For Muslims, the Saudi Arabian city of Medina, a place where the prophet Muhammad is said to be buried, is second only to Mecca as a sacred site. The love of Medina is such that even Muslims who support violence in the name of the faith were shocked when a terrorist bombed the Prophet's Mosque in Medina on July 4.
Militant jihadists from Hezbollah to the Taliban condemned the attack, which was blamed on Islamic State. Iran, which supports violent Shiite groups, called for unity among Muslims. Such protestations seemed to acknowledge that perhaps the doctrine of killing those branded as infidels, especially other Muslims, can have its limits.
To try and destroy Medina, a symbol of affection for the faithful, would be to put hate before love, or coercion before caring. The bombing, in other words, showed the futility of hurting others in the name of a religion that proclaims the promise of peace.
Another recent act of killing in Saudi Arabia evoked a similar reaction in the Muslim world.
In June, twin brothers murdered their mother allegedly for refusing to let them travel to Syria to join Islamic State. The matricide has stirred an open debate among Saudi elite over the influence of a 13th-century Islamic scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, on the strict Saudi version of Islam. He espoused a doctrine of harsh excommunication, known as takfirism, which is used by groups like IS to justify the killing of Muslims perceived as apostates.
The killing of a parent in the name of purifying Islam was a step too far for many in Saudi society who have long welcomed harsh crackdowns on religious dissent. When a mother must die for disagreeing with her sons’ extremist ideology, then the ideology and its justification of violence come under question.
“Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated by better ideas, a more attractive and more compelling vision,” President Obama has said about the campaign against Islamic State.
For Muslims and those of other major faiths, love is more than an idea. It is an expression of worship. When a cherished site like Medina or a beloved parent falls victim to a doctrine of hate, it helps serve as a reminder that the source of religious practice is a spiritual and universal love.