Round about the time a very foolish and offensive American pastor was planning to burn the Koran publicly, I was involved with a dialogue with the Muslims at the local University. As always, we were given a warm, friendly welcome and treated with courtesy.
We observed the men having their prayers. I always find it quite moving to experience the reverence of their bodily actions and silences and the sense of the greatness of God, even though I don’t understand many of the words. There is more of a sense of the greatness of God in their worship than in many churches. Nevertheless I also feel a great desire for them to know and trust Jesus, not just as a prophet but as Saviour.
I am under no illusion about the major, even fundamental theological differences between Christianity and Islam on vital issues. But there is no justification for treating Muslims with antagonism and contempt. Jesus calls us to love our Muslim neighbour.
We sat on the floor for the meal which began with milk and various kinds of sweet dates. They also served very tasty savoury cakes. Then the full meal was served: curried chicken, rice, vegetables, potatoes, salad and other tasty but indefinable foods.
We chatted happily both with students and with older men (we only meet the “brothers”; the “sisters” are accommodated in a separate room). I have talked with people from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Egypt and Pakistan. On this occasion I spoke at length with an older man who is an Iraqi Sunni Muslim and a diplomat in Saddam’s time. He is now exiled to Britain. He was not very positive about the aftermath of the war for ordinary Iraqis, including the Christians.
How sad that some Christians express contempt for Muslims and even threaten to burn their sacred book publicly. How sad that my friend Canon Andrew White, then Vicar of St George’s, Baghdad, reported planned attacks on his already vulnerable church because of the American pastor’s threat to burn the Koran. (Yes, Islam has its extremists as well as Christianity).
Next time we met with our Muslim we had a dinner and discussed “Jesus in the Bible and the Koran.” What could be more important than that discussion?
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction