Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Moslem neighbours

The majority of Christians want better relationships with Islam but think that Muslims do not want this, and the majority of Moslems want better relationships with Christianity but think that Christians do not want this. So the Tony Blair Foundation reports on its polling.

However, even among apparently well informed Christians, basic knowledge of Islam is almost non-existent. (So it can hardly be surprising that, say, even a mildly sophisticated public discussion about Sharia results in vituperation from among those who one might expect to be less well informed).

Our monthly gathering of local Anglican clergy invited the young local Imam to be with us yesterday. It was mentioned at the start that it was Ramadan, which didn’t stop him being offered a drink or half those who had brought their sandwiches getting them out and chomping away at the table in front of him as he talked. A visitor on placement spoke with a sincere smile about how deeply meaningful her encounter with Islam had been at her Theological College, sweetly without naming any particular insight (which did take me back to the style of some of the placements reports I had to read when I ran what was then the diocese’s Post Ordination Training).

Nevertheless, the intention was good. We know that we will hear comments about the nature of Muslim centre being developed in a redundant Methodist Church and it makes good sense for us to have first hand awareness from being shown round by him. The worshipping community is already larger than it was at the previous small mosque in a more difficult area of town where worshippers’ cars were frequently damaged.

Meanwhile, our guest quietly got on with the task of defining moderate Islam over against the image he thought we would have and over against the character of what he hears preached or suggested in some mosques elsewhere in the country. He did so by highlighting the subtle sense of particular Arabic texts in the Koran, for all the world like a liberal Christian picking over popular conservative misinterpretations of particular Greek phrases in the New Testament.

The picture comes from inside the gatehouse at Thornton Abbey.

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