Tag Archives: Muslim

Why do Christians eat meat? (3)

On my recent visit to York Minster I was captivated by a poster that asked how the Romans transitioned from their old pagan religious rituals to Christian rituals after Constantine adopted the Christian God as the state God. It’s a good question. It is challenging on a number of fronts.

After the visit I went online and found this summary of end of sacrifice.

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I understand sacrifice simply to represent slaughter and safe processing of the meat that can be eaten from carcasses and critically the safe disposal of what was left over. This was overlayed with prayers of thanksgiving but the aim of the practice and ritual was to ensure meat was safe to eat. It had to be free from disease and for sure there were public health consequences is the unusable carcass was not disposed of safely.

Clearly in Biblical times and earlier there was not concept of bacteria but it is not difficult to understand that the priests of the day would have made an association between bad practice and disease. Disease would easily have been construed as punishment – especially for the maltreatment of animals at slaughter in particular.

The screen grab starts with the pro-vegetarian attitudes of pre-Christian religions originating in Asia and the Orient. No doubt some of these ideas must have spread westwards. At least the most devout and pious followers of many religions were questioning the practice of eating meat. As it was Jews and many other cults had long since recognised the need for centralised slaughter under the supervision of priests. Slaughter/sacrifice was typically done on a special occasion when there was a reason for a large family or community gathering (a street party, you could say).

John the Baptist, Jesus and their immediate associates appear to have been vegetarian and as a consequence disengaged from the tradition Jewish slaughter practice. We know from the gospels that Jesus fell out with the Temple authorities big time and the principal business of the Temple was slaughter. The Temple was the public slaughterhouse of its day. As well as merely killing animals to eat priests performed what today we know as “meat inspection”. Priests had worked out was constituted wholesome or healthy meat.  They had also worked out that the safest way to find dispose of what was left over was to burn it. The smell must have been something. Incense was used to mask it. When they gathered for the Passover festival the slaughter must have appeared very gruesome. If you had a prior aversion to killing animals just for their meat the whole experience would have been off-putting (as would a visit to a large commercial slaughterhouse today if they weren’t so secretive).

Critically the whole meat-eating process was controlled. In Greek tradition I read that meat had to be eaten within the confines of the sacred place, temple, or consecrated ground. Today we run into trouble if we store meat badly. Very clearly the priests were aware that if people took meat away to eat later and let it go off, because they didn’t know how to and did not have facilities to keep meat pure, the consequent food poisoning would not be good. The priests and community leaders would not uncontrolled disposal of meat in spoil pits or middens, which could attract rats and potential infection from them.

The origin of prayer at slaughter can easily be surmised. People clearly had a concept of the sanctity of life and guilt at taking life – witness the vegetarian ideology of Hinduism and the religions associated with it. The prayer thanks Our Maker, The Giver of Life, or whoever, for His bounty while seeking forgiveness for taking a life. You could also interpret it as asking the animal, even, for permission to take its life. One way or another it is intended to be a spiritual and solemn occasion – unlike modern Secular industrialised slaughter.

Most of this knowledge was held by priests and passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Novice priests would have taken years to train. The meat inspection, for example, could not be taught from illustrated text books. They also would need to have learn how to craft or supervise the crafting of knives to provide a blemish free blade. A blade that had nicks in it would tear flesh as it cut and cause pain. If the animal pulled away from a blunt blade the cut may not be quick and successful thereby causing great suffering.

Now assuming that Jesus and his associates were not engaging fully with the Temple authorities they would not be understanding the import of the ritual. Indeed they had issues with washing hands before eating. (Mark 7:5; Matthew 15:2; Luke 11:38)

This interaction between Jesus and his associates and the Temple authorities was/is hugely significant. None of these gospel writers were contemporaries of Jesus. Matthew and Luke worked from Mark’s gospel. The import is that the occurrence was significant enough to have been remembered and passed down.

