Archive for September, 2010

The Vicar and the Koran: 27 September

September 27, 2010

Like a legal television, I am now Licensed and Installed as Priest in Charge of Burton Joyce with Bulcote and Stoke Bardolph. I feel good to be properly plugged in to a local church.

The Bishop had to bring his be-wigged lawyer for me to swear loyalty to the Church of England, the Queen, and to him. The Bishop formally assured himself of my willingness to fulfil the position, prayed for me with laying-on of hands, and gave me the ‘cure of souls’ – responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the people of the parish. With this spiritual responsibility, recorded in a legal document, I was then able to take on part ownership of parish property, including the church building, and to take my rightful place in the vicar’s chair or stall. The Bishop had the Archdeacon present to make sure this in-stalling happened properly. Maybe the Archdeacon should have worn overalls like a technical TV installer? All then checked that the connection was working by asking me to lead prayer! See www.flickr.com/photos/harperrog/ for pictures.

It was a happy and positive evening, with visitors commenting on how friendly the locals are and how God’s presence was felt (as well as how uncomfortable the pews are.) Having Bishop, Lawyer and Archdeacon all present for the Licensing seemed excessive and uncharacteristic. From now on we are very much on our own. Although the Bishop said, as always, that the ‘cure’ is both mine and his, my experience is that he will never be in touch unless there is a problem. From the end of January, all clergy in my position will have new terms of office which should mean more back-up from Bishops etc. We’ll see.

Having written a little about the Koran and people’s attitudes to it, I have decided it is high time I read it fully. As I read slowly over many months I intend to share my reflections here.

My ‘explanatory translation’, by Pickthall, in an edition published by the UK Islamic Mission Dawah Centre, begins with an historical introduction to the life and career of Mohammed. I was surprised by the extent of his military involvement. In the last 10 years of his life Mohammed sent out 65 military expeditions, leading many of them himself. This must have been the chief focus of his attention and energy.

The introduction explained that this military action was in obedience to a call to ‘fight against the persecutors until persecution is no more and religion is for Allah only.’ (Surah 8, 39 and, it says, other places too.) Here is a poles-apart difference with Christianity and a substantial difference, with Judaism. Jesus told his followers to bless, love and pray for those who persecute them, and practised what he preached when he was arrested and crucified. (Christians have often spectacularly failed to obey this teaching, but that does not change Jesus words.) Moses told people to respond to violence in a measured and equivalent way, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ a nasty comment for a nasty comment etc. But Mohammed taught his followers to fight all who persecute them, whether in deed or word, until they change their ways. The fighting is not proportional to the level of persecution, but according to the achieving the aim of changing or silencing people completely.

For Mohammed, persecution was the basis of his fighting. This included perceived or threatened persecution. Twice, the introduction explains, Mohammed heard rumours of an attack against him from the Christian Byzantine Empire and set out with an army to attack them first. Both times he was defeated. But the precedent had been set. When Moslems hear rumours of wars against them, they are told to be dismayed and to fight.

I hope to read more peaceable things as I start the Koran proper.

Roger Harper

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Burning the Koran: 14 September

September 14, 2010

Not to burn the Koran was the right decision. Publicise it instead!

I would not want anyone publicly to burn the Bible. Jesus told us to do to others as we would have them do to us. As a follower of Jesus I should therefore not publicly burn the Koran.

I also should not do something which puts many of my fellow Christians in danger. The immediate result of a small group of American Christians burning the Koran would be violent attacks on Christians in many Moslem majority countries. Church leaders in these countries understandably condemned the proposed Koran burning.

It is good that the proposed Koran burners listened to the arguments of others and backed down, albeit reluctantly. That some of the most hard-line Christians had their minds changed by other Christians is a good witness to the Church in general. It is hard to imagine any similar process happening in Islam.

Koran burning is non-violent. No-one is hurt. Only paper and print are destroyed. Burning a few copies hinders in no way the free and wide availability of the Koran. Some Moslems would no doubt respond with violence, and they threaten violence in response to a non-violent action. This Moslem response is wrong and should be criticised more, especially by fellow, moderate, Moslems. Some Western writers have also described Koran burning as though it were a violent act, thus legitimising the threatened violence by some Moslems. Freedom of religion means freedom to criticise religion, even in dramatic ways. The Koran criticises sharply Christianity and Judaism. Yet Islam is uncomfortable with being criticised. We should not curtail the freedom to criticise Islam, because of violent threats, but defend and use that freedom.

Koran burning is a dramatic way of saying that this teaching is dangerous and should not be followed. That is the view of the Koran shared by many of us orthodox Christians. It is impossible to follow and worship the Jesus of the Gospels and embrace the teaching of the Koran. From the beginning of Islam, there has been an irreconcilable ideological conflict. This stark difference should be acknowledged and explained more. Maybe we Christians should publicise more the verses from the Koran which we find unacceptable?

“Fight those who believe not in Allah, nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the people of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” Sura 9:29

The Koran instructs Moslems to fight all non-Moslems, all pork-eaters or alcohol-drinkers of whatever faith. We are glad that most Moslems do not follow this to the letter, and that some think of fighting with the pen rather than the sword. But it is clear that, at least, the sword is not ruled out, and the history of Moslem expansion shows that the most common interpretation of ‘fight’ is with the bloody sword. More people need to know that this is teaching from the Koran. Hardly a religion of peace!

No more talk of Koran burning. Instead let’s have more truth about the Koran.

Roger Harper