Tag Archives: Islam

Why do Christians eat meat? (2)

Further to my first post under the heading “Why do Christians eat meat?” I found this:

Vegetarianism and Meat-Eating in 8 Religions

The article looks at eight European/Asian religions and their relationship to eat meat. Of these Jainism can be said to have the  most extreme views. Christianity (and possibly Islam) appears to be indifferent.

Western secular culture has arguably evolved from or been informed by a Christian value system. Atheists and Secularists seemingly eschew religious attitudes towards eating meat. Many perceive that religious taboos or considerations are man-made, artificial and attributed to a belief in a sky pixie or an imaginary friend.

This is a shame because from what I can see all religion is shaped and informed by a spiritual of Humanist attitude to and respect for, at least, sentient life.

The section on Islamic beliefs in of particular interest:

“In ancient times, meat-eating in Islamic countries was predicated on necessity. Pre-Islamic Arabs led a pastoral and nomadic existence in harsh desert climates where it would have been challenging, if not impossible, to survive on a vegetarian diet.”

“According to his earliest biographies, the Prophet Mohammed preferred vegetarian food, particularly favoring milk blended with yogurt, butter, nuts, cucumber, dates, pomegranates, grapes, figs and honey.”

“Mohammed was said to have been compassionate toward animals, and Islamic scriptures often command that all creatures be treated with care. … no creature should be harmed in Mecca …”

In The Prophet’s day people traded over large distances and into the Indian sub-continent where other religions would have been encountered. Did Mohammed’s thinking evolve from these interactions? For that matter the sect that Jesus belonged to seemingly likewise may have developed a vegetarian ideology.

Today for sure Muslims do eat a great deal of meat and animals and meat are traded over large distances in order to satisfy demand in many Muslim countries.

This excerpt raises an interesting point:

“Muslims who choose to abstain from eating meat do so for a variety of reasons. Some argue that, especially in the West, truly halal meat does not and cannot exist–that making meat halal is impossible in today’s industrialized world of factory farming. Even if the technical requirements of a halal slaughter are observed, the animals are not raised in humane and wholesome environments. They are physically abused and may be killed within view of other animals.”

I won’t develop my thoughts on this here other than to say that it confirms my belief that Muslims ought to ask themselves, “How halal is halal?” “Is a label or a halal certificate adequate?”

This statement from above may be hugely meaningful:

“Pre-Islamic Arabs led a pastoral and nomadic existence in harsh desert climates where it would have been challenging.”

I have no idea to what extent we can look at the Old Testament and view it as a reliable historical document but the exodus account must surely be based on something real. There is evidence to suggest that ancient Egyptians were mostly vegetarian. If this is so when the Hebrews under Moses leadership left Egypt they had to re-learn and adopt a nomadic lifestyle that they had forgotten. As I showed above nomadic peoples ate meat because in harsh environments it may not have been possible to live only on a vegetarian diet.

“Scholars of Judaism agree that God’s intention was for man to be vegetarian. ‘God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh,’ “

If people were not used to killing animals and preparing meat to eat safely there would have been potentially serious public health consequences. On the one hand tainted meat would have led directly to food poisoning, which would have been a real issue, especially if water was not plentiful. They also had safely to dispose of the parts of the animal that they could not eat, the offal, excess fat and skeleton. You could not simply toss the waste into a spoil pit. It would have attracted scavenging pests, such as rats. That in turn would have presented other infection risks. It was burnt.

The article says of Christianity:

“Both vegetarians and meat-eaters find support in scriptures”

“Scholars tend to agree that many early Christians were vegetarians. St. John Chrysostom wrote: “We, the Christian leaders, practice abstinence from the flesh of animals to subdue our bodies.” Some experts assert that Matthew and all the Apostles abstained from eating meat.”

The idea that the first Christians were vegetarian has many proponents. That is not to say that they expected their followers necessarily to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, however they were Jews and surely they would have promoted a kosher diet if meat was eaten.

That Muslims regard Jews and Christians, at least those living in what is now Saudi Arabia and around Mecca at the time of Mohammed, as “Peoples of the Book”. The “Book” is in essence the Old Testament, or specifically the Pentateuch, and people who followed it would have adopted kosher or halal practice.  These Christians would appear not to have been vegetarian but would presumably not have eaten pig meat.

For me the connection between Christianity and meat eating is very ambiguous. There seems to be an indifferent approach to the subject. Islam does not expound a vegetarian diet but has adopted codes and a way of life that is supposed to encourage Muslims to think about where their meat comes from.

Somewhere is the time of the early Christians there was a disconnect with traditional Jewish/kosher practice.

Mark 7 (NIV) opens by offering some parenthetical background information on  hygienic practices amongst Jews in the 1st Century CE:

1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.  3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

I have to say this has to provide strong evidence that Jesus had no need to observe the strict Jewish hygiene rules because he was not eating meat, and leaves me with the original question stands. “Why do Christians eat meat?”

 

Muslim votes push Labour towards victory in Oldham

That was a headline in The Times on December 3rd, 2015, the day of a by-election in Oldham.

Why should this story warrant such a headline? Surely the Labour Party is more likely to want to demonstrate inclusive policies. Is it not rationale for Muslims to want to support it rather than a right wing party that is not too good at inclusion.

The big question is why include religious makeup in any analysis of voting intentions in any election but while the question is valid I’ll not rush to criticise The Times – at least not without thought on this occasion. Could have presented its report differently? Possibly.

A Labour spokesman is quoted:

“The white working class vote is going west, but things seem to be going well among the Asian vote,” one shadow cabinet minister said. “A win is a win, even if it is seconds before the whistle, with a flat ball.”(1)

Apparently:

Senior Labour figures acknowledge there has been a surge in support for Ukip among white voters in the constituency …

It seems that hitherto traditional potential Labour voters are drifting over to UKIP – a party which despite its protestations to the contrary attracts an ultra-right extremist following that is less than sympathetic towards Muslims and Islam. A not small number of UKIP prospective parliamentary candidates have shown anti-Muslim sentiments.

The UKIP party leader seemingly draws large crowds. On November 30th, he tweeted “Big crowd in Leeds on #SayNoEUTour. Let’s Leave EU instead of having open borders with Turkey.” I have to be careful not to take this out of context but Turkey is a Muslim country and many people in Western Europe certainly have issues with Islam and Muslims.

There is no doubt that many people in the Western world claim that the West has a Judeo-Christian heritage – an expression that marginalises Islam and points to Islamophobia (a genuine fear of Islam typically rooted in ignorance).

I wonder if a headline highlighting the shift of traditionally left wing voters to a seemingly ultra-right wing party would have worked in The Times. Why would Muslims not want to support Labour? Surely Labour is an inclusive party.

Surely community leaders, opinion formers or role models, such as the senior editors at The Times and, for that matter, leaders of secular political parties need to be worried that anti-Muslim sentiment is a concern. Much has become “institutionalised”. Much is now “normalised”. Much has passed the “Dinner Table Test” identified by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in 2011.

Oldham demographics

In passing this graphic attracted my attention for many different reasons. The one that is really eye-catching is that the proportion of people with Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds total 17.4%. The proportion of Muslims in the constituency is 24.58%. Some Blacks will be Muslim and a substantial chunk of Others will also be Muslim. The figures suggest that a decent number of Whites must also be Muslim. What does that say? For sure they will mostly not be extremist or radicalised.

Community leaders, including journalists, need to be careful not to reinforce stereotyping when discussing demographics.


 

(1) Hopefully the “flat ball” refers to its deflation after the haemorrhaging of the tradition white vote and not a reference to the calibre of the Asian vote.

Ritual slaughter = Sacrifice = The Way of preparing meat to eat (part 1)

From the Wikipedia entry on ritual slaughter

In antiquity, ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice was one and the same. Thus, as argued by Detienne et al(1). for the Greeks, consumption of meat not slaughtered ritually was unthinkable, so that beyond being a tribute to the gods, Greek animal sacrifice marked a cultural boundary, separating “Hellenes” from “barbarians“. Greek animal sacrifice was Christianized into slaughter ceremonies involving Greek Orthodox Christian ritual, known as kourbania.

