Open Discussions


(updated July 2016)

Inter-faith issues – where should Readers stand? - 06.07.16

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but it seems even more vital than ever that we talk about this now: in the wake of the referendum, more hate activity is being reported around the country.  We seem to be a divided nation, unable to live at peace. That must matter to the Anglican church.

Many of us minister in areas that are, on the surface, almost wholly monocultural. I did some work with my Brownies on Ramadan last week. I started by asking them if anyone knew a Muslim. One hand went up. We can think that, because of this, interfaith issues don’t matter in our parishes – but they do. My Brownies are likely to travel when they grow up; many of them will live in cities with multi-ethnic communities. We cannot pretend that these issues don’t affect us – they do – and our response to them, whether instinctive or thought-through, affects the issues. We all had a vote in the referendum, and many people cast their vote on the issue of immigration, including many people like us, living in monocultural areas. One consequence of the Brexit result (among many) is that some people seem to feel that it is now acceptable to shout abuse at others in the street, even to spit on them. 

The Readers Exec went to the Central Mosque for our awayday, and many things that happened there will stay with me for a long time but I want to share here what they told us about preaching. The Imam preaches for about half an hour. Half of that is explaining the Qur’an, and the other half is instruction on how to live. Our host gave an example. For many weeks after the murder of Lee Rigby, he said, the Imam devoted this time to telling the faithful to meet hostility with meekness and peace, not to retaliate, not to give anyone any excuse to say that Muslims weren’t peaceful members of society.

I remembered that time, the outcry from non-Muslims about the horror, the anger spilling out to all Muslims. But I hadn’t put myself in the shoes of an ordinary Muslim until hearing that. I remember people complaining that ordinary Muslims weren’t condemning the actions done in their name loudly enough. But it seems they weren’t in a position to speak: it took all their energy simply to remain peaceful. The Muslim response to the hatred they received after that atrocity was not to stand up for their right not to be abused, but to keep calm in the face of sometimes extreme provocation – to turn the other cheek, in fact.

It made me think about my preaching. I’ve never been at the sharp end like that, never had to warn a congregation so specifically about their behaviour, for their own safety - but should I be being more specific about how God is calling us to be in our communities, particularly in relation to inter-faith issues?

What do others think? Do we do enough as leaders and teachers in our congregations to promote community cohesion? Should we be entering this arena? Does it matter?

Hilary Elder

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