Archive for May, 2010

Local Christian-Muslim Friendship

On Sunday 23 May 2010 a group of Muslim students from Newcastle University made their way to St Thomas’ church in the Haymarket, for a meeting and conversation with members of the congregation, under the banner of the Christian Muslim Forum. When they arrived, the congregation were enjoying a cup of coffee and some Birthday cake (Pentecost is the church’s Birthday, after all), so they joined in. Friendships were started at this point. It seemed almost a shame to call the group to order, to sit down in a circle; but the more formal session that followed was well worthwhile.

Catherine opened the proceedings with a welcome to St Thomas’ church, a 5 minute exposition of Christianity, and of her own faith. Turki then spoke for a few minutes, echoing how pleased he was to be present. The floor was then open to questions and discussion. Some quite challenging issues were raised:  “What about the Trinity?” “How do Muslims manage conflict in their community?” “What do Christians say about sex before marriage?” as well as some more light-hearted questions: What is an Archbishop? The focus on this occasion was more on Christianity than on Islam – that will be reversed at the return visit planned for October.

Daniel Edge, from the Christian Muslim Forum, chaired the proceedings, and all felt able to contribute. Once again at this point it seemed a shame to move on, but there was a substantial amount of food laid out, and it would have been wrong to waste it. So conversations continued over lunch, and the basis of a relationship forged.

The scheduled return visit is booked for Sunday 10 October. Although this date will fit well with the new academic year, those present felt it would be wrong to wait as long as October for the next stage in the process, so Daniel, Turki, and Catherine will be looking to see what can be arranged in the mean time.

The stated aims of the meeting were: to learn more about one another, to confirm our faiths’ commitment to peace and friendship, and to celebrate the continual process of engagement and dialogue that exists, as well as to have something to eat. All of these were achieved, and we are committed to continuing, and extending, the process.

Anybody is welcome to ask more about this, and if interested, please do get in touch. Two photos taken on the day can be seen in our gallery.

Our booklet on Mosque-Church Friendship.
Daniel Edge, Christian Muslim Forum
Revd Catherine Lack, University Chaplain and “Master” of St Thomas’ Church
Turki Abalala, President, Newcastle University Islamic Society

Other brief news items

Another one to challenge perceptions – an article written by a Muslim (Dawud Bone) on ‘Christians – A Religious Minority? Has political correctness led to the rejection of Christianity?’ Published by our friends at emel magazine and follows on from the BBC’s Easter programme – ‘Are Christians Being Persecuted?’. Some of the points touched on are raised in our ‘Christmas statement’.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Building Bridges Seminar has just taken place in Georgetown.
Following lack of take-up due to cost our Friends and Neighbours event will now be non-residential, please click on the link for more details (updating soon) or email us.

Please support our ongoing work – events, training, resources, new-sharing – with a donation, or  get in touch to get more involved.

Julian Bond

No Enemy to Conquer

Faith leaders join forces to launch new book on forgiveness, 14 May 2009

A rabbi, an imam and the director of the Christian Muslim Forum of Britain spoke at the launch of a new book about forgiveness, held at the St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in the City of London, on 13 May.

‘No Enemy to Conquer’, subtitled ‘Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World’, by author and journalist Michael Henderson, was commissioned by an American university press, following his earlier books on the theme of forgiveness.

In his welcoming remarks, Simon Keyes, Director of the St Ethelburga’s Centre, said that Henderson had had ‘a huge influence on the development of our work’ at the centre and that his earlier book ‘Forgiveness – breaking the chain of hate ‘was one of the foundation texts of our work here’. He regarded Henderson as ‘one of our founding fathers’.

The centre, a former church that had been bombed by the IRA, aimed to ‘build bridges in divisions caused by conflict where people can meet as equals,’ Keyes said. ‘Reconciliation is the space where mercy meets conflict and leads to peace.’ And forgiveness was ‘a key element in the exercise of mercy’.

Henderson, who has been long associated with Initiatives of Change, said that one of his aims in writing the new book was ‘to further an appreciation of our brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith’.


Hosting the launch event, Dr Musharraf Hussain al-Azhari, Co-Chair of the Christian Muslim Forum and Director of the Karimia Institute in Nottingham, declared that he had found the book ‘a great inspiration’. It represented ‘a tour de force of extraordinary stories, remarkable encounters between victims and offenders and soul-stirring tales of human goodness.’ The book’s title suggested ‘a true feeling of freedom from fear – a precursor of peace – that is the consequence of forgiveness’.
Dr Hussain emphasized that in the Quran ‘one of the most common names of God is as the forgiver’. The strength of Henderson’s book, he said, lay in its ’25 moving and heart-rending stories’ as well as the contributions in it from academics and personalities such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Magonet, a leading Jewish theologian and Vice-President of the UK Movement for Reform Judaism, said that Henderson’s book ‘covers much of the ground of a Jewish perspective on forgiveness’. A text from the book of Exodus –  ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ – had become ‘an infamous text ripped out of its context’, he said. It was not intended to be read literally as advocating retribution but rather a call for ‘the appropriate financial compensation for losses incurred’.

