently and should be controlled by the government, but this cannot be blamed on a particular community. Recently, Catholic bishops have been talking against Muslims and it is a problem, he added.

“There are extremists in all communities and we need avoid such people. But if I commit a crime, the whole of the CSI community cannot be blamed. As the bishop has made such a statement, he should be explaining his stand and facing consequences. As leaders of communities, bishops have a role in educating their people about the evils and crimes in the society. They should not be alienating people,” said Bishop Cherian of the central Kerala diocese.

Bishop Cherian highlighted that leaders should always be careful of the words they use. “As a bishop, any words I use would be interpreted as the voice of the church. All Christian bishops should work towards harmony in the society. The Christian-Muslim rift is growing in the state and it should be stopped. Pala bishop’s statements are a shame because the town falls within Kottayam district, which is said to have 100% literacy,” lamented Bishop Cherian.

He was part of a joint press meeting with Kerala Muslim Youth Federation (KMYF), where he along with Imam Shamsuddeen Mannani Ilavupalam took strong exception to the comments made by Bishop Kalarangatt and requested people to isolate anti-social elements irrespective of their caste and religion in order to fight social evils. They said Kerala needs peace and love, not call for revenge.

The only Catholic priest or bishop to criticize Bishop Kalarangatt’s anti-Muslim rant was Fr Paul Thelakkat, the former spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar church. He wrote in the Mangalam newspaper that the Pala bishop’s opinions do not reflect the stand of the Christian community. The bishop passed those comments without adequate thought, wrote Fr Thelakkat.

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