Friday, 30 November 2007

Scottish Interfaith Week: Crescents and the Cross



Left-Right, Margot Rhead, Me and Father Kenny at St Augustines Church

I was kindly invited to present a public lecture at Saint Augustines Episcopal Church in Dumbarton on the invitation of Father Kenny and Mrs Margot Rhead. I was not quite sure what I should highlight in the short time allocated to me as there was so much that I wanted to talk about. I began my discussion with an enquiry into the term 'believer'. A believer in monotheism is one who believes in God and so in my view this includes Jews, Christians and Muslims. When Muhammad turned to the believers of his day with the message of Islam they turned to him and said 'truly we were Muslims (believers) before it' (Qur'an 28:52-55) This brings up the issue of God incarnate. In my view it is not such a stumbling point of unity between the faiths. It's pretty simple really, God becomes flesh (Jesus) or God becomes the word (Qur'an). The central and key point here is that God is central to everything and one must submit to God. The key historical figures we find in religious scriptures, the Bible, Qur'an or Torah all move us towards the blessings and mercy of God so why are so many taking part in this rat race in the battle for God?

For me then the term believer bears no box of Muslim, Jew or Cristian for these terms all fall at the wayside when we all try to uphold good and prevent evil. It is then essential to understand that no one faith has a monopoly on the truth and Islam, Judaism and Christianity all need one another in order to clarify their positions. There are stories in the Qur'an which make more sense when you complement them with biblical readings and vice versa. The most important point is that one must move away from the 'this is right' and 'that is wrong' mentality. John Hick states, 'we have no reason to restrict ourselves to the spiritual resources of our own traditions.' I couldn't agree more.

I am sad to see that we are so caged in our boxes that we need an Interfaith Week to be coerced to find out about the other. Could it be that that pluralism is the biggest threat to religion in the modern world? This question was once raised by one of my inspirational teachers, Mona Siddiqui, and it is a question that has been buzzing around in my head for a very long time. It saddens me that the love and mercy of God is lost through the political ambitions of man, using and abusing each other using God as their weapon. When we stop to do this will we ever realise our shared humanity and then appreciate the liberating and progressive force that God truly wants us to experience.

I found this quote quite refreshing, 'The disciples asked Jesus, "Tell us, which man is the most devoted to God?" "He who labors for the sake of God without seeking praise of mankind", replied Jesus. "Which man offers sincere counsel for the sake of God?" they asked. "He who begins by fulfilling his duties towards God before his duty to men (and prefers) the duties of God to the duties of men. When faced with two choices, worldly matters and matters of the afterlife, he begins with what concerns the afterlife and then turns his attention to this world." (Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (d181), al-Zuhd)

Finally, I want to promote a book which I think is going to be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Islam and Interfaith. This is a booked edited by two key figures within the department that I work, Professor Perry Schmidt-Leukel who is professor of Systematic Theology and Religious Studies and the Chair of World Religions for Peace and Dr Lloyd Ridgeon whos is senior lecturer in Islamic Studies. Ok, Ok, I am bias a bit because Lloyd is my phd supervisor and my guiding light these days, he is an amazing guy, so humble and scholarly. The book is called 'Islam and Inter-faith Relations', see at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Islam-Inter-faith-Relations-Weisfield-Lectures/dp/0334041325/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196437243&sr=8-16 This is an edited collection of papers that were presented in a series of lectures at the University of Glasgow jointly by the Centre for Interfaith Studies and the Centre for the Study of Islam. Five Muslim theologians discuss issues of interfaith with scholars of Christianity, Judaism , Hinduism and Buddhism, a must read!

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