The book of Leviticus, however, declared that ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ – words later quoted by Jesus that went ‘beyond reaction and revenge’.  ‘We are into territory well covered in [Henderson’s] book,’ Professor Magonet said. Forgiveness was ‘foregoing the offender’s indebtedness’, and ‘If repentance has taken place then it is our duty to forgive’. Empathy also recognized human frailty and acknowledged that ‘in similar circumstances we might have done the same thing’. But ‘the ultimate atonement can only be done by God’.

Julian Bond, Director of the Christian Muslim Forum, an initiative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, quoted words from the Lord’s Prayer of Jesus: ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’. Forgiveness was thus ‘conditional and reciprocal’. ‘God asks us to share reconciliation and forgiveness with other people… seeking the best for our neighbours.’ It was easy to forget that forgiveness was at the heart of the various faith traditions ‘and at the heart of our humanness’.

Henderson quoted the late Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, from her essay in the book, written just before her assassination, in which she draws on her own experience of forgiveness: ‘My parents always taught me that a good Muslim is one who forgives. And I know we share in common this important teaching with the Christian faith.’

Henderson said that he had not set out to define forgiveness or discuss theology ‘but to celebrate the courage of those who have been willing, sometimes in the most unexpected situations to go the route of forgiveness, to give hope where sometimes the future looks bleak, and to offer perhaps encouragement to others to follow their example.’

In writing the book he had come to see forgiveness ‘more as a journey than a one-off decision,’ he said. For some, forgiveness was the start of a journey and ‘for some it may prove to be the destination at the end of the journey; for most it is the decisions, often renewed as we falter, that are made along the way.’

Henderson quoted from another essay in the book by Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and President of Initiatives of Change International, who believes that ‘our propensity to demonize the other can give way to fresh compassion’.

The book’s title is taken from the words of the divine prince Rama in the Hindu epic the Ramayana:  ‘Whoever has this righteous chariot has no enemy to conquer whatsoever’.

Henderson claimed the longest connection with St Ethelburga’s of all those present. His parents had been married there in 1931 and he himself had been baptized there 77 years ago.

Participants in the book launch saw a 10-minute clip from the documentary film The Imam and the Pastor, telling the remarkable story of the reconciliation between two former rival militia leaders in northern Nigeria. Their story is featured in Henderson’s book.

‘No enemy to conquer – forgiveness in an unforgiving world’, by Michael Henderson, Baylor University Press, USA, 220 pages, ISBN: 9781602581401. Available at a discounted price of £8.79 from the distributor.

Written by Michael Smith, Initiatives of Change

Posted by the Christian Muslim Forum

Good Friday and Easter Sunday

I write this at a key point in the Christian calendar, between ‘Good Friday’, when Christians remember the death of Jesus, who was crucified by the Roman authorities, and Easter Sunday, when Christians look forward again to celebrating his resurrection. It is the most Christian time of year, less secular than Christmas, despite the vast quantities of Easter eggs we sweet-toothed Brits consume.
It can also be seen as the time when Christians and Muslims part company, our ‘nativity’ stories have much in common but when it comes to the end of Jesus’ life, the Quran’s story of him has already finished, except to look forward to his return. The key Christian beliefs about Jesus – crucifixion, atonement, resurrection, ascension – are as distinctive, and divisive, as the second part of the shahadah (the Muslim statement of faith) – ‘and Muhammad is the Messenger of God’.

What happens when we differ and disagree?

The Christian Muslim Forum recently shared these differences together with a dialogue on Jesus and Muhammad, it felt good to share what was precious to us, deeply and controversially, but also genuinely and gently. Our relationships grew and deepened as we explored what distinguishes our religions and we were drawn together through better understanding. Our beliefs don’t make us enemies, ideology does that.

I was reminded this week by a non-religious friend that getting on with Muslims, or Christians, is no big deal. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy, those who know each other do get on well; for others there can be all kinds of myths, stereotypes and prejudices. As the Christian Muslim Forum our ultimate aim is that relations between Christians and Muslims, and with wider society, are no longer troubled by the difficulties that exist today, some of which we read about regularly in the media, especially in hotspots like Nigeria.

On Good Friday in Nottingham, challenging various perceptions, the churches’ walk of witness, carrying a cross, again passed Dr Musharraf Hussain’s mosque where they were welcomed and Christians and Muslims prayed alongside each other. We hope to share more of this story soon. Also, in the run-up to Easter, Dr Ida Glaser of the Christian-Muslim Study Centre in Oxford dialogued with Mehdi Hassan on the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

The Christian Muslim Forum will be continuing to build Christian-Muslim friendships during Spring and Summer:

Being a Faith School, London, 28 April 2010
Social Attitudes Seminar, London, 11 May 2010
Men’s Retreat – Following in the Footsteps of Abraham, nr Chester, 4-6 June 2010
Friends and Neighbours in the West Midlands, Coventry, 30 June – 1 July 2010

Booking will go live for the retreat and West Midlands events soon, please click on the links to reserve a place or express an interest. We will be inviting people to attend our seminar on the British Social Attitudes Survey, please click on the link if you are interested in this.

Happy Easter and belated Passover greetings to Jewish friends.

Julian Bond

Review of the Year 2009

In 2009 the Christian Muslim Forum provided opportunities for people of both faiths to discuss issues of local and global concern. Concrete projects and resolutions emerged from the discussions, and once more it was shown that Christians and Muslims share a common concern for world peace and harmony.

In February leading Islamic and Christian financial experts met to discuss the credit crunch at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in London. The meeting inspired plans announced in September for City Groups to be set up in London, Nottingham and Birmingham. The Christian Muslim Forum needs to raise £10,000 for the initiative, which will increase opportunities for discussion between Christians and Muslims in local areas (a third of this amount has been generously given by the Maurice & Hilda Laing Charitable Trust).

The Christian Muslim Forum showed what can be done in Britain’s localities on 10 February at Luton Central Mosque. Christians met with Muslims to talk about what it means to be neighbours. After listening to stories of interfaith dialogue those attending resolved to foster greater communication between Christians and Muslims in their area. Suggestions raised included the building of greater links between the Central Mosque and a Luton church, and the encouragement of interfaith dialogue between local youngsters.

There was ample time for young people of both faiths to share their ideas in October, when the first Christian Muslim Youth Forum was held at Lambeth Palace. The initiative was launched by MADE in Europe and the Christian Muslim Forum. The statement was passed on to the UK government on 1 December.

This was not the only statement produced by the efforts of the Christian Muslim Forum. June saw the release of ‘10 Commandments of Mission’, ethical guidelines for interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims. In November the guidelines were discussed in a lunchtime debate at St Mary-le-Bow titled ‘Ethical witness: Christian and Islamic evangelism in a climate of toleration.’

Essential to dialogue between Christians and Muslims is the recognition that Jesus is equally beloved by both faiths but seen differently. Julian Bond (Director) and Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (Scholar-Consultant and Cambridge University) marked the Christian seasons of Advent and Christmas by asking – can Jesus be a bridge between the two faiths? Julian Bond respectfully indicated that the Christian view of Jesus as the incarnation of God cannot be reconciled with the Qur’anic description, but said that Christians and Muslims can both enjoy and understand Jesus’ teachings. He also pointed to the shared heritage of Christianity and Islam. In a truly enlightening article Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad highlighted the differing interpretations of the term ‘son of God’, and drew attention to the common Christian and Muslim anticipation of the ‘tough Jesus’ of the Book of Revelations. He also reminded readers of the words of Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra (Christian Muslim Forum President and Chair of the Muslim Council of Britain’s Inter Faith Committee), who said: ‘We don’t have to fight over Jesus. He is special for Christians and Muslims. He is bigger than life. We can share him.’

The run up to Christmas was also marked by the Christian Muslim Forum’s Campus Encounter at King’s College in London. The event, organised in partnership with the college’s Interfaith Network, was ‘a Winter Celebration of Faith’ and involved stalls relating to Hanukah, Eid and Christmas. The Christian Muslim Forum hopes to establish Campus Encounter events at universities throughout the UK, starting primarily in London.

These are just a few of the events and initiatives organised by the Christian Muslim Forum in 2009. The organisation relies on the natural goodwill of Christians and Muslims to move forward into 2010, 2011 and beyond. If you want to volunteer to help interfaith harmony, make this the year you do something about it. You can email Forum Director to find out what you can do, and to tell him what skills you can offer. Download our March 2010 volunteer pack. Don’t be afraid if you think your particular talents aren’t what the Forum needs at the moment.  You never can tell what the Forum has up its sleeve for the future! Please support our work with a donation.

Written by Claire George (Volunteer)

Inter Faith Bible Study

Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths should witness together to God’s compassion in a world where too many suffer destitution and injustice, a Muslim scholar and a Christian leader agreed during an interfaith Bible study held at a 12-16 May German church convention (Kirchentag) in Munich. It is very unusual to find a Muslim scholar with the ability and opportunity to deliver a Bible study to a Christian audience.

Ultimately, it is ‘no advantage for Jews to be Jews, Christians to be Christians, and Muslims to be Muslims’, said Muslim scholar Dr Ataullah Siddiqui (fomer Co-Chair of the Christian Muslim Forum). What really matters, Siddiqui argued, is the ‘human concern’ for ‘the poor and the needy’. For the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, ‘God is compassionate’ and therefore asks people ‘to be compassionate’. All human beings have a common calling ‘to live according to God’s will in this land’.

Siddiqui and Tveit were jointly conducting a dialogue Bible study on the text of the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-46, often referred to as ‘The judgment of the nations’. The Bible study was part of the programme of the Kirchentag. This church convention, celebrated ecumenically for the second time, was organized by Protestant and Catholic lay movements and attracted about 125,000 participants.

For Tveit, the text of Matthew 25 does not intend to speculate ‘about scenarios for the future’, but rather to ‘express critical, sometimes surprising perspectives on our life here and now’. It tells the reader that what is required here and now is ‘spontaneous attention to the basic need of another human being’. ‘The criterion is to live as Jesus Christ did. Sometimes even against some religious rules – for the sake of humanity. Christ alone is a criterion for the real life of a human being created in God’s image’, Tveit said. For Siddiqui, the text of Matthew 25 does not only challenge Christians. If, as the message of the text has it, human dignity cannot be compromised, there is need for ‘co-witnessing’ – Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths ‘need to stand together’. [Ed – The Christian Muslim Forum’s Ethical Witness Guidelines are a good example of this]

For that to happen, Siddiqui said, ‘we need respectful, hospitable theologies’. He stressed the need to ‘recognize and appreciate the otherness of the other’. Two hospitable theologies, from the Anglican and Catholic churches.

For Tveit, in today’s globalized world it is crucial to recognize one another as fellow human beings with the same needs. Muslims and Christians need to respond together to this challenge. ‘Interfaith cooperation is a contribution to achieving a just peace, since focusing on our common values is not being naive but realistic’ he said.
Some of Ataullah Siddiqui’s inter faith publications:

Julian Bond
Director, Christian Muslim Forum

Archbishop’s visit to Dawoodi Bohra Mosque

During two days of inter faith visits on 6 and 7 May, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams visited the Dawoodi Bohra Mosque, Northolt, and the Jain Temple at the Oshwal Centre, Potters Bar. These visits gave the Archbishop an opportunity to recognise the large contribution these two small religious groups have made to the wider faith community, and to society as a whole. The Christian Muslim Forum gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support of the Dawoodi Bohra community from 2006 to the present.

On Thursday the Archbishop visited as guest of honour, Al Masjid al Husaini, in Northolt, the largest Dawoodi Bohra Mosque in the western world and beautifully constructed in the Fatimid style. This was preceded by a visit to the local parish church of St Mary and St Nicholas, in Northolt, where the Archbishop admired the recent restoration work.  The vicar, the Revd Greville Thomas accompanied the Archbishop on his visit to the masjid along with the Rt Revd Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston and Chair of the Christian Muslim Forum.

On arrival he was welcomed by His Highness Prince Ezzuddin and His Highness Prince Badruddin, sons of His Holiness Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohras.  His Holiness was himself able to be present to greet the Archbishop, being on a visit to the United Kingdom from the community’s centre in India. Dr Williams was also introduced to dignitaries and trustees and members of the community by the President, Dr. Zainuddin.

The Archbishop gave an address, during which he recognised the strong contribution of the Dawoodi Bohra to good relations with other faiths and particularly to the Christian Muslim Forum, and to British society generally. ‘It has been a great grace and blessing to once again meet His Holiness Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin.  It has been an inspiration to see signs of his work, his teaching and his example in his immediate family and his wider family which is the community here. I hope and trust that we shall continue our friendship based on the love that God has shown us.  A love that allows us to enrich one another with the gifts God gives us.’

The Archbishop visited the Madrasah which provides religious and cultural education for the community’s children where he met current students and teachers.  He then attended an exhibition in the courtyard displaying key areas of interest highlighting the Islamic Faith, the community’s main infrastructure and the cultural and social activities intrinsic to the Dawoodi Bohra community.  He was also invited to plant a tree in the grounds.

As part of his ongoing support of smaller faith communities represented in the Inter Faith Network for the UK, the Archbishop will be visiting the Zoroastrians in October.

More about the Dawoodi Bohras

  • The Dawoodi Bohras number approximately 1 million worldwide, roughly 6,000 of whom live in the UK, with over half living in London.
  • As an honoured guest of the Mosque, the Archbishop was presented with a traditional shawl in recognition of his visit.
  • The Bohras are under the spiritual leadership of His Holiness Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin,  based in Mumbai but who visits the UK regularly.
  • The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall visited Al Masjid al Husaini in February 2009.