From the Wikepedia entry “kourbania”

Kourbania (Greek) via Turkish Kurban; from the Arabic qurban “sacrificial victim”; compare Hebrew korban) refers to a practice of Christianized animal sacrifices in some parts of Greece. It usually involves the slaughter of lambs as “kourbania” offerings to certain saints.

The practice involves the blood sacrifice of a domestic animal to either a saint, taken as the tutelary of the village in question, or dedicated to the Holy Trinity or The Virgin. The animal is slaughtered outside the village church, during or after the Divine Liturgy, or on the eve of the feast day.

I am writing this for the twittersphere and one tweeter who espouses a Judeo-Christian traditions and eschews Islamic ritual with no apologies. She makes no secret of her alienation to dhabiha or zabiha. I am sorry if it’s too brief.

When you look into the history of sacrificial ritual you discover that there is no such thing as “ritual slaughter” – rather it is an unhelpful term along with the word “sacrifice”.  That is how they killed their animals to eat.

Martin Henig, in his “Religion in Roman Britain” (Routledge; New Ed edition (5 July 1995)), describes how the people of Britain would have had feelings of guilt when killing. He refers to animals, in his words, needing to be willing. Perhaps animals should not resist or baulk but be relaxed, at ease and stress-free. This presumably made sense because a tense and stressed animal firstly would not have been easy to cut cleanly and secondly presumably produced tough meat.

We can surmise that with the concept of the “sanctity of life” people would not have killed what few animals they had just to waste the meat. It is also reasonable to presume that a typical nuclear family could not polish off a goat or lamb or small male calf  in one sitting. (Females were kept for milk and they would not have wasted resources on raising males like we do – it’s inefficient.) They could not store meat easily in hot climates hence the concept of community festivals whereby at least extended families or whole villages or tribes came together to celebrate a significant family event, the return of the prodigal son, or a saint or some other community event, such as harvest festival or passover.

Seemingly all the meat that could be eaten would have been eaten. The inedible parts of the carcass that could not be used or eaten was offered to God (or the gods) by burning – in effect sterilising them. Not doing so would have presented public health risks – rat infestations and diseases from infection. Given that they could not possibly have known about germs and micribiology they would have worked out good and bad practice. Bad practice would have equated to sins and God (or their god) would have punished them.

Seemingly also they gathered on what today we call consecrated (clean) ground – specifically in The Temple (latterly synagogues). That’s what Christian Churches and Mosques are modelled on. Apparently, according to Greek sources the meat could not be taken away – that makes sense as even today extreme care is needed if you are going to store cooked meat. Eating in the temple meant that cooking and eating was supervised, as it were, and the whole was conducted by trained operatives, priests, for the want of a better word.

The priests were trained to kill humanely. In Islamic tradition it is forbidden to eat meat from an animal that have been treated badly at any time in its life. Bludgeoning or clubbing to death was clearly not a humane option. They would have no idea how successful or how quick that would have been – and that appears to have been the case in modern slaughterhouses until the last decade of the twentieth century where modern clubbing techniques are in use. Check out Animal Aid investigation.

Modern “high welfare” slaughterhouse conditions are not necessarily good. Here is a 2009 example of a Soil Association approved “high welfare” slaughterhouse that was later unapproved. In fairness modern slaughterhouse conditions are improving but most significant changes have been in this century but welfare at slaughter is probably not uppermost in many peoples’ minds when they pick meat from a supermarket shelf.

To understand the role of the priest in ancient time it’s helpful to learn what is required to train a Jewish shochet. My father, a farmer’s son, trained as a butcher before the Second World War when farmers killed their own animals to take to the local town markets. They would have learned to kill, at least small animals, without stunning and would have needed to know that if any meat was unfit for human consumption.

Sadly I did not realise the significance of a picture that I saw in a book in the British Library and did not keep the reference but it described the initiation of Mithraic priests and one of the skill they required was what we would call “meat inspection” today. I have seen other references to what must be the same need in other cultic and religious practices.

Christians and Secularists are very quick to mock halal and I have written here because I recently discovered that followers Greek Orthodox Christianity traditions may not only be familiar with slaughter practices we associate with Jews and Christians but they have also retained the word “kourbania”, which is an obvious cognate of the Arabic and Islamic word “qurban”.

Other Christian practices ally with Jewish and Muslim practice.

Again from Wikipedia -Religious restrictions on the consumption of pork

Among many Christian sects, the restrictions were interpreted to be lifted by Peter’s vision of a sheet with animals. However, Seventh-day Adventists consider pork taboo, along with other foods forbidden by Jewish law. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church(2) does not permit pork consumption, while the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is divided on the subject(3)

It seems that those who criticise ritual slaughter need to think outside the box. Western Christians apparently may have absorbed pagan or heathen practices.

(1) M. Detienne, J.-P. Vernant (eds.), The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks, trans. Wissing, University of Chicago Press (1989)

(2) Charles Kong Soo Ethiopian Holy Week clashes with Christians’ 21 April 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Retrieved 11 March 2012

(3) “Egypt Copts Divided Over Pork”. OnIslam.net. 25 August 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2014.

 

 

Why do humanists shun the humane principles underpinning Islam?

A few years ago I picked up a pamphlet introducing Islam from a street stall. After reading the first few pages I thought that if you replace the word “God” (or “Allah”) with the word “nature” you could be introducing Humanism.

This week I had a twitter conversation with a Humanist who clearly rejected any notion that religions and their practices were rooted in the same humanitarian principles as his (dare I say, “religion?”).  I tested him. The very concept of God, Our Creator, Our Provider was enough for him or her to erect a very high and impenetrable barrier.

I strongly believe that Humanists should do not this. Towards the end of this post I develop this. With or without a belief in God there is common ground at a spiritual level.

The religious tract was describing how Islam should relate to the natural world and care for it. All religions have at their heart a similar foundation. Some, Jainism, take the respect for life very seriously indeed. Why, I wonder, do Humanists assume that belief in God or a god is incompatible with Humanism?

Many humans kill animals to eat and have done for many a century or indeed millennium. It is clear from what we know of Bible times that the peoples of the Middle East and probably Europe generally must have had a concept of the sanctity of life. The pyramids, the Coliseum in Rome, Greek architecture and other evidence testify to the prophets, the seers, priests and the like were not stupid. We cannot but assume that they also worked out what was a good way and what was a bad way to prepare food and especially the meat they chose to eat.

I think that we can assume that they had no idea of bacteria but for sure they would have worked out when bad practice created public health hazards. Casually discard the inedible remains of a carcass and you invited rat infestations and a whole host of infections – dysentery and so on. They would almost certainly have worked out what was not good meat to eat – that is meat from diseased animals and those whose death they did not understand. A good test of a healthy animal was its being conscious, alive and kicking as it were.

Martin Henig, in his “Religion in Roman Britain” (Routledge; New Ed edition (5 July 1995)), describes how the people of Britain would have had feelings of guilt when killing. At least those associated with cults. Cults, sects and religions would have been led by priests who passed their knowledge on by word of mouth through initiation ceremonies – rote teaching with incomplete understanding. From that we get rituals.

If we look at this from a Muslim perspective and their belief in a Creator God, The Provider of Life, a Supreme Being (a philosophical construct indicating that there is something much bigger than me or oneself and people generally that inspires us to develop a sense of community and common good) these feelings of guilt are manifest in a prayer at the time of killing for meat. The prayer, the Bismillah, is intended to thank Our Maker for His bounty and more importantly perhaps seek forgiveness. The slaughter process briefly connects man, a beast and God in the correct environment.

Of the kill itself the correct procedure will inflict minimal if any pain. This is achieved by using a carefully sharpened knife and a single swift cut that creates a catastrophic drop in blood pressure leading to rapid unconsciousness, which may be preceded by a brief period of wooziness. Everything that can be done to eliminate discomfort is done. No doubt poleaxing was deemed to be a rather hit and miss procedure (and its modern forms may well still be so).

Jews have really mastered the skills to sharpen the knife without nicks and blemishes to avoid tearing tissues and cause pain. One the most acclaimed experts is Dr Temple Grandin, who was interviewed here:

Munchies interview with Dr Grandin

There is a proper way and a proper place for so-called religious slaughter. My own research suggests that it does not scale up well. It’s doable but needs careful design of facilities and properly trained personnel. But let’s not kid ourselves into religiously believing that so-called “humane” slaughter in perfect. It’s a very secretive world. Operators are often desensitised. It’s a grim task. Many may well resort to fun and jollity as a coping mechanism.

For sure the Islamic requirement for the slaughterer  in effect to confront His Maker and the animal whose life is about to be taken simply isn’t possible – certainly not for chicken, which are killed in huge numbers.

As I see it this is very much in line with Humanist principles are actually not far removed from Islamic principles. Both want to see and expect humane rearing and as humane a death as is possible. Reality may be far from expectation for both. Industrial scale halal forces stunning because not to do so would be unconscionable. Humanists assume that their rituals are foolproof when it may be an awful lots worse than the industry wants to admit to. Even RSPCA, yes RSPCA, accredited facilities have been caught out by undercover Animal Aid filming. Two Soil Association approved slaughterhouses have also been exposed. That Animal Aid captured examples bad practice is significant. They film over very short periods and would be unlikely to witness rare incidents.

Where Humanists and Muslims differ is in their belief on a God or Creator. That’s fine but if humans feel guilty for taking life – and if they have a concept of sanctity of live they will do – who or what do they confront to seek forgiveness. If it is a matter between them and the animal or bird they are about to eat they have to confront the animal when it is still alive and is conscious.

Without a process not dissimilar to the proper halal process Humanists effectively treat their meat as a commodity.

My Twitter conversation ground to a halt when I introduced this argument. The barrier was well and truly reinforced. Of course developing this argument of in chunks of 140 characters is impossible.

I post here because there is a need to have an open discussion without barriers and preconceived, fixed ideas. At this point I have to get some matters off my chest. I discovered recently, in part after gatecrashing a Liverpool students union debate on the subject via its twitter feed, that many veterinary students learn from the Daily Mail (or their Christian vicars) that Islam is evil and therefore halal slaughter is wrong. They are not taught how it works and its context. They in turn inform our political leaders. The intellectually blind and leading the intellectually blind, so to speak.

I will close with this thought. Humanists need others to have a God in order to justify their non-belief and they would invent God if there wasn’t one in order to define their spirituality.

Practical Ramadan

Well I never thought that I’d be singing from the same hymn sheet as the Quilliam Foundation but today I am.

I was trying to imagine Ramadan in Scotland where summer days are quite long after discussing this with my Muslim colleagues at work. That sounds like torture to me. Here my non-Muslim thoughts.

If nothing else Islam is a pragmatic religion. Most of its core customs have a solid earthly but practical foundation – mostly promoting a healthy life style.

Ramadan appears to me to be more spiritual than most other custom – but is no less meaningful. It most certainly means very much to certainly to more pious Muslims and can be applauded. The thing is that rules governing Ramadan were written in the context of day length in and around Mecca and like I say Islam is very practical.

Quilliam apparently has said the same thing.

I am not Muslim but suggest to young Muslims that Muslim traditions must be viewed within the context, time and place where they were codified and why. We also need to appreciate that before the printing press very few people could read and write so halal codes were transmitted by word of mouth.  Rules had to be simple and in a form that was easily understood. There would been little written justification or explanation. People learned by rote – hence ritual.

I guess people toiled on the land to make the most of the daylight hours. Fasting during daylight was practical and feasting at night. The rules for Ramadan were written in the context of days of more equal length than here in the UK.

