Language is important to religions, and the religious. On Sunday, for example, a pretty historic change took place in the Roman Catholic Church, and it all had to do with language.
It was the start of Advent, which comes from the Latin word, and which means “the Lord is coming.” Sitting there in the pews, then, we all looked at the shiny new missals for 2011-2012 — and we also were handed a helpful tip sheet, which described the huge changes that have been made to the words of the Catholic Mass.
The amendments radically revise the words that Catholics have been uttering during the Mass for the past four decades or so. The changes to the Mass were commissioned by the late Pope John Paul II, and reflect a more literal translation of the Roman missal. For most of us, it means forgetting the words we have memorized since we were kids.
Some think the changes are terrific, and others aren’t so sure. Personally, I found myself eyeballing the word “consubstantial” in the new version of the Nicene Creed, and worrying whether I could pronounce it, let alone define it. Whenever people feel compelled to get “literal” about religion, unexpected things happen. For Catholics, the debate about the new language will rage on.
In one of the other great faiths, Islam, another language debate rages on, and it is a debate with a local angle. In Kingston, the first-degree murder trial of Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Yahya, and Hamed Shafia continues. It is a sad and horrifying affair, with the trio accused of killing Mohammad Shafia’s barren first wife, and his three daughters — Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti. Police and prosecutors allege that the three girls were the victims of what the prosecutors call an “honour killing.” The girls, particularly the eldest, were too independent, and too disobedient, and insufficiently devout Muslims. So, says the Crown, their father, mother and brother plotted to end their lives.
If you enter those words — “honour killing” — into Google, in fact, you will be quickly provided with hundreds of media accounts of the trial. In headlines, and in straight-up news coverage, the murders are repeatedly referred to as “honour killings.” The craggy railbirds of the Canadian media, Christie Blatchford and Rosie Dimanno, have been there to chronicle all of it in forensic detail, regurgitating the prosecutors’ “honour killing” axiom over and over. And one old Islamophobe, Robert Fulford, actually wrote in the National Post that “One lesson we can learn from Kingston is that mindless tolerance, when carried too far, can be fatal.”
“Mindless tolerance.” What’s mindless, in fact, is the likes of Fulford, who have dishonestly suggested that “honour killings” are permitted, or even encouraged, in Islam. Problem: It’s a lie. If you were to comb through the Koran, in fact, you would not find a single passage that advocates “honour killing.” It isn’t there. Plenty of prohibitions against murder, however, are.
I recently spoke to some young Muslim women about the Kingston trial, and the “honour killing” libel that has been uttered there, by the media and prosecutors alike. Didn’t it upset them?
“Of course,” one said. “In Islam, there is no honour in killing, ever.”
Words, and language, to remember. I pray we do.