How do we respond to the Manchester Arena attack?

Yesterday we woke to the news that a terror attack had been committed at the Manchester Arena. An Ariana Grande concert – which attracted many children and teenagers – was targeted by a suicide bomber. The explosion has killed at least 22 people and injured a further 59 (at the point of writing). Those present report that the aftermath of the bomb blast had littered the floor with nuts and bolts and many of the wounds inflicted were consistent with shrapnel injury.

There is something particularly wicked about somebody sitting there creating an explosive device – packing it with metal to inflict as much damage as possible – knowing that they were going to use it primarily against children and teenagers. It is very difficult to think of this without feeling a rage against such heinous sin. The perpetrator has died in the blast, no doubt convinced of his own entrance to paradise for such evil, and many would believe he has, in fact, escaped justice.

Though Oldham lies 15 miles outside of Manchester city centre we are nonetheless one of the 10 boroughs that make up the Greater Manchester region. Oldham may well be distinctly its own place but it is still part of the city region. Two mothers from Royton, the town in the borough of Oldham in which I live, have been identified among the victims. As a church leader, not only serving in an area within the Manchester city region but one which is replete with Muslim people, how on earth are we supposed to respond to these events?

Carry on as before

Yesterday morning, the doors of our church were wide open. Our regular English Class, that serves many local Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims, welcomed our students in again as usual. The church was able to welcome Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Iraqi, Afghan and Albanian Muslims to learn English with Portuguese Catholics as well as Iranian and Romanian Protestants. This was not so much a response to the previous night’s events, it was a continuation of what we already do. Teaching English to an eclectic mix of people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, though it may appear a defiant show of unity in the face of violent hatred, is simply what we have been doing for some time.

Yet, that is entirely the point. The Muslims in our midst were as welcome this Tuesday as they were the Tuesday before that and every other one before it too. There was no change to what we did and no difference in our welcome. We simply carried on as before because to do otherwise is to say the terror attack achieved its sole purpose; to spread terror.

Remember God’s justice

Our Muslim friends were quick to point out the following Qur’anic verse:

“…if any one killed a person, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…” – The Holy Quran (Chapter Five, Verse 32)

They wanted tell us that those who kill innocent people, as happened in Manchester, are acting outside the bounds of Islam and are – according to their belief – condemned to Hellfire.

In the Western Christian church, we have spent so long trying to play down God’s justice – instead preferring to emphasise his mercy and grace – that we often have no category in which to place this sort of behaviour. Our sanitised view of the gospel airbrushes the fact that our God is a God of justice. But in such moments as this, where is the comfort in that? This is precisely when we want to see a just God.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing the perpetrator has escaped justice. But scripture is clear:

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb 9:27)

‘The Almighty will not pervert justice’ (Job 34:12)

‘The wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality’ (Col 3:25)

He may have escaped the British legal system. He may have escaped a period of time in prison. But he has not escaped the justice of God. 

Remember our mortality

It is unlikely anybody going to the Manchester Arena expected events to unfold as they did. Few of us live our lives troubled by the impending reality of our own mortality. Yet, as sure as night follows day, all of us will one day stand before Almighty God. Such acts of evil and wickedness ought to remind us that we are not immortal. The span of our life is ultimately very short. The question of what happens when we die is ever pertinent.

Paul makes it abundantly clear in 2 Corinthians 5:10: ‘we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil’. It is easy for us to look at the heinous sin of a wicked man in Manchester and forget the fact that, just as he must give an account for what he has done, we too will come face to face with God’s perfect justice.

The danger we face at moments like this is to relax into a moral relativism that says, ‘isn’t it great I’m not as bad as him’. Whilst most of us will not have done anything like the evil of mass murder, the standard is not set by such heinous people. We must contend with the perfect righteousness of God. Though we are morally far better than an odious and cowardly suicide bomber, we must face the reality that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23). We can comfort ourselves all the way to Hell with moral relativism, or we can use this poignant reminder that we are not immortal, we will face our maker and we know – often even by our own reckoning – we have not met his righteous standards.

Remember God’s mercy

Though we have a God of justice, we have a God of great mercy. Though God’s justice is welcome when faced with the iniquitous actions of a wicked and unrepentant child killer, it is terrifying when we recognise that we have not attained to the righteous standard of his glory. It is only when we recognise this that we may delight ourselves in our merciful God.

For God tells us in no uncertain terms ‘none is righteous, no, not one’ (Rom 3:10) and that ‘no one is good except God alone’ (Mark 10:18). But the record of the Old Testament, and the history of Israel (in fact, the history of humankind), testifies to the fact that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and rich in love (Ps 145:8).

The suicide bomber insists, despite a life lived badly and a failure to maintain the strictures of Islam, killing the kuffir in the name of jihad leads to immediate entrance to paradise. Such pernicious forms of Islam believe Allah says die for me, and kill as many others as you can, for my honour. The Christian God, Yahweh, not only says ‘do not kill’, but I will die instead of you and, in so doing, will share my honour with you.

This is the very definition of love:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:7f)

Jesus Christ died for us while we were in rebellion against him. He died so that we might be brought back into loving and lasting relationship with God. He died so that we might receive his righteousness and share in his glory.

We will all face God’s righteous judgement. The question of whether we enter paradise rests on one question: did you trust in Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, and submit to his Lordship? His death is a gift that he offers to you. It is an act of free grace on his part. It satisfies God’s justice in that Jesus takes our sin upon himself and it is all forgiven at the cross when we turn in repentance and faith to him.

At times like this we may content ourselves with ‘at least I’m not as bad as him’. Better by far to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that though we are as bad as we are (even if we are better than some), Jesus died so that all of our sin might be forgiven. The best response to any sin – even the most heinous – is to be reminded of our own and driven into the merciful and forgiving arms of Jesus. If there is anything good to come out of such a grossly wicked act of sin, let it be that it reminded us of our own mortality, it caused us to consider our own standing before God and it led us – not to superiority and moral relativism but – to repentance and faith in Christ.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


  1. Disgraceful, misleading article. Just in case you don’t know those words you quote are followed by an EXCEPTION to that rule that justifies dismembering. The requirement is merely that someone is deemed to be causing “mischief in the land”, a phrase vague enough to mean just about anything:

    The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;

    Also the words in Koran 8:12 are clear enough, they urge Muslims to “strike TERROR into the hearts of the disbelievers” by striking them on the neck and cutting off all their fingertips.

    Absolutely disgraceful to mislead the uneducated in this way, especially in the wake of such a tragedy. You are not telling white lies here you are perpetuating a gross deception.

  2. I made no comment whatsoever on the value of the quranic verse nor whether they were contextually correct. I merely reported the fact – a fact you cannot be aware of because you were not in our English class – that our Muslim friends landed on this verse and condemned the attack.

    Their reading may be contextually faulty. They may be misapplying the verse. But this is the response they gave. I am factually reporting their own words.

    There is nothing misleading here and I make that clear in the article.

  3. Your words:

    Such pernicious forms of Islam believe Allah says die for me, and kill as many others as you can, for my honour

    That is misleading because you are not describing a “pernicious form of Islam”, the Koran is clear enough:

    Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone.

    Quran (2:216) – “Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”

    Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”

    The risk will not subside until Muslims start to become non-Muslims in droves. We must find the courage to point out the truth of the religion to all, as for example Gavin Ashenden has done – costing him his job as chaplain to the Queen. There is no virtue in turning a blind eye as you have done here.

  4. With respect, the Muslims I know – whatever else they may believe – do not subscribe of salafist jihadism.

    Quoting the Qur’an this way doesn’t make the point you seem to think it does. It shows, at best, those who do not subscribe to violent jihad (who are indeed the majority) live inconsistently with their own scriptures. More likely, it shows that the means they use of interpreting the Qur’an are quite different to yours.

    Nonetheless, the point is true that it is those pernicious forms of salafist jihadist Islamism that are the problem. The people I quoted do not subscribe to it. To insist they Do, when they say they don’t and their lifestyles speak to the fact they don’t, is to be obtuse.

  5. I did not at any point try to claim anything about what any individual believes, you are being obtuse to suggest that I did. What goes on in the heads of millions of individuals is a mystery to me. What I do know is what the Koran states. The Koran states that the violent warlord Mohammed was a beautiful example for the faithful to follow (33:23). That is a very clear principle that is common to every “form” of Islam that I have ever heard of. Try asking your Muslim friends if they disagree with it.

    Mohammed established his dominance by waging war on the disbelievers, not by preaching as Jesus did. Before Mohammed turned to violence he had almost no impact at all, and if he had not turned to ruthless violence in his Medina period you and I would never have heard of him, and those people would not have lost their lives in that terrorist attack.

    Many, perhaps even most, individuals who identify as Muslims may well be completely ignorant of all this (or not, I don’t know). However as long as there are a great number prepared to say they are Muslims, those who would take the Koran literally feel empowered and encouraged to acts of violence. That is why Muslims must be encouraged away from their faith. There is no easy way around this, only great courage will stop the tide of this violent and barbaric ideology.

  6. With respect, you claimed my post was misleading when I specifically pointed out that I was only reporting what our Muslim students said, making no comment on their hermeneutics nor their understanding of Islam. You then quoted the Qur’an to back up your claim that I was ‘misleading’ and ‘disgraceful’ and committing a ‘gross deception’. Unless you can prove that my Muslim friends did not quote the surah to which I referred, and did not claim that this meant the Manchester bombing was against Islam, I suggest you withdraw your baseless accusation that I am deceiving anybody.

    Second, you claim I am not describing a pernicious form of Islam but the view of every Muslim. That this is what you mean is clear in your comment ‘the risk will not subside until Muslims start to become non-Muslims in droves’. You then undermine your own argument by insisting ‘I did not at any point try to claim anything about what any individual believes’. If such is true, then you will accept that the Muslims to whom I refer do not believe the Manchester bombing is a legitimate outworking of Islam as they understand it and thus do not represent any sort of threat to the UK. You will similarly be happy to withdraw your claim that I deceived anybody and that it is, indeed, pernicious forms of Islam – such as Salafi Jihadism – that represent a problem.

    As I made clear in my earlier comment, quoting the Qur’an does not make the point you seem to think it does. You could quote the Bible at me to defend Catholicism, it doesn’t mean I subscribe to their theology and practices. In the same way, quoting the Qur’an and rendering readings that would be acceptable to the Salafi Islamist ear does nothing to prove that all Deobandis, Sufis, Ahmadis or other branches agree. They may all subscribe to the same text, it doesn’t mean they read it the same way nor draw the same inferences from it. The very fact that there are still Muslims alive today rather suggests they aren’t all interested in blowing themselves up and killing their neighbours.

  7. Second, you claim I am not describing a pernicious form of Islam but the view of every Muslim. That this is what you mean is clear in your comment ‘the risk will not subside until Muslims start to become non-Muslims in droves’

    Nonsense, that is completely false, I nowhere referred to the “view of every Muslim” and that is not implied by that statement. The sheer number of people saying they are Muslims is empowering to what we might call “literalist” Muslims, that was my point.

    There are supposed to be something like 1.7 billion people who are Muslims. If even only .1% of those 1.7 billion Muslims take the Koran literally then that is a lot more (1,700,000) than .1% of 1.7 million say (only 1,700), is it not. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest there is an increased risk the more Muslims there are, there is no necessity for EVERY Muslim to agree with “literalism” for there to be an increased risk. By the way the .1% is an arbitrary percentage for the purposes of example only – I am not suggesting that it is anywhere near as small as that in reality and I don’t believe it is either.

  8. Cherry picking verse 5:32 and not quoting 5:33 is a gross deception and you are perpetuating that gross deception by simply quoting that 5:32 verse alone here without challenging it. Worse, I think you know of the existence of 5:33 but you don’t mention it. Those Muslim friends of yours, for all I know may be ignorant of it, I don’t know and nowhere did I claim to know (and I most certainly never disputed what they may have said as you keep trying to suggest I did). If they are ignorant of it then they are deceived or simply ignorant as well. If they know of it then they are either very confused or they are also deceiving you.

    Imagine you were a person entirely ignorant of the religion and you are reading your article here. What impression will that leave you with? It will leave you with a simple idea that the Koran opposes killing, nothing more. That is the deception you are perpetuating . It is the picture you are painting that I object to, and the idea that we should continue as if nothing has happened. This is our wake up call, we must heed it (another one, no doubt there will be more to come as well). A violent savage ideology is growing stronger in our midst with every passing day. We must either oppose it or else we will eventually be forced to submit to it – a religion that condones child abuse as well.

  9. You took all of that from a reported comment that the students coming into our English class, who quoted that verse, condemned the attack in Manchester?

    Are you now suggesting I cannot quote someone? Or, any quote I give, I have to offer a lengthy explanation of whether I agree or not? Or, I must make sure I put their quote about their own beliefs into whatever I deem to be appropriate context? Some would consider misquoting, or adding additional material, to be somewhat lacking in integrity.

    That aside, given that I wasn’t seeking to make a wider point about Islam at that point but – as I have said ad nauseam – was simply reporting what was said. The only inference I would expect someone to draw from that is that the Muslims attending our English Class do not think blowing themselves up is a legitimate outworking of Islam. How they work that out and how they justify that position when faced with other parts of the Qur’an is really beyond the scope of my article.

    Now, I disagree with your first comment. I do not believe a large number of Muslims necessarily lends credence to violent jihad when the majority do not share such views. The sheer size of Protestantism does nothing to lend credence to the existence of a Pontiff (which Protestants like me vehemently reject), so the existence of Muslim people who reject violent jihad does nothing to encourage violent jihad. You cannot argue people who publicly denounce such things – on whatever grounds they do so – lends credence to the actions of those who ignore them. That simply makes no sense.

    I would like to draw a line under this, if I may.

  10. Nobody in their right mind would accuse you of lacking integrity for pointing out the CONTEXT of the verse that was quoted, and adding your own point of view. As long as you were not altering the meaning of what was said to you then there would be no problem.

    You continue to make the fatal error of drawing parallels between two religions that are practically polar opposites. I can perhaps see this reality better from my irreligious point of view. I don’t have to wrestle every day with illogical contradictions.

    You may draw the line under our conversation, but reality will not be going away, not any time soon. There will be more terrorist attacks, as surely as night follows day. As long as the human race continues to accept the unacceptable, and continues to make special exceptions for a violent backward self-contradictory religion from the dark ages of our past, then there will be more terrorist attacks. I don’t blame you for growing tired of defending the indefensible. Anybody would. Lets leave it there then, until the next atrocity.

  11. Thank you for your article. Our family is reading through the Bible together using The Bible Project ( and one thing that is striking is that God is a God of both justice and mercy. Anyone who reads through the Psalms should understand that. We have learned that it is better to leave justice in the hands of God. Harder, but better and ultimately more satisfying. Our son, who is in grade 10 here in Canada, said that they were discussing the bombing in one of his classes. He said that he spoke up and told them that not all Muslims are jihadists and bombers – that most Muslims are peaceful people. But then he made the point that all jihadists are Muslims. Which brought them to silence and a common agreement.

    The majority of Muslims are given verses of the Qur’an to use in defense – it is written in Arabic and unless they are fluent in Arabic, they rely on the verses that they are given rather than reading it for themselves. Reading ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus’ will give you some insight.

  12. Cindy,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Your son is very clear-sighted on this issue. Most Muslims are not jihadists, but all jihadists are nonetheless Muslims. We don’t do anybody any favours pretending ‘they are not Muslim’ or that ‘Islam has nothing to do with it’. At the same time, it is unreasonable to hold to account all Muslims for the actions of only a few.

    Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a great resource. The area of Oldham I minister in is 90% Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims. We also have lots of ex-Muslim, Iranian Christian converts in our congregation. So we have lots of dealings with this issue.

  13. Our family is praying for you. May you be a blessing to those around you.

  14. Stephen, thank you so much for your honest and Biblical post. Much of our prayer time on Tuesday night was for the survivors of this horrific event and for the Lord to bring good out of it. I hope those who have read your post and are not Christians we see their need of forgiveness in Christ and that unless they repent they will likewise perish. It’s so easy to think good about yourself when compared to others, but when compared to the holiness of God…that’s so different. Every blessing.

  15. I am un-following your blog at this point.

    I will just leave you with a few of the realities that you will no doubt continue to ignore:

    1. In Pakistan a MAJORITY of Muslims favour the DEATH penalty for apostates. Just to repeat that, a MAJORITY of Muslims favour the DEATH penalty for apostates (Pew Research). That’s not some tiny handful of “Islamists”, that’s the MAJORITY of ORDINARY Muslims who support this in Pakistan. The Christian Asia Bibi is on DEATH ROW just because a mob of her own fellow Muslim workers accused her of blasphemy. Mohammed himself was clear enough on the subject of punishing apostates and blasphemers, who can blame them they are just following “Allah”‘s will!

    2. 6% of Muslims in the UK were even prepared to admit they supported the actions of the 7/7 terrorists (ICM poll). That amounted to 100,000 people in the UK at that time. That’s the size of one small city in the UK even then. Of course 6% of today’s Muslim population would be a lot more than that. A LOT more than that because the Muslim population is doubling every 10 years (at least). How many more would secretly support it? Clearly you like to think that your class is representative of the UK’s Muslim population but clearly they are not. Its not surprising really, because those who despise the kuffirs (as the Koran instructs them to) would not really want to attend a kuffir’s classes, still less those run by a Christian preacher.

    3. The UK is on track to become a Muslim majority country sometime this century. THAT is the future that you are inflicting on your OWN children and grandchildren. Within this century that is THEIR future, if we continue with your precious “left-leaning” policies of welcoming in those who hate us and hate our way of life and giving them unrestricted welfare and housing. How callous of you to wish such a grim future on your own descendants. Trusting to God doesn’t work in the real world – God only helps those who help themselves.

    I thought you were a voice speaking out for freedom of speech and democracy but it seems you will welcome the UK becoming a Muslim majority country where these principles will no longer have any meaning. Your descendants will have to either submit to “Allah” or become second class citizens (in some real senses we are already becoming that today due to our COWARDICE – we are no longer equal under the law).

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