A Christian dedicating his time to the Qu’ran? Find out why!

We’ve not long finished the month of Ramadan – a holy month for Muslims across the globe which marks the start of the the period in which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received the Holy Qur’an from God Himself. This period is obviously one of reflection and unity for the billions of Muslims across the globe. Yet this month was not just a time of great community for Muslims both in the UK, but in fact the many diverse faith communities in multifaith Britain. Despite some terrible tragedies here in the UK which have recently taken place during Ramadan itself, I was delighted to attend a number of interfaith/community gatherings and witness the heartwarming sense of love, unity, community and friendship amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

What’s more, in the run up to Ramadan itself, I was honoured to meet a brother who was making a particularly curious stance of unity. You see, whilst many Muslims will spend the month of Ramadan reading the Qur’an, this gentleman was on an exploratory mission of the Qur’an teaching others about its values and content. OK. You might say. Seems normal… But wait for this: he’s a Christian. Although far from a stranger to this book, Julian Bond launched his blog “How to Read the Qur’an” to get to grips with Islamophobic rhetoric out there and spread a message of peace and unity.

“A Christian!?” many may say, perplexed. Well yes, the Qur’an is not off limits! Anyone can read it! But why? Well, here’s what Julian says about why he’s been reading and teaching others about how to read the Qur’an:

I will be writing and posting a series of blogs during Ramadan 2017… to encourage people to read it and, particularly, to help them not misread it. I have been treated as an ‘honorary Muslim’ for years and welcomed into all kinds of Muslim-only/majority spaces where I have sometimes been the only Christian present.

I have read the Qur’an many times since 2000, in a number of different translations. I have been a habitual reader of it… I know that I have read it more and am more familiar with it than a lot of Muslims… I have even had people attempting to ‘convert’ me when they have read less of the Qur’an in an accessible tongue than I have…

What really fires me up is Islamophobes and extremists who choose the most extreme, and wrong, readings of the Qur’an, when a proper reading of the Qur’an highlights that they are completely off the ‘straight path’…

Julian’s message is one we should all take head of: it is only by learning about other faiths and cultures that we can built unity, dispel myths, counteract hate speech and broaden our own minds. You see, “How to Read the Qur’an” isn’t a proselytising mission -it’s an educational mission which reveals a lot about not just Islam but interfaith relations themselves.

For Muslims, Jews, Christians, those of all faiths and none: take a look, read, comment like and share your thoughts! And for Muslims: learn about another faith. Pick up a copy of the Torah or New Testament. Learn about your colleagues and neighbours and you’ll find out you’ve got more in common than you realise. As Jo Cox said – as was remembered during the Great Get Together in the month of Ramadan itself:

“…we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Peace, salam shalom! ♡

Credits, acknowledgments and further information:

Thank you to brother Julian Bond for taking the time to meet with me and for being such a great Muslim ally! It was lovely to meet you and hear about your inspiring work. I wish you all the best in your current and future initiatives.

Find out more about Julian Bond – follow him on Twitter!

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Julian Bond currently leads the Methodist Church’s grant team and is involved in a range of interfaith activities both online and offline, working with a local dialogue group in Leighton Buzzard (London) and occasionally organising dialogue events at Abrar House. Also volunteering at St Ethelburga’s (the Centre for Reconciliation and Peace), Julian was previous Director of the Christian Muslim Forum for nine years, where he edited the Ethical Witness Guidelines and led its leadership programme. Julian also spent two years on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christian-Muslim Initiative.

Image credits: Heidi Lalci (CC) (featured image), Julian Bond (C)

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The Big Iftar: Breaking Bread amongst Friends

West London Synagogue (WLS) has long been a centre for members of different faith communities to come together and build bridges of mutual understanding, faith and friendship, and I’m delighted to have attended one of WLS’ recent interfaith gatherings.

Whilst Muslims are currently celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, where we fast from sunrise to sunset in remembrance of the poor and needy and celebrate the first revelation of the Qur’an, our Jewish brothers and sisters have also recently celebrated the festival of Shavuot, marking the monumental moment when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The combination of these two festivals this year shows that as members of the Abrahamic family, we really do have more in common than many may realise. Every year, our Jewish neighbours fast for 24 hours during Yom Kippur, whilst for Muslims, Shavuot reminds us of the importance of Prophet Moses and the Torah within Islam.

To mark the joint celebration and bring together the two communities, WLS hosted a joint Tikkun Leil Shavuot study night and Big Iftar, open for all to attend. The evening started with an Erev Shavuot combo service and Q&A debate which I, alongside other members of the Muslim and Jewish communities, thoroughly enjoyed. We then moved to the dining hall as 250+ of us united for iftar – the evening meal following the breaking of our fast.

20170530_223149.jpgWith everyone sat side by side amongst members of both faith communities, the hall had a joyful lively buzz of chatter as everyone got to know one another. The dinner consisted of a lovely mixture of Middle Eastern food including hummous, falafel, bread and a range of salads. As we broke bread together (dipped into hummous of course!), we learnt about each other’s faiths, with further reflections on the meaning of Ramadan and the importance of interfaith unity by both Rabbi Helen and Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil Baye Nass.

Enjoining in a heartwarming gathering of unity, solidarity and faith, the evening was a wonderful success – albeit a bit short for those of us who had to rush off to get the train home! The Big Iftar was later followed by a scriptural reasoning and all-night study session and subsequent Shacharit sunrise service, once again open for all to attend. Little did we know though that the success of the evening and the unity it portrayed were to become more important than ever. As we reflect on the heartbreaking terrorist attacks, merely a few days later, the evening is an inspirational reminder of the need to come together in harmony.

Thank you to Rabbi Helen, Julia, David and Neil plus Nic and all other staff and members of WSL for hosting such a wonderful evening and once again, welcoming the Muslim community with warm, open arms. May we continue to come together and may there be many more big iftars to come, God willing!

Salam, shalom, peace.

Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Co-Chair, Nisa-Nashim Marylebone

Credits and information:

Article feature for WLS Shavuot Review (2017)

Photography: West London Synagogue (featured image) (c), Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

Find out more about the Big Iftar campaign via their website and social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter).

Christians and Muslims – brothers of Abraham

A major segment of the world’s population has just celebrated Christmas – the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus on 25th December. Meanwhile, Muslims have just celebrated Mawlid – the birth of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) – which this year fell on December 24th (Christmas Eve). These two figures are pinnacles of the two faiths but how many people know that Muslims also recognise Jesus (Issa) as part of their faithIslam is the only other religion to officially recognise Jesus’ coming and to include recognition of him as a requisite of faith. Muslims love Jesus!

Very little stands between these two faiths. Both Christianity and Islam teach about belief in God – following Him and doing good deeds but what else do the two faiths share? Let’s have a look using scripture from both faiths. Putting differences within faiths aside and using an overview of “standardised beliefs” and scriptural references, here’s a brief guide (in no particular order) to some of the major similarities and differences between the two faithstwo brothers within the same Abrahamic family.

Similarities

  1. God is the sole Creator of the Universe

“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (Isiah, 40: 28)

“Say: He is Allah, the One! Allah, the eternally Besought of all! He begetteth not nor was begotten. And there is none comparable unto Him.” (Qur’an, 112: 1-4)

2. The importance of charity

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs, 19: 17)

“Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and establish regular prayers and regular charity, will have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” (Qur’an, 2: 277)

3. Prostration during prayer

“And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them.” (Numbers, 20: 6)

“O ye who believe! Bow down, prostrate yourselves, and adore your Lord; and do good; that ye may prosper.” (Qur’an, 22: 77)

4. Washing before prayer (ablution)

“So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” (Samuel II, 12: 20)

“O ye who believe! When ye prepare for prayer, wash your faces and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; rub your heads (with water); and (wash) your feet to the ankles.” (Qur’an, 5: 6)

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5. Modesty in behaviour and clothing

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (Peter I, 3: 3-4)

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them […]. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms […] and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.” (Qur’an, 24: 30-31)

“Every religion has its characteristic, and the characteristic of Islam is modesty.” (al-Muwatta)

6. Head coverings for women

“For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.” (Corinthians I, 11: 16)

“And tell the believing women to […] draw their veils over their bosoms.” (Qur’an, 24: 31)

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7.  The Torah/Bible and their teachings and prophets