Ramadan is indeed a very special time for Muslims but please remember that a sick Muslim cannot help others but becomes reliant on them. Islam encourages a healthy lifestyle and an upright way of life but in my view “health trumps religion”. Charity is important and is emphasised at this time but the spiritual value of charity is the giving, which is compromised if you make yourself ill.

My religious background is in Methodism and I always remember the difference in the decoration of my village Anglican Church and the plain Methodist chapel across the road. The latter had a communion table and no ornate decoration and NO symbols – until a benefactor presented a brass cross. Methodists traditionally don’t drink, dance or gamble (certainly not on church premises).  There are similarities with Islam.

One of my uncles was a lay preacher.  He often proclaimed from the pulpit that “you can be so godly that you are of no earthly use”.

As Quilliam has been suggesting that Ramadan should base day length on the daylight hours in or around Mecca I was independently emailing Faith Matters with the same suggestion. It must make sense.

Think about observing Ramadan anywhere near the poles where there is near permanent daylight. You may well want to adopt Mecca daylight hours.

God is pragmatic and doesn’t expect the unreasonable. Islam is practical.

The NewVic3 and Prevent

I have to confess to not understanding the government’s direction of travel with its Prevent and other counter terrorism strategies. I must also say that in recent days I have occasionally had that cold feeling that my online activity – expressing empathy with Islam and criticising the Establishment – is being watched.  I have challenged one core pillar of our Establishment for its corporate attitude to the Islamophobia and have to wonder if it has been mindful to pass my details on. When three students were suspended by the sixth form college apparently just for computer misuse you can quickly see how disaffected young people with Islamic backgrounds are attracted to extremism. I question whether I should ever email my MP via his parliamentary email address. I can feel exclusion. And I am not Muslim.

The three students have been dubbed the NewVic3 (#NewVic3) on the social media. They attend the Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIC). Having only the media to rely on for information I gather that because of the government’s Prevent strategy college managers felt obliged to cancel a meeting. Were they right? I do not know but I do know and my recent experience seems to support an observation that secular higher education and academic institutions are genuinely not sure what to do.

Do you let students openly discuss extremism and even debate with people who have dubious views on campus, drive the discussion underground? Answers to that question must wait for a day or two.

Of more immediate concern is the suspension of the three girls just before their exams. I have form here. I work in a large organisation and one circulated something to everyone via the internal email system. I was duly admonished. Perhaps I should have known it was inappropriate behaviour but I screwed up. I was not suspended. I was informed that the action potentially clogs up the email servers. Obviously if three people perform the same action life becomes triply hard for the organisation’s IT technicians. Suspending the students email accounts would have sufficed.

Would the college have suspended other email users for a similar action completely unconnected with Prevent? Has it now created a precedent that will require to suspend anyone else, including members of staff,  who misuse the email system in the same way?

Something else may have prompted these suspensions but the college is reported to be saying the suspensions were solely as a result of computer misuse.

Others much better placed than I will know exactly what has happened here but I wonder if the current Prevent strategy is going to be applied in a one sided manner and reinforce marginalistion.

Apparently children as young as five years old can be identified as potential Islamic extremists. What about children from conservative Christian families who are taught that Muslims worship a false god, when (whether you believe literal Bible narrative or not) it is historical fact that Jews and Muslims share a common God. How can this be so?

For any doubters (whether you are Creationists or merely believe in the Big Bang) there can only have been ONE beginning. If you believe a Creator God there can be only ONE. Ask any Christian how many Gods Abraham worshiped and they will answer ONE. Now Abraham had two sons (of different mothers perhaps but there were two unless we believe in Two Abrahams, Two Noahs before that and two floods and so on) one is said to have been the “father” of the Jewish bloodline and the other the “father” of the Arab bloodline.

Now if primary school children (and their teachers) have learned that the God of Islam is not the God of Christianity they will have been inculcated with an extreme view and it may be dangerous.

I recently learned of an evangelical church, presumably within the Church England that is extremely conservative. It does not allow female preachers and is fiercely homophobic. Its congregation has grown so much that it needs to establish a second one nearby. The evangelical wing of the Christian church is flourishing where less extreme congregations are struggling.

