Sunday, 8 February 2015

Meeting at the Mosque

Yesterday evening I attended a meeting at the Faizan e Madinah Mosque in Peterborough.  I was invited along with other church and community leaders with the aim to achieve a better understanding of Islam.  Their clear intention was to convey that those who commit acts of terror are acting contrary to the teachings of Islam.  They do not speak or act on behalf of the majority of Muslims.  It was timely given recent international events and threats from extremists at home.

One of the speakers drew a clear distinction between Islam and Muslims.  No Muslim is an ideal representation of Islam.  So they are upset by those who commit acts they would regard as being against the teachings of Islam being described as Islamic.  This is a mislabelling to them and is a cause of deep distress.  ISIS have to their minds kidnapped the word 'Islam' as well.

The comparison for me is with those who spout hate in the name of Christianity.  They do not speak for me and I would not regard them as speaking for Christianity, but they may claim to be Christian, though I don't recognise the faith they display.  Individuals can be religious and sin, commit evil.  The same goes for Muslims or anyone of any creed or affiliation.

We didn't get on to discuss how systems or structures within a faith can contribute and how much these are inherent or socially constructed distortions.  There are deeper philosophical questions of what is inherent in a faith and what is how a particular people at a particular time understand it.  This is the debate that lies behind what it means to draw a distinction between Islam and Muslim, or for Christians what Karl Barth drew as a distinction between Religion (with a  capital R) and religion (lower case).

There is a long history of positive contact between Muslims and Christians.  First there needs to be meeting and yesterday evening contacts were made which I hope will develop into a renewal of interfaith dialogue in this city.  The soil of these kinds of meeting can be fertile and feed faith not threaten it.  I came away, as I often do with encounters with Muslims, challenged and reminded of what matters deeply to me.

On a different level, being in a  gathering barefoot has an affect on how we are.  Shoes give a sense of protection which barefoot makes vulnerable.  Barefoot brings a level of humility and 'at homeness' which was novel to me in a place of meeting.  Shoes affect our character in a way that can connect quite deeply and barefoot removes this identity.

I was also struck by the women present who far from being subservient seemed freed to be in a way I wasn't expecting.  They had a confidence which was not what I was expecting.

The warmth of the welcome was what I have come to expect.  They speak of their faith with confidence, clarity and devotion.  They do not apologise for what they believe and I have much to learn from them here.  That confidence meant there was no aggression towards any who do not share their faith.  One of the speakers spoke of other faiths as honoured and that they should not be harmed.  The marking of Christian Churches with 'N' by ISIS for followers of Jesus the Nazarene, was again  against the teachings of Islam.

My hope for this meeting is that it will lead to a renewal of our relating and that this will be for our mutual benefit.

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