When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70CE the public slaughterhouse was destroyed and the Jewish authorities codified the ritual thereby enabling others to perform slaughter safely. In the meantime as St Paul took the Christian message into Southern Europe it seems that they adopted gentile practices that were far less strict than kosher – seemingly pigs were on the menu – but they were not so far removed that they bore no resemblance to kosher. The method of kill was more or less the same; there were meat inspection; and the remainder was burnt.

I am undecided to what extent Christians ate meat. Was the persecution of Christians in part because they were not following good sacrificial practice? How many Christians were there in the Roman Empire because of the persecution? Seemingly until his conversion Constantine punished vegetarian Christians. Christians had to keep their vegetarianism secret –  presumably avoiding public festivals. Constantine’s wife was Christian but presumably cannot have been vegetarian. How could she have kept that from her family members? I can only assume that many Christians were meat eaters. Constantine accepted Christian practice and ended their persecution.  The adoption of Christianity came about fifty years after his death. There may not have been any momentous change in practice in the Principia at York.

The tone from the screen grab suggests that as the Roman Empire came to a close formal organised sacrifice/slaughter had all but been abandoned with Christian emperors making sacrifice illegal. But what was made illegal and why? If the whole population of the Roman Empire had been banned from eating meat we have to assume that Europe and most of the world that came under its jurisdiction at some point would still be vegetarian today. That is not the case. What was abolished was the formal humane slaughter and hygiene practice. Animals were still sacrificed and eaten but without any reverence.

We have to assume that Christians may even have associated sacrifice with idol worship.

Fast forward to the industrial revolution and we see that in Britain the increase in meat consumption, as people migrated to towns and cities, placed huge strains on the supply side. Conditions in many slaughterhouses were dire. Keir Robertson,  writing about “The Bovine Scourge” painted a grim picture of rat infested facilities. One can only assume that attention to humane slaughter may not have been brilliant. Kosher practice on the other hand was highly regulated and must have been several orders of magnitude superior – leading to exemptions for religious practice. Secular authorities introduced the idea of the public slaughterhouse where health and hygiene practices could be supervised and regulated – thereby mimicking ancient religious practice.

The last two sentences in the screen grab are of interest.

The Roman Empire, at least in Western Europe, fell within a hundred years of Christian being adopted formally as the state religion at the back-end of the fourth century. Why?

Could it be that the learned structures than must were associated with temples acting as effective community and municipal centres disintegrated? That’s really speculative, or is it?

The last sentence in the screen grab says that when Mohammed and Islam took centre stage on the seventh century sacrifice was not included as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. On the other hand at this time the principles of good animal welfare, especially at slaughter, and hygiene were re-introduced. In parts of Africa slaughterhouses are co-located with mosques. Mosques are community centres. Slaughter was once again brought under the supervision of community leaders (imams, presumably). Hygiene and spirituality are essential components of eating meat, which early Muslims presumably did only on special occasions – seemingly gathering at their community centre to do so. Coincidentally Islam flourished and as it flourished so science advanced – eventually, it seems, spreading west and laying the foundations of western academia.

This post is the third of a series asking, “Why do Christians eat meat?” There is no reason why they should but my reading is suggesting very strongly that the first Christians were vegetarian and zealously opposed eating meat. As a consequence the “inner circle” or “controlling mind” of the first Christian movement disconnected from essential rituals that were integral to the practice of preparing and eating meat. Having done so the movement’s followers were never going to be taught the importance of hygiene. Indeed it seems that hygiene was actually eschewed.

What I am seeing is that good practice promulgated by Jews before Christianity to this day was corrupted under Christian influence until Mohammed and Islam re-codified the practices. Islam never penetrated far into Western Europe. It reached Southern Spain but was expelled. Turkey marks the boundary of Islamic influence in Eastern Europe. Curiously Western Christianity has retained the vestiges of sacrifice in many of its rituals, which now have symbolic form.

I believe that Christians disconnect with sacrifice is a cause of many of today’s ills. There can be no doubt that anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish sentiment) is in part fuelled by Christianity’s disconnect from Jewish rituals. Muslims more or less follow many or most food hygiene practices so it is no surprise that Christians have difficulty accepting 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.

“Muslims must root out ‘cancer’ of radicalisation” – Is that really so?

The quote in my title is attributed to Sadiq Khan, a high profile Muslim who is standing for candidacy at the 2016 mayoral elections for London but have “we” been too quick to latch onto these words. The speech, made to journalists and commentators came to my attention after one well respected columnist wrote a column for The Telegraph that was published online. Mr Khan may now be a hostage to fortune. Information from UK security services suggests that Muslims cannot possibly deal with the “cancer” on their own. On the contrary secularists may have to start searching their souls and ask if they are also letting young people down.

The columnist was like a cat on hot bricks and jumping for joy. Here was a Muslim was telling Muslims to root out the radicals in their midst. Had a non-Muslim been as straight and forthright s/he would be branded racist or Islamophobic. The commentator then proceeded to have pop at halal meat. The columnist seemingly felt liberated.

I challenged the columnist on Twitter and was told that I was missing the point. Really?

Apparently among Mr Khan’s concerns was the two-way lack of integration between Muslims and non-Muslims –Too many British Muslims grow up without really knowing anyone from a different background; without understanding or empathising with the lives and beliefs of others. And too many British people have never befriended a Muslim.

The columnist was empowered to write: “As any scholar of Islam will tell you, the ideology behind ISIL and al-Qaeda is as rooted in the Koran as are daily prayers and eating halal meat. Like Christianity, it just depends which verses you care to read and how literal an interpretation you choose to give them.”

At first this statement appears to be innocuous but why refer to “eating halal meat”?

This is an indication that the columnist has little or no empathy with Islam. Perhaps the reference to Christianity achieves some balance but there was no need to include to have a pop at a dietary code that when understood make sense. That so many secularists choose not to engage on the halal issue says much.

Importantly this one columnist omitted this: “And too many British people have never befriended a Muslim.’ To their credit most if not all others reporting this speech did not omit it.

Sadiq Khan is surely calling on both Muslims and non-Muslims to make an effort to understand each other better than they do. The columnist clearly has no intention of doing so – as shown by the gratuitous reference to halal meat, which the media almost anonymously will take and every opportunity to attack.

What neither Sadiq Khan nor the columnist could have known was that The Guardian had had sight of an MI5 review that shows that radical Muslims inhabit the fringes of Islam. Many are converts. They do not pray regularly. They lack the protection that an established religious identity provides.

I see a failure of the secular value system. At least state schools are meant to provide a multicultural climate or environment. People leaving schools these days should have been empowered to be tolerant. Perhaps they are so where is it breaking down. Why, according to official statistics do as many as 25% of young people “mistrust” Muslims? Where is the disconnect between the tolerance they should learn at school and how the perceive the world as they set out on their adult journey? Who is turning them?

For those who are not keen on Islamic faith schools and believe that they must be the source of radicalisation the MI5 evidence suggests anything but. Where is it all breaking down?

I do not have the answers but disaffection seems to be an issue. If disaffection means that young people are not engaged or do not engage well with society it is surely a concern for the whole of society and not merely Muslim community leaders alone. The MI5 evidence links radicalisation to conversions to Islam but from what? I imagine the comfort and social support provided by all established religions provides the protection that the MI5 refers to. What reason would most young Christians, Hindus and Sikhs to convert to a Muslim fringe that offers no protection – none whatsoever. Converts from other religions are likely to be on the fringes of their religion and not fully connected to or protected by their respective religion. For all practical purposes they are living a secular life that is not providing security and protection.

Seemingly the problem may be down as much to Secularism’s failure to provide protection and support as that of Islam and Muslims.

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.

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