Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

Books of 2015: 6 January

January 6, 2016

My 3 favourite books from last year. None are new, only new to me.

Pelagia and the White Bulldog by ‘Boris Akunin’ (2000, translated 2006) An engaging, devious, intelligent, whodunit which takes Christian faith seriously as part of Russian life.

Pelagia is a young 19th Century nun, working under Bishop Mitrofani in a small rural town. She is sent to the estate of the bishop’s aunt, a fanatic breeder of white bulldogs one of which has mysteriously died. Soon there are other deaths, with multiple suspects. Sister Pelagia has to use her quiet observation, her hunches, her ‘English’ physical education training, her looks, her vow of obedience, and her sharp mind.

‘Boris Akunin’ is the pen name of a Russian academic and popular author of Georgian and Jewish origin. It is remarkable that he has chosen to write with knowledge and sympathy about intelligent likeable Christian religious people, as well as notable Christian hypocrites. His Bishop is a charismatic leader in his community who ruminates on how to lead people out of the corrupt law of the jungle and, Akunin writes, succeeds. No doubt this is intended to apply to the 21st Century as much as the 19th. Akunin depicts the Church and its leadership, within society, more than Dickens, Eliot or even Trollope.

Akunin gives us good believable drama: interesting characters in a well-paced plot. I look forward to reading the sequel early this year.

Two Brothers by Ben Elton (2012) The story of Nazi Germany (and, less so, of its Communist aftermath) seen through the story of ‘twin’ brothers brought up in a Jewish family in Berlin.

One brother is adopted and not ethnically Jewish which makes all the difference in the culture of rabid official racism. For a while we do not know which brother is which and we care for both. Elton’s page-turning plot covers all the key moments and developments in the history with painstaking accuracy and believable roles for the main characters.

Two Brothers would be a purely enjoyable, exciting, first class, thriller if the history it portrays was not so grim. At times I needed to put the book down, overwhelmed by the horrors unfolding. I was always glad then to pick the book up again and follow, to the end, the engaging story and the beloved characters.

Reading Two Brothers is the best way I know for anyone to find out what life was like in Nazi Germany. A severe, sensitive, and scintillating story.

The Islamist Ed Husain (2007) Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left. A fascinating personal account of the attraction, history and danger of political Islamism for a young British man.

Husain achieves the right balance between his own story, thoughts and feelings, and explanation of the ideologies, their history and official responses to them, especially in Britain. His progression from spiritual to political Islam is understandable. His concern for fellow Moslems across the world, awakened especially by searing one-sided publicity of the plight of the Kosovans, is laudable. His grasp of the various schools of thought and practice is comprehensive and he conveys the nuances well. He points out the naivety and probable superciliousness of the British Establishment who turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the growth of political Islamism in the UK. He explains calmly how some people in this country and elsewhere moved on to calling for a Caliphate, long before the emergence of IS / Daesh. He describes how the rhetoric of Islamic brotherhood is belied by the practice of Islamists and how much good, beautiful, longstanding Islamic religious practice is stamped out by the political Islamists.

Husain gives some hope that many others will, like him, make the journey away from IS but, without a stronger moderate Islam, how strong can that hope be?


Paris Attcks: We shall not be moved. Nous restons en place. 14 November

November 14, 2015

After the murderous bombings in Paris what now?

The day after the July 7 bombings I was in London, sitting on a near empty Tune train, pulling into one sparsely peopled station after another. I felt afraid, as did everyone else. There was hardly any talking between us few passengers.

From somewhere inside me came the old protest song ‘We shall not be moved.’ I sang it quietly to myself. ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved.’ The song bolstered my confidence, quietened my fear, strengthened my determination to keep travelling where the bombers had attacked. ‘Just like a tree that’s planted by the riverside, we shall not be moved.’

 The thought of singing out loud came to me. I wasn’t bold enough to do it. Apart from having a notoriously bad singing voice, I worried that the scattered few passengers would think me odd, at least.

 Now I wish I had sung out. Maybe someone would have understood. Maybe it would have helped a fellow passenger as it had done me. Maybe it would even have spread…

 WE SHALL NOT, WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED. We shall not be moved from eating out in our city centres. We shall not be moved from going to concerts and football matches. We shall not be moved from living in a free and open society. We shall not give in to the terrorists’ aim to make us terrorised. We shall act as unterrorised, as normal, as free.

 The public response after the Charlie Hebdo killings was the same. People took to the streets, holding pens. We shall not be moved from publishing and reading satire, of anything and everything.

 Now the French Government is calling people to stay indoors. Communal events are closed. No street demonstrations are allowed until Thursday. Is this the right response?

 I understand the need to keep people safe. Parisians must be stunned by shock. Eating out now, celebrating over food, could feel disrespectful to the many dead and injured.

 Yes, let those who need to stay at home and mourn do so. But, please, let those who want to go out, who want to find and create solidarity, who want to sing ‘We shall not be moved…’ also do so, as they did in Paris and other towns at the beginning of this year.

Please keep the friendly football match between England and France on Tuesday. Maybe the stadium will resound, maybe even in French as well as English: ‘We shall not, we shall not be moved!’ ‘Nous restons, nous restons en place!’

Roger Harper

PS I’ll be at Wembley on Tuesday for the match!

The Qu’ran vs. Jesus: 18 January

January 18, 2015

The Qu’ran has always been at odds with Jesus. We need to live Jesus’ way

Sebastian Faulks wrote in the Times a while ago, as I have quoted before:

‘With the Koran there are no stories. And it has no ethical dimension like the New Testament, no new plan for life. It says “the Jews and the Christians were along the right tracks, but actually, they were wrong and I’m right, and if you don’t believe me, tough — you’ll burn for ever.” That’s basically the message of the book.’

The claim that Mohammed is the last and greatest prophet is in clear contradiction to the claim that Jesus is the prophet who is more than a prophet, God’s Son. The Qu’ran was written partly to correct or contradict the Jesus of the Gospels.

The opposition is clear.

The Qu’ran is intolerant of mockery.

Jesus accepted people mocking Him. Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’ Jesus taught people to invite more slaps on the cheek!

The Qu’ran’s enemies are ‘the infidels / unbelievers:’

Jesus’ enemies are not flesh and blood, but unclean spirits, ideologies, systems, ‘principalities and powers in the heavenly places.’

The Qu’ran is militaristic. Before receiving the messages recorded in the Qu’ran, Mohammed was a trader. Afterwards, he became a warrior chief. In the last 10 years of his life, Mohammed either led or sent out 65 military campaigns (according to the Introduction to the English rendition of the Qu’ran published by the UK Islamic Mission Dawah Centre.)

Jesus led no military campaigns. Jesus refused to use violence. Jesus instead allowed himself to be a victim of violence.

The Qu’ran teaches retaliation: ‘There is life for you in retaliation , O men of understanding, that ye may ward off (evil.)’ (2:179) ‘And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.’ (2:191) ‘and fