Archive for January, 2010

New Chair for the Forum

The Rt Revd Dr Richard Cheetham, the Bishop of Kingston, has become Chair of the Christian Muslim Forum. He has been Vice-Chair of the Forum since 2008 and takes over from Dr Musharraf Hussain who has been Chair for the last two years. Dr Hussain will become Vice-Chair of the Forum for the next year. Dr Cheetham will be Chair for the next two years.

The Christian Muslim Forum was founded in 2006 and aims to:

  • create spaces for Christians and Muslims to meet, learn about and understand each other
  • live faithfully with difference
  • heal relationships

We are committed to:

  • building strong personal relationships between Christians and Muslims, based on faith in God, and commitment to the common good
  • the essential participation of young people and women in inter faith activities
  • enabling the participation of believers from as many traditions as possible for successful Christian-Muslim

The Forum issued a groundbreaking Christmas statement in our first year and last year launched the Ethical Witness Guidelines and produced a booklet on Mosque-Church twinning.

A Christian-Muslim men’s retreat is planned in Wales for June 2010.  In addition in 2010 there will be London based campus encounters encouraging dialogue between Christian and Muslim students, groups for Christians and Muslims in London, and local and regional events in the Midlands.

Bishop Richard said, ‘It has been a pleasure to work as Vice-Chair for the past two years. I look forward to further developing the work of the Forum and continuing to build on Dr Hussain’s work. I hope that the Christian Muslim Forum will grow from strength to strength in helping to ensure a growth in positive relationships between Christians and Muslims.’

Bishop Richard is available for interview.

Other News from the Forum:

Seminar on Christian-Muslim Encounters, Daniel Edge’s recent experience in Paris
Ethical Witness Questions and Answers

Seminar on Christian-Muslim Encounters

On the 22nd and 23rd of January 2010, myself and Rahima Caratella from the St.Philips centre attended a seminar in Paris organized by SERIC on behalf of GAIC. The main purpose of the seminar was to share and evaluate each organisations respective activity throughout 2009 inter faith week.

Although November was the UK’s first inter faith week, for some of our European counterparts this was their 9th inter faith week, focusing on Christian-Muslim encounters. There were Christian and Muslim delegates from each country which included Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland and Spain. In many cases the Christians and Muslims from each country had worked together on various inter faith projects at both local and regional levels. The gamut of activities and experiences shared by all the groups was staggering and every one of us benefited from hearing about these activities.

Each country shared a unique evaluation of inter faith week, often shaped by each country’s particular experience of Islamic and Christian relationships. It was duly noted that where the majority of Muslims in one country might be of North African origin, in another it might be Asian origin. This often meant that each of our country’s Christian and Muslim encounters might be different, our cultures often reflected in how we understand and practice our religion.

What was apparent was the desire of each community to build stronger relationships between Christians and Muslims. In discussing this we each indicated what challenges we face in achieving this goal, this included lack of funding, negative media coverage, and that some Christian-Muslim dialogue is not reaching our respective congregations.

One of the key questions asked of us was how important is it to have an interfaith week (one which focussed on Christians and Muslims) and what is specific about Christian-Muslim dialogue today. A summary of our response can be found in the following document: Christian-Muslim Inter faith Week.

It was very clear that all of our experiences of interfaith week were positive and often an extension of the work that we continue to do all year round. Some of the projects that our European colleagues were engaged with throughout interfaith week can be found on the SERIC website.

One project that I found particular joy in hearing about was initiated between a mosque in Bergen, Holland and its neighbouring church across the road. A tent was placed between the mosque and the church and lights from each place of worship guided the congregation to the tent where they were served tea. After some light refreshments each group continued to follow the lights into the other’s place of worship, where they were shown around. Incidentally, whilst Muslim and Christian were busy learning about the other’s place of worship, the tent was blown down the road and resulted in an interfaith ‘find and recover the tent’ project!

Daniel Edge

Peace Worker

Happy Birthday

Monday’s event (18 January 2010) Healing Families – Healing Communities celebrated our work and our fourth birthday (24 January 2010), although as my colleague Musharraf Hussain reminds me we are the latest chapter of a fourteen-hundred year story. We were pleased to be back at the The London Interfaith Centre to explore how our scriptures and faith traditions offer constructive help or support to the troubles facing families in today’s world.

Maggie Hindley (a United Reformed Church Minister and our new Community and Public Affairs specialist) opened by saying, ‘I would have liked to read the whole of the book of Genesis, with its stories of sibling rivalry, murder, Noah’s dysfunctional family (drunkenness and tale-telling), competition between Abraham’s two wives, Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau’s feud, Joseph’s victimisation.’ Themes all too familiar from today’s soaps!

Uta Blohm

Uta’s (a URC minister as well) first story was Jesus welcoming small children while his disciples tried to shoo them away and how as a preacher she struggled with her own children wanting to be with her in the pulpit and not letting them come to church with her. Until she realised, what is the point of gathering in the name of Jesus if we cannot include the children? She also described how difficult it is for women with small children to find space for any meaningful spiritual life and thought that religious communities had an obligation to support young families and young mothers in particular. Men have an obligation towards the family that reaches beyond just providing financial support. She found that ‘prayer puts our family struggles into perspective’. She also thought that the momentous task of caring for a very vulnerable human being is a spiritual experience in itself.

Difficult feelings in the family are part of life and religious texts such as the story of Cain and Able help us to deal with them, not avoid them. When our children annoy us and we are angry with them then they are ‘testing our grace’ (challenging us to be as patient and merciful with our children as God is with us). Equally, we have to have compassion for ourselves. We can learn to be better parents but we will never be perfect.

Other stories from the Bible that we read together: Cain and Abel (the first murder), the unforgiving servant, the Prodigal Son. So what do we learn from these stories?:

  • How to forgive our own parents
  • Cain and Abel – the importance of recognising not denying our feelings, especially when we are competitive or angry
  • In response to the prompt question – is it OK to be imperfect parents? – yes, we have to be imperfect to have the potential for growth
  • Isn’t it surprising that we, religious people and society, have so many expectations of perfection when the examples of scripture and everyday life are imperfect
  • ‘I was the perfect parent until I had children of my own!’
  • We learn a lot about ourselves through our children
  • Children should feel that they are loved
  • One parent expressed the personal view, ‘We would be very selfish and arrogant without children’
Julian Bond

Halima Krausen

After reflecting on the Bible stories, we were very fortunate to have Shaykha Halima Krausen, imam and scholar from Germany, introduce some texts from the Qur’an. Halima made us aware that the Qur’an assumes that we are familiar with the stories and people in the Bible, many of the ayahs (verses) in the Qur’an beginning with ‘Remember when …’ So it was interesting to find me and others in our group referring to the Bible, just to find out the genealogy of Mary and the relevant stories that the Quran referred to.

We were reminded that the Quran is not an instruction manual, it does not have a ‘Troubleshooting’ chapter! It requires reading time and time again. Halima pointed out to us that where the Qur’an refers to Jesus as ‘son of Mary’, the Bible refers to Mary as the mother of Jesus. Our discussions about Mary and Jesus often lead us to consider Mary as a sanctified being and her importance in both faiths.

As with the Bible stories, Shaykha Halima asked us to consider the Qur’anic text that she had selected and then share some of our reflections with the other groups. Our group chose the following: Remember when the wife of Imran said: O my Lord! I have vowed to you what is in my womb to be dedicated for your services, so accept this from me……. (Quran 3:35)

It was of no surprise that our reflections were often very similar to those found when considering the Bible stories. The implications of unexpected family structures are a challenge to us today as they might have been then. An unmarried mother and an elderly lady giving birth are certainly worth considering when talking about family issues. They share the same complexities found in family life today and underline the importance of family in our own spiritual journey, as well as highlighting some of the sacrifices people make.

Bearing in mind that both the Bible and the Qur’an seemed to share many common themes and understandings, one group questioned why do both faiths sometimes disagree with one another?
A question we have all had to ask as people of faith.

One member of our group noted that the roles we play in our family can be a form of worship. The Qur’an mentions that: ‘The believers, men and women are Auliya (helpers, supporters, friends or protectors) of one another’, which gives us a great understanding of the spiritual dimension that our family relationships play when resolving difficult issues. It was also interesting to see that far from diminishing the role of women in Islam, the Qur’an showed us women who were empowered and taking a lead, an issue important to all the women in our workshop.

All in all, taking part in the workshops provided amazing insight and help to how we, as people of faith, approach family life and our life in the wider community. It was a pleasure to learn and share with others what our scriptures say and how we understand them in our every day lives.

Daniel Edge

Other Ways to Get Involved

4 February 2010 (closing date), Faiths Act Campaign Leaders wanted.
23 February 2010, LIFE event, Brixton
Please support our Family and Community work with a donation

Ethical Guidelines – Questions and Responses

Anonymous Questions

1. Take  point 10 on the Guidelines: Whilst we may feel hurt when someone we know and love chooses to leave our faith, we will respect their decision and will not force them to stay or harass them afterwards. What does this mean?     

Guideline 10 means what it says, we recognize that conversions are taking place between Christianity and Islam and at the human level people should be able to make their decisions/respond to God and not be ill-treated by friends, families and religious communities, event though Christians would rather Christians remained Christians and Muslims rather Muslims remained Muslims. We are aware of the mistreatment (from mild to extreme) of converts from Islam to Christianity and from Christianity to Islam in England and were motivated by these concerns.

2. In Channel Four’s investigative Programme Dispatches, broadcast in Sept 07, about the violence and intimidation facing Muslims who convert to Christianity in Britain, reporter Anthony Barnett met former Muslims who now live under the threat of reprisals from their former communities. Many are still living in fear. He interviewed a family who have been driven out of their home and a convert whose brother was beaten close to death.  Many of the 3,000 Muslims who have converted to Christianity in Britain refused to be interviewed for fear of further persecution.  

Will the Muslims on the Forum now publicly condemn this harassment?  The courageous Muslim leader Sheikh Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain gave them a lead by publicly stating on the programme “We are British Muslims living in Britain. If a Muslim chooses to leave Islam, we have no right to injure them whatsoever”

Our colleague Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, one of the Presidents of the Forum, heads up the MCB’s Inter Faith Relations committee and spoke on the Dispatches programme. He was equally clear when speaking at the launch event. We are currently seeking public support for the guidelines from leading Muslims and Christians. We hope that the guidelines will make things easier for those who convert and we will be using the guidelines at our future events and encouraging mosque and church groups to consider them carefully.

3. One of the hadiths [traditions of Muhammad] stipulates the death penalty for apostasy, for example Sahih [Collection of] Bukhari, considered to be a reliable source by most Muslims, says: ‘Whoever changes his religion, execute him.’ There is a significant number of further hadiths which state that the apostate must be killed. Will the Muslims on the Forum publicly state that the hadith which stipulates the death penalty for apostasy does not have any relevance in Britain?

Hadith on apostasy – this hadith is not relevant in the UK because the UK is not an Islamic state. But neither can it be applied in other countries which are Islamic states as its context relates to Islam’s early days where leaving Islam was tantamount to treason. The Qur’an does not stipulate that those who leave Islam should be executed.

4. Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, whose father converted from Islam told the Channel 4 Investigation mentioned above that many Muslim leaders in Britain have been silent on the issue of apostasy and he implored them to speak out.  Will the Muslims on the Forum now issue a press release speaking out on this issue?

The Muslims (and Christians) of the Christian Muslim Forum have already issued a press release promoting the ethical guidelines. The guidelines, including the statement about converts, have been welcomed in the August/Ramadan 2009 edition of the Muslim magazine emel. We are in the process of seeking sign-up to the guidelines from leading Christians and Muslims.

5. An Opinion Poll in 2007 revealed that 36% of young Muslims in Britain state that Muslim converts to Christianity should be punished by death. Will the Muslims on the Christian Muslim Forum agree to publicly campaign within their communities to change the minds of this 36%?

36% in favour (though a minority) of mistreatment of converts is a disturbing figure. Our guidelines are aimed precisely at challenging Muslim and Christian communities where they do not respect those who have changed their faith. We are working on an open letter promoting the guidelines. As well as potential reservations within the Muslim community we are aware that some Christians have expressed an unwillingness to sign up to the guidelines and that our work involves seeking to persuade people of both faiths. Believers of either faith who are unwilling to sign up are not in a good position to criticize those of the other faith. Above all these guidelines are a basis for further action rather than talking.

Muslim members of the Christian Muslim Forum draw attention to these words from the Common Worddeclaration – ‘As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them – so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of  their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.’

And these, ‘If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake. And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony. God says in the Holy Qur’an: Lo! God enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed (Al Nahl, 16:90). Jesus Christ said: Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), and also: For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26). So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.’

Julian Bond
Director, Christian Muslim Forum
on behalf of the members of the Forum