Sunday, 14 September 2008

Hari Puttar or Harry Potter? Jesus: Prophet or God? How owns what?

Thought for the Day
BBC Radio Scotland
Monday 15th September 2008
Amanullah De Sondy

There’s been an unusual story in the Indian news recently. A bollywood movie called Hari Puttar has been forced to put its release date back by Indian courts after complaints from the makers of the Harry Potter movies. Warner Brothers in Hollywood have filed a lawsuit after complaining that the name of the Indian movie was ‘too confusing’. The makers of Hari Puttar strongly deny this and say the movie has nothing to do with Harry Potter. The word ‘puttar’ means son in Hindi and Punjabi and Hari is a popular name in India.

This movie spat will no doubt be settled legally. But this argument has made me think about ownership. Specifically, as a theologian - how different faith groups can feel that they ‘own’ religious figures.

Jesus is one such example. Christians and Muslims revere Jesus for two very different reasons. Christians believing that Jesus is Lord and Muslims believing Jesus is Prophet of God. This difference has been the centre of a long history between the two faiths but - the point is - neither faith ‘own’ him exclusively. He is fundamentally important to both, but in different ways.

Lecturing a course on Islamic Theology one day I was stopped by a student mid way who asked me why I continued to use the term ‘God’ as opposed to Allah, ‘surely God is the Christian God and Allah is the Muslim God’, he asked? The simple answer is that Allah is the Arabic word for God and Christians in Arabic speaking countries also use the word Allah. Puzzled and not quite convinced the student left my class.

I believe we can lose sight of the wider picture when we forget that others have a different path. It disturbs me when folk say that others 'are not a proper Muslim' or not 'a real Christian'. That kind of 'ownership' of faith excludes rather than includes. For me, our beliefs should be less about judgement and more about inclusion – only then will we really respect the beliefs of others.