Posts Tagged ‘michael henderson’

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’.

Speeches

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