Archive for October, 2010

Muslims and Christians in West Africa

A surprise from Sierra Leone

It comes as a surprise to attend a big meeting of the Council Churches in Sierra Leone about health care and to find more Muslim than Christian leaders there.  The warmth of the relations between the two groups was palpable and the fact that the Christian Health Association represented Muslim health workers and hospitals in relations to the government was not considered worthy of comment.



One of the participants on learning that I had spent several years in the north of Nigeria expressed his incomprehension at the tension between Muslims and Christians in the north of Nigeria.  “I just don’t get it”, he said.  And the rest of the group heartily agreed that they couldn’t understand it either.  My attempts to explain didn’t really help.

What is it that makes Sierra Leone, with large Christian and Muslim communities, such an exemplary for inter-faith relations?  The size of the country might have something to do with it. Tiny Gambia has similarly warm relations; the Christians are in a small minority though Christian schools are very popular with Muslim parents.  In Sierra Leone, with a population of only a little over 5 million people, everyone seems to know everyone else and the first thing they will clock is not religious identity but which part of the country you come from.  But family life is still very strong and religion is not unimportant as a part of identity. National identity matters more.

This is partly the product of a dreadful civil war that lasted until 2002. Everyone has stories to tell of the terrible depredations of the youth militias and the suffering that brought the country to near total destitution.  It was religious leaders, Muslim and Christian, working through an inter-religious body that took the first steps at mediation between government and rebel armies, often showing great courage in travelling and risking encounters with unreliable forces.  This collaboration in the living hell of a civil war did much to bond Muslims and Christian to each other. It was British forces who finally brought the civil war to an end but not for want of their trying. The desire to rebuild the country was the next bond to be forged and it remains strong today.

One of the characteristics of Christian-Muslim relations in West Africa is that no-one has much time to talk about theology and sacred texts. The magnitude of the problems confronting their countries is too great.  It is a dialogue of life and action, “hands to hearts to heads”, working together, building and sustaining friendships and learning to respect each other.  We have a lot to learn from Sierra Leone in Europe.

Ian Linden

Not Enough Peace?

Quakerism – Peace, Equality, Simplicity and Truth


Not Enough Peace?

This week is Quaker Peace Week, I went to the Quaker Meeting House in Leicester last night (6 October 2010) for a taste of peace with two Peaceworkers. One was my former colleague, Daniel Edge, who left the Forum last month having completed his 12 months with us. Despite this he is currently on a national tour of Meeting Houses sharing his experiences of being a Peaceworker and working for the Christian Muslim Forum.

The evening began with an introduction to the core values of Quakerism – Peace, Equality, Simplicity and Truth – hopefully values at the heart of both Christianity and Islam. And these moving words, ‘love is at the heart of existence, all are equal before God’, again with resonances in both faiths.

Daniel told us of his journey that has included both Quakerism and Islam, from his first encounter with an elderly Quaker relative who recited al-Fatihah (the opening chapter of the Qur’an) to him and his wife on hearing of their conversion to Islam to bursting the seams of the Hertford Friends Meeting House when the local Muslim community were offered a space for prayer. He also shared how he was inspired by the words of George Fox, ‘appreciate that doubt and questioning can lead to spiritual growth; take time to learn about the experiences of others.’ Through this comes ‘a greater awareness of the light that is in us all.’

He shared his experience of leading our Safe Spaces programme, some of the highlights were:

Chris Walker one of the new intake of Peaceworkers told us about his placement with the ‘Alternatives to Violence Project’ which helps people to deal with conflict without resorting to violence. He shared the truly disturbing statistics that the UK has twice as much interpersonal violence as the global average and that 27% of women have been victims of domestic violence.

Questions and Comments

Julian Bond
Christian Muslim Forum

Visit to St John the Evangelist, Brixton

An educational visit to St John the Evangelist, Brixton


St John the Evangelist, Brixton

Thursday morning towards the end of the summer holidays and what a wet day it was. Julian, Daniel and I visited St John the Evangelist Church in Brixton to talk to children and young people of various ages about the Islamic faith. Upon arrival, we noticed that the parish had constructed a large tent outside the church to accommodate the carers and children who were playing outside. We were kindly greeted by Revd Rosemarie who shepherded all the young people into the tent and seated them at tables which were each assigned a continent.

Julian began the event by introducing himself and explaining briefly the work and goals of the forum, followed by Daniel who gave an insight into his work in the forum alongside his beliefs and likewise I introduced myself and stated my beliefs and work within the forum.

Julian began a dialogue between himself and Daniel by asking Daniel an array of questions about Islam. Julian often emphasised his Christian beliefs prior to asking about Islam due to the fact that the school was a Christian school. Daniel responded by giving a detailed answer often followed by a run-up question by Julian.

Prior to the dialogue initiating, Rosemarie had told the children to pay careful attention to the answers as they would later be taking a quiz to determine which table (continent) paid the closest attention on the topic of Islam.

After the 20 minute dialogue between Julian and Daniel, the floor was open to questions. Many students raised their hands, keen to get answers to questions they had thought of during the dialogue. Many of the girls were keen to have answers about the issue of burqas and hijabs, wanting to know if they are compulsory within Islam or optional. After the cluster of questions, the children were given a booklet of questions which they had to answer within their assigned group.

After writing down their answers, Rosemarie began giving the correct answers and reviewing answers from the various groups. After taking the Islamic test, the children were given a Christianity test. Some children were accused of cheating but these hilarious issues simply added to the festive mood.

Overall, the visit was enjoyable and it was great to interact with the children not only on an educational level but also on a religious and social level. I trust we destroyed many stereotypes (if any) that the young people had in their minds and hearts regarding Islam and I hope that our visit to educate children and young people will be the first of many.

Hussain Bapulah
Christian Muslim Forum