BBC Radio Scotland - Thought for the Day
Friday 26th February 2016
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam
University College Cork, Republic of Ireland
Archaeologists working in southern France have found three graves that are said to represent the oldest Muslim burials ever found in Europe. They date back to the 8th Century. The skeletons seem to be facing Mecca and a genetic analysis has shown that their lineage was North African. This discovery raises important questions to reflect upon as we aim to build societies of difference. I believe, it should encourage us, both within and outside Islam, to reflect on how we welcome each other.
There is a beautiful story of how Muslims were welcomed in the 7th century to the court of the Christian King of Abyssinia, which is in current day Ethiopia, who were asked a series of questions by the King and his bishops. The early Muslims then read a passage from the Qur’an on Mary to which the King wept. He then stated that what was read out and what Jesus brought was from the same light. And there began a fruitful time of co-existence between Muslims and Christians – although of course, we know there have also been times in our religious history when scripture and tradition have been used to kill each other.
Today when there is much debate on immigration to Europe and Muslim integration, these grave findings show that in some way Muslims have been welcomed in non-Muslim lands from the earliest of times. But there is also a danger in unearthing historical connections. This discovery connects Muslims to the west yet what does it say to those communities who may never have had a connection? Does history mean we can create levels of hospitality and welcome to the other? And on what foundations do we bridge our differences to each other? These are questions of our time and we may need many sources of wisdom to find our answers.