‘Meeting Muslims’ Launch
- Created on Friday, 13 July 2012
Above the pillars is the BUILDING – that is, Qur’anic values, e.g. mercy, forgiveness, justice, doing things in a better and beautiful manner. The book tries to explore these issues – sell it quickly, so we can start on the 2nd edition! Ataullah Sidddiqui paid tribute to his co-editor, saying it has been a worthwhile and rich experience to work with Christopher, with whom he shares ties with Selly Oak College, in Birmingham.
Revd Dr Christopher Lamb , who was National Inter Faith officer (for the Church of England) for many years, spoke of the 100 faces of London, the huge variety of people living in greater London. He spoke of the ethnocentric attitudes of older generations which he grew up with. He gave examples such as when people referred to the Far East (far from where? he wondered); the unconscious racism implicit in the common phrase ‘I can’t understand it, nor can any other white man.’ He contrasted this attitude with the book Meeting Muslims, where Muslims are not spoken for, but speak about and for themselves. Here Muslims are explaining themselves to non-Muslims, avoiding in-language (Apollinarianism, I hear you cry! – reference to vicar giving sermon, using in-language no-one understood) – but also without any convergence or planned merger. These are two very distinct and different faiths – there is real common ground, but also real differences. Christopher paid tribute to co-editor Ataullah, who he said had designed the shape of the book. Christopher finished by observing that we have come along way from our monochrome beginnings!
The floor was then opened up for questions, taken by Christopher Lamb and Ataullah Siddiqui.
The place of Scriptural Reasoning as an inter-faith technique was raised. This is referred to on page 89 of the book. Once good friendships have been built, this allows for difficult questions to be raised. Examples cited were the ability to look at reasons why people convert, and the problem of mixed marriages and addressing the issue of the children’s faith. Scriptural Reasoning helps they thought, as it gives a framework on how we reflect on these together.
One member of the audience cited the strong impression that Hajj (at the British Library) had made upon him, giving real chords of understanding being struck between peoples. He asked why this topic was not included in such an important book. The response was that all issues of the Five Pillars were deliberately avoided, in order to go deeper into issues, as cited earlier.
Another question focused on Islamophobia, referring to the book’s section recommended overcoming this by dialogue. Are there any other ways of overcoming misunderstanding? The response was that there are two ways: a) encourage ALL questions e.g. Ataullah Siddiqui cited an instance, when he was speaking publicly, and, when encouraged to say exactly what was on his heart, one member of the audience said ‘I am threatened by your presence in Britain’. This gave the opportunity to use reason to examine this statement, by looking at the population (less than 4% Muslim), and whether or not Muslims pose an economic, religious, or military threat. Having brought out the non-threatening nature of the Muslim presence, they were able to talk of the symbolism of the world they lived in, i.e. a place where the nearest pub is called the Saracen’s Head, and we eat croissants (symbol of Muslim Crescent) meaning that memory, history is still haunting us. This explains the Muslim fear of the West, where the traumatic experience of the colonial period still affects post-colonial society. How to answer these issues? By trust and friendship, then addressing issues openly and sincerely.
The next issue concerned forgiveness, mutual forgiveness. Christopher Lamb stated his belief that some day we will have a shared memory, just as the Norman French and Anglo-Saxons gave way to a common history in Britain. Ataullah Siddiqui responded that there are two different types of forgiveness: 1) we cannot forgive hurt to others in the past, but 2) we can be very practical in our actions today.
The last question concerned how to fight what is a false projection, which sadly becomes the public perception of our religions. The Christian who asked the question cited the example of the Christian Right in America, who he said make him cringe, as their articulated beliefs are 1000 miles from what he himself believes in .
The response given was that therefore we need a RANGE of AUTHENTIC voices which people can trust. The book Meeting Muslims supplies this, and on that note we ended.
Volunteer, Christian Muslim Forum
Editor’s note – the book contains chapters by some of the members of the Christian Muslim Forum, including myself, on the origins and work of the Forum. Ataullah Siddiqui was formerly Co-Chair of the Forum.
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