Note: Muslims believe in Jesus’ teachings but not the book of the New Testament as such is known today. Muslims believe in the Torah (Old Testament) as a book from God but not as a primary text.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua, 1: 8-9)

“We have sent thee inspiration as We sent it to Noah and the Messengers after him; We sent inspiration to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes to Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon, and to David, We gave the Psalms. Of some messengers We have already told thee the story; of others We have not; ― and to Moses Allah spoke direct.” (Qur’an, 4: 163-4)

“[…] his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary. […] Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel.” (Qur’an, 3: 45-8)

8. The importance of marriage and sex within marriage

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, […] orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5: 19-21)

“But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” (Corinthians I, 7:2 )

“[…] (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time― when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues. If anyone rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).” (Qur’an, 5: 5)

9. Fasting/sacrifice

“That your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew, 6: 18)

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that ye may (learn) self-restraint. (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; […] it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.” (Qur’an, 2: 183-4)

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As you can see there’s lots of references in the Qur’an to past Christian teachings and prophets. So, what are the main differences and what exactly do they entail?

Differences

  1. Jesus

Christians believe Jesus is divine/the Son of God whereas according to Islam, God is One and has never appeared in human form. In Islam, Jesus is a prophet just like Moses, Abraham and Mohammed (pbut).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John, 3: 16)

“[…] Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, […]: so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to him: (for Exalted is He) above having a son. […] Christ disdaineth not to serve and worship Allah […].” (Qur’an, 4: 171-2)

2. The Holy Spirit – completing the concept of the Trinity

As outlined – Christians believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew, 28: 19)

Muslims however believe that  there is no Trinity. It is believed that according to the Bible: “spirit” refers to Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) – the last prophet of Islam who brought the Qur’an (last scripture):

“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you unto all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me.” (John, 16: 12-14)

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3. The Passion of the Christ

Christians believe in Christ’s death and  resurrection:

“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke, 23: 33)

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus […].” (Acts, 4: 33)

According to Islam, Jesus was not crucified on the cross and was not resurrected (however Jesus will return):

“And (then unbelievers) plotted and planned, and Allah too planned, and the best of planners is Allah. Behold! Allah said: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject Faith, to the Day of Resurrection; then shall ye all return unto Me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute.” (Qur’an, 3: 54-5)

4. Original sin

The concept of original sin in Christianity does not exist in Islam. In Christianity, Eve is the one who was tempted by the Devil and all human beings are all born sinful:

“To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” (Genesis, 3: 17)

“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm, 51: 5)

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans, 5: 12)

In Islam, Adam and Eve were both equally guilty of sinning but each human is born sinless and pure. You then become responsible for your own deeds – good and bad.

 “But as soon as the two had tasted [the fruit] of the tree, they became conscious of their nakedness […].” (Qur’an, 7: 22)

“Who receives guidance, receives it for his own benefit: who goes astray does so to his own loss: no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another…” (Qur’an, 17: 15)

5. The Devil

In Christianity the Devil (Satan) is a fallen angel whereas in Islam, the Devil (Shaytan) is not a fallen angel but a jinn (made of fire) who refused to bow down to Adam with the Angels according to God’s command. In Islam, angels have no free will so cannot disobey God.

“He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” (Luke, 10: 18)

“(Iblis) said: “I am better than he: Thou createdst me from fire, and him Thou createdst from clay.” (Qur’an, 38: 76)

So, as you can see, there are a few major differences but these stem on differences on the same topic/issue – not completely different concepts. There are far more similarities. Early Muslims  sought refuge from an Ethiopian Christian king and when asked about Jesus and Mary, the king was astonished. Check out the video clip from the film “The Message” (Akkad, 1976) detailing such event:

Today, there are many Muslim-Christian interfaith families through marriage between Muslim men and Christian women. The relation between the two faiths is a vast topic but I wanted to give a brief outline and highlight the important relation between the two faiths. When building bridges, you focus on similarities rather than differences. When “otherising” you focus on the “strange” and “different“. Christians and Muslims are all part of the same Abrahamic family and in times of hardship and discrimination we should stick together not divide amongst ourselves.

Salam!

For further information:

Qur’an online and further information

Bible online

Image credits:

Free Images.com (Creative Commons)