Archive for the ‘Christian’ Category

IS THIS ISLAM?

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua*

Shortly after the release of the video of the Chibok abducted girls by Abubakar Shekau, Mallam Sikiru visited me in the office. Sikiru understands Arabic. He is also vast in Islamic theology. He has travelled to Egypt, Medina, Yemen, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. He quotes the Bible in a religious conversation to show that he likes inter-religious dialogue. I told him that I have some of the videos of Shekau in Arabic and English. He was excited and requested to listen to them. After watching four of the video clips, he exclaimed almost in a rage as if he could kill Shekau the next minute. “Stupid, rubbish, is this Islam?” He continued, “the terrorist activities of this lunatic is capable of causing ‘islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) in Nigeria.” “Why do you think so? Is it not true that the Muslims in Nigeria have denied that Shekau and his terrorist group are Muslims?” I asked.
“Father”, he said, “let us critically look at this videos in the context of the teaching of Islam. In the first video we just watched, Shekau said that the Christians sent somebody to Egypt to learn the secret of Islam. The person came back and revealed the secrets of the Qur’an to every body. Since then, people do not respect the Qur’an again. Because of that many Muslims in Nigeria have lost their Islam all in the name of Western education. “What is the secret of Islam? Is the ‘Islam’ of Shekau a secret cult? It appears that Islam for Shekau is violence and death. True Islam is peace. If any Muslim has lost Islam in Nigeria, it is Shekau and his men / women who have lost their Islam. The Islam I know is peace. If Shekau has peace, why is he living in the forest?”
To Shekau’s assertion that his war is against Christians, Sikiru recalled the early relationship between the Muslims and the Christians (people of the book). He reiterated that the action of Boko Haram is simply criminal. He regrets that when the seed of hatred for other religions was being sown in the minds of children in some part of Northern Nigeria, some traditional, religious and political leaders did not know that a time would come when a group of terrorists beyond their control would emerge. If they had the premonition, they could have nipped from the bud, any form of religious intolerance. The challenge now facing every orthodox Muslim is how to correct the false perception of Islam that Shekau has presented to the world.
On the video where the kidnapped girls were reciting the Qur’an, here is the reaction of Malam Sikiru. “Where in Islam are people converted with a gun? These girls wearing full veils and praying in an undisclosed location is an abuse of hijab. If Abubakar Shekau is a true Muslim, why should he, wearing military uniform and holding an AK-47 chant ‘God is great’ and appears confident laughing to show that human trauma means nothing to him. This man is heartless! Boko Haram militants claim to be fighting for an Islamic state. Perhaps, the terrorists group believe that through the Boko Harram terrorist operation, Nigeria one day will be like the modern Islamic nations that were once upon a time dominated by Christians.”
Sikiru was very disturbed with this Shekau statement: “All I am saying is that if you want us to release the girls that we have kidnapped, those who have not accepted Islam will be treated as the Prophet treated infidels and they will stay with us. We will not release them while you detain our brothers.” Sikiru interpreted this statement as an insult on the prophet of Islam. He wonders why the Muslims among the girls needed a second conversion. He said that the Christians among the girls who have been forced to wear hijab can never be true Muslims because it is forbidden to force somebody to convert. Is this Islam? Sikiru queried again! If you understand Arabic, you would laugh when Shekau says that he will kill Goodluck Jonathan, Barak Obama, and destroy all the Western technology. Yet he is holding a gun that he did not manufacture and used a vehicle he did not manufacture to transport the Chibok girls to unknown destination. Shekau said that no one can defeat him because Allah is with him. Sikiru wondered if Shekau’s Allah is the same God that every body believes in!
While Sikiru was still talking, Jibril knocked and entered. Jibril happens to be a friend of Sikiru. He came to tell Sikiru that somebody was waiting for him, but he too suddenly got involved in the conversation. Jibril introduced another dimension to the discussion. His problem was that many Christians are now thinking that Muslims cannot be trusted. Some Christians according to him now think that some Muslims are comfortable with what Boko Haram is doing to create an Islamic state. Jibril almost changed the topic, “You see, what Christians do not know is that there are many sects in Islam.” He wanted to lists the sects but Sikiru was not patient with him.
He responded immediately, “Is Boko Haram a Sect? Tell me which sect of Islam preaches this type of violence and terrorism? Boko Haram is a sect of criminals and not Islam, period! You talk of trust. Is not Trust a virtue that is cultivated and built over a period of time? Why is Borno and the other states that have become the citadel of Boko Haram different from other States? It will take another generation before Borno will recover itself again? If not for the effort of the military and the security agents, by now Borno would either be forgotten or converted to a terrorist empire with Boko Haram system of government.” Jibril kept quiet for a while and then submitted that Boko Haram is waging war on Islam. He supported this position with the following reason, “When all the electronic and social media were playing Shekau’s video with the girls chanting the Qur’an, one can conclude that the fear of many non-Muslims is justified. Many had believed that Boko Haram has an agenda to create an Islamic State. But the question is, what kind of Islam would be practised in such state.
I told Sikiru and Jibril that there is no need to cry over spilled milk. If there is a will to change, there is a way. I drew their attention to the Second African Synod of 2008 that emphasized the need for a collaborative effort between Christians and Muslims. The Synod identified the need of “Joining our Spiritual Forces” to remind Africans of their inner spiritual force to address common concerns. What we need actually now should not be an argument about whether Boko Haram is a religious sect or not. The point is that evil has befallen our nation.
What matters now is that the victims of these terrorists are human beings. “We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the high places (Ephesians 6, 12). The devil is incarnated in our land and we must do something very fast. We must pray more now than ever before. This is the time to put aside our political differences. Very soon the flames will consume the person who made this fire. We need to save Nigerians and Nigeria. Otherwise, those who think that they must rule Nigeria by hook or crook may end up only as leaders of the cemetery. I do not have the answer to the question, “Is this Islam” that Boko Haram is propagating? If you have the answer, I will be happy to learn but for now, let us put all our spiritual resources together to save our children and our nation.

 

*Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City comonokhua@hotmail.com).

 

 

Experiencing Ramadan Reflections 2013

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

“Without real empathy, Christian Muslim dialogue remains a dialogue on the surface, a light encounter as opposed to a rich, mutually shared experience which can continue to inspire new avenues for exploration.”  Mona Siddiqui – Christians, Muslims & Jesus

 

Mohammed AliMohammed Ali- Ramadan is a great opportunity to build bridges with people of all faiths and none, the highlight being the radical decision by Ch4 to screen the morning Adhaan (call to prayer) and the 4Ramadan series including “Ramadan Reflections” and “Ramadan Diaries”.

Building Bridges has been on the menu at many iftars, the Big Iftar saw many mosques across the country opening its doors to invite ministers, faith leaders and communities to share a meal, whilst Dine@Mine saw an innovative way of Muslim families sharing Iftar with families and individuals. This year we saw many towns and cities hosting Iftar with the homeless events which is a great way to share the a key message of Ramadan, through hunger and thirst of 18 hours fasts we build empathy with the homeless in Britain who often do not know where their next meal will be coming from.

Experiencing Ramadan started in 2010 and has evolved into an annual event, to experientially learn about Ramadan by fasting from dawn to dusk, by going without food and water. The evening brings participants together for Interfaith reflections and much needed Iftar. Experiencing Ramadan has grown from Preston to Manchester, Lancaster & London. We plan to grow further for Experiencing Ramadan 2014, if you are interested in becoming a host or would like to take part next years, please email me on mohammed_ali_79@yahoo.co.uk

This year we collectively raised over £1100 for the mental health charity Mind. Mental health is an important issue which faces people of all faiths and none, unfortunately it continues to be a taboo subject within all segments of society. We struggle to speak about our experiences due to the stigma. Faith and spirituality can provide resilience to promote positive mental health and allow healing ourselves and our communities, during Interfaith Week 2013 we intend to organise a faith & mental health event.

As part of our Interfaith Iftar we invited Rev Pete Hamborg of Christ Church (Fulwood, Preston) to reflect on fasting from a Christian perspective, this is a great opportunity to learn from each other by exploring our similarities and creating a greater understanding of our differences.

 

Rev Peter HamborgRev Pete Hamborg- I was invited by Ali Amla to take part in a one day Ramadan fast on July 27th, and in the process I was able to raise £200 for the mental health charity ‘Mind.’ I found the experience demanding, and it certainly gave me a new level of respect for this Islamic discipline.

It was a pleasure to break fast with an Iftar meal alongside some of my Muslim neighbours that evening. The evening was warm and open, with some good humour as well as some serious moments. Prior to breaking fast we heard some Quran recitation and listened to reflections on the meaning of Ramadan for Muslims. I was also humbled to be invited to speak on the Christian perspective on fasting, which demonstrated that this was a two-way process in which we are all wishing to understand one another better, and learn from each other.

Ali Amla has asked me to summarise my talk on this subject of fasting, which I summarise as follows:

There is no specific command in the bible for Christians to fast. In the Old Testament there was the compulsory fast on the Jewish ‘day of atonement’ which for Christians is now redundant. But there is a strong tradition of fasting within Christian tradition, and references to it within both the Old and New Testament. It is considered appropriate on certain occasions and for particular reasons.

1. The Fasting of Jesus in the Wilderness

Jesus fasted from food for 40 days and nights in the wilderness (no mention of fasting from water). Our understanding as Christians is that:

  • Jesus’battles against the flesh, and against the temptations of the devil. Through his time in the wilderness Jesus proves that he is stronger than the devil.
  • Prior to this passage Jesus has just been baptized in the river Jordan and has been given power by God to fulfil his mission. Through fasting he now strengthens himself for this work that God has set him apart for.
  • It was a spiritual discipline: demonstrating self control, the purifying of the heart and mind, and it brought him to a place of intense obedience and dependence upon God. Christians remember Jesus’ time in the wilderness through the forty day season of Lent. Different traditions will practice various forms and degrees of fasting during Lent, from giving up simple things like chocolate or alcohol through to a full fasting from food for a day or two a week. The practice of Christian fasting during Lent various greatly across the world. My sister is currently working in Jordan and she tells me that the Christians around her in Jordan give up all meat and dairy products for the whole of Lent.

 

2. Jesus’ teaching on fasting

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.” (Matthew 6:16)

Jesus teaches that fasting is a private devotional activity between you and God, and we should even go to lengths to hide from others that we are fasting.

‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast (Matthew 9:14-15)

Here Jesus rejects the ritual fasting tradition of his contemporary culture, but upholds the teaching that fasting may accompany times of mourning and repentance. This association of fasting with sorrow for our sins runs through the Old Testament portion of the bible.

 

3. Old Testament Teaching on Fasting

I will only raise attention to one particularly striking passage on this subject, which teaches about the true purpose of fasting:

Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

(The prophet Isaiah 58:5-9)

Here the point is driven home that God is not ultimately interested in whether or not we have given up food. His concern is that our lives demonstrate justice and compassion. If our fasting does not lead us into these things then it is worthless to God and to us also therefore.

 

4. Fasting for Prayer in the New Testament

The New Testament teaching is more concerned that we pray with faith (believing that God will answer), and that our lives practice righteousness. We are told that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). But we read in the New Testament of occasions when the early church, built on the first apostles, fasted alongside prayer.

And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe. (Acts 14:23)

The examples of fasting (here are others) seem to accompany fervent prayer, big decisions, and occasions where the early Christians wished to discern the will of God. It is considered that God may speak to us when we come to this special place of attentiveness through fasting.

 

5. Summary

Fasting is a devotional spiritual discipline through which we develop godly character. For Christians it is especially appropriate at times of sorrow and penitence. It is also appropriate for intensified prayer and a deeper awareness of God. But we have no particular rules on it. It not to be viewed as a way of receiving God’s merit or favour, since for Christians salvation is not secured through observances but through faith in Jesus Christ. We may fast out of love for God (and at times arguably should), but it is not a requirement for receiving his love in return or for receiving forgiveness of our sins.

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Further Reflections from Experiencing Ramadan 2013

Golden Room Inter-religious journal

Stark Family reflection

Maham Reflection

Preston vicar takes part in Ramadan fast

Christmas Greetings

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Christmas is a good time of year to remind ourselves of a time of humility and sacrifice. . One of the most important messages of Christmas is that of joyous giving, to be able to give to others. There are some people who refuse to understand that Muslims and Christians have been working together and building friendships for a very long time. It is through the spirit of friendship and a shared love and respect for both one another and our faiths that we are able to convey positive messages at this special time of year. The messages of love, peace and forgiveness taught by Jesus are accepted by followers of both faiths and therefore we are able to share in Jesus’ life.

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Jesus came into our world

Monday, December 19th, 2011

This is what I think about Christmas. On this day Jesus came into our world, to change the world and make it better. When you think about it, Jesus’s life was very hard. In Islam we believe that people insulted his mother and we do not have stories about Joseph, so we believe he had no father.

In Islam Jesus is a holy person. There is a big chapter about him and his mother Mary in the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book. Muslims believe that at the end of the world it will be Jesus who comes back, and not the prophet Mohammed (pbuh).
On Christmas day we will be happy for every Christian person, and we can not forget when Christians are happy for us on Eid.
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Muslims are not offended

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Muslims regard Judaism and Christianity as divine religions. Islam is a continuation and an extension of those great religions. In order to qualify as a Muslim, one has to believe in Moses (Musa) and Jesus (Isa) along with all the Biblical prophets, peace be upon them. Muslims have to believe in the Torah (Tawrat), the Psalms (Zabur) and the Gospel (Injil) although Muslim scholars do have some issues about the accuracy of a few parts of these scriptures. And although Islam declares that it is the way of life chosen by God for humanity and that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the final messenger of God, and that the Qur’an is the final message, the Qur’an affectionately refers to the followers of these previous scriptures as the People of the Book.

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Learning about Jesus

Monday, December 19th, 2011

In my community we mark Christmas by learning about Jesus from the Islamic perspective. I want to educate young Muslims about Jesus and the second coming.  Jesus is very important in Islam, and he heralded the arrival of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Learning about Jesus also matters because we live among Christians.

At this time of year in my Qur’an school the children learn about Jesus in the Qur’an. The school is attended by 400 pupils and meets every evening. Children also have the opportunity to learn about Jesus at the Fig tree primary school (a Muslim faith school in Nottingham). Usually at this time of year we watch a film called St Mary, which brings out the Islamic perspective on the birth of Christ.

We invite our local vicar to talk about Christmas on our local community radio station, Dawn 107.6 FM. And I do a yearly Christmas lecture about Jesus for Muslim teens and young people.

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A Christian-Muslim Christmas

Monday, December 19th, 2011

My Christian mother and Muslim father came to Britain from Ghana. When I was a child we prayed a lot. During the day we said prayers with Dad and in the evening when he went out to work we’d pray and read the Bible with Mum.

I’m a Christian now because my mother’s influence was stronger. I enjoy working for the Christian Muslim Forum because it’s important that Christians and Muslims get along. My mother was very soft hearted. She
always said “you must never let the sun go down on your anger.”

When we were children we would celebrate Christmas. We put up a Christmas tree, had presents and had the family over on Christmas day. We played Christian music in the house. Dad didn’t have much of an issue with it. I’m guessing Dad didn’t want to deprive us of Christmas. All our friends at school had Christmas. Even at primary school there’d be trees in the classroom and we’d give gifts. He wanted us to have the same feelings as other kids and not feel somehow different.

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Silent Night

Monday, December 19th, 2011

As a British Muslim I learnt about my faith (Islam) from a young age, I also learnt to understand Christianity through school by being part of the school choir, nativity plays and prayers of thanks. I’m also familiar with Christian hymns and Christmas carols, in fact many of them seem to be stored in my memory and come rushing forth at this time of year when you hear them all around. I understand Christianity to complement my own faith; Muslims have great respect for Prophet Jesus and Christianity has a history in Islam.

I was educated in church schools at primary and secondary level and joined the choir in my early years. At Christmas time we’d go to medical centres and other public places and sing carols to elderly folk and the general public, it was our way of sharing our singing ‘skills’ with our communities. One of my favourite carols is Silent Night; to this day it gives me a feeling of tranquillity and peace each time I hear it.
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Happy Christmas 4 All

Monday, December 19th, 2011

When I was a child our family always liked Christmas time, even if we didn’t celebrate it the way that Christians would.  Depending on what was going on, we’d sometimes have a tree or presents or a turkey dinner.

The story of Jesus, Mary and the virgin birth is very important in the Islamic tradition even if we don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God. My parents taught me that although we did not agree with all parts of the nativity story, we should not disrespect the values and beliefs of others. We were told to show our disagreements respectfully and politely. I have been to carol services, at school or later with Christian friends. My children have also appeared in nativity plays at their school, just as I did when I was school.
Christmas is a special time in that it is an important part of our cultural calendar. The whole country rallies around this time of the year, and that creates something quite special that goes beyond (even if it is linked to) the basic Christian message of Christmas.  People of all faiths can tap into the Christmas spirit of giving and sharing, being with family and thinking about others.
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Creating Muslim Christian Traditions

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Creating Muslim Christmas Traditions

When I was young, one of the things I looked forward to the most during Christmas was opening the doors to my Advent calendar. My favourite calendars were the ones without chocolate traditional European styled posters, with small, thin doors that revealed simple pictures. There was something magical about finding the door, and trying to guess if the days surprise was a colourful candy cane, a wooden horse or a gingerbread cookie. Every year I would stare at the pictures que winter scene for hours imagining myself playing with the glistening snow and the sleigh-riding children.  I would wipe my hands across the Christmas star and carry the glitter on my hands all day long.

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