Let us not also forget that after the vicar of St John’s in Waterloo opened his church for a Muslim prayer meeting the Bishop of Southwark very publicly admonished him.

I close by saying that if the government’s Prevent strategy is the best way forward it must be applied evenhandedly. Christian promoters of extreme anti-Muslim sentiment must be treated with equal measure as Muslim extremist preachers. I guess I have now confirmed that I am anti-Establishment.

 

Promoting Interfaith – How not to do it!

 

A recent Church Times headline read

Canon Goddard apologises for Muslim prayers in his church

Interfaith relations have been dealt a huge blow.

In the article the Bishop of Southwark is quoted:

A spokesperson said: “The Bishop of Southwark takes very seriously his responsibility to uphold the teaching of the Church and to work within its framework of legislation and guidance.”

On Tuesday, the spokesperson said: “Whilst it is very important to build good interfaith relations, it is clear that an act of worship from a non-Christian faith tradition is not permitted within a consecrated Church of England building.”

Further clarification was provided on Wednesday: “Canon B1 sets out what services can be used in the Church of England:  these are the Book of Common Prayer or those authorised or commended through the appropriate processes. This does not include services from another faith tradition.”

Oh dear!

The Rt Rev Christopher Chessun has surely set back interfaith relations back a long way. OK, let’s run with the letter of the CofE rules, however outdated they may be, and accept that Canon Goddard was wrong why go so public with the admonition? Surely the matter could have been dealt with over a cup of tea, in private and very well away from the prying eyes of the media, even the religious media. Words on these lines would have sufficed: “We can’t turn the clock back. What’s happened as happened, There is nothing to be gained by crying over spilt milk, but don’t do it again, my son.”

I am mindful of a column written by a Canon Eric Woods, whose views are probably diametrically opposed to those of Canon Goddard. He wrote of the “Islamification” of our country. I for one made a formal complaint, correctly through the Diocesan offices. The Rt Rev Nicholas Roderick Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, also refused to make a pot of tea, take Canon Woods to one side and suggest temperance in sensitive times when the country’s established church needs find ways of building bridges.

In their respective ways these two Bishops may have affirmed the Church of England’s inherent “institutional Islamophobia” – that is its fear of Islam arising from ignorance.

I struggle with Bishop Chessun’s ruling in particular. What constitutes a different faith? I have a Methodist background. My home is bounded both by an ailing CofE parish church and an ailing Methodist church. The parish church is very “low church” and for as long as I can remember both churches have held regular joint services. Does the letter of canonical law allow ministers from a non-conformist faith to lead prayers on Anglican premises? Are or have exceptions been made? If they have, is there a case for doing likewise to embrace Islam?

But in reality where do you draw the line? I know of one cathedral where Muslims are made to feel very welcome but they should be excluded if their thoughts and prayers turn to “another God”. How would one identify Muslims who wear western dress?

Sadly, it does not stop there. One of the Queen’s chaplains has attacked Islam in recent days and not only attacked it but very defended his stance after criticism.  A robust but figurative rap on the knuckles would have been in order here.

If these were the actions of a small minority of rogue Anglican vicars it would be easy to brush the incidents to one side but the individuals either hold high office within the Church of England and the “establishment” or are very highly respected for their past work. You cannot get much higher than the rank of bishop. Where are the most senior bishops?

The Rt Revs Chessun and Holtam may well not have thought through the impact of their interventions, or have been badly advised by their administrative support. That’s sad. We have pretty a Islamophobic media – again I use the term phobia in its literal sense of fear (typically from ignorance) – that delight in having pops at Islam whenever they can.

When will the established Church not realise that it has to take one of the lead roles in improving our understanding of Islam.

It could start by teaching Anglicans that Muslims revere Jesus and his mother Mary. They teach the immaculate conception. Arguably they teach that Jesus is the son of God because we are all children of the One Creator, the One God and that we are all brothers and sisters of One Global Family – even if we squabble rather a lot.

Link:

http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2015/20-march/news/uk/canon-goddard-apologises-for-muslim-prayers-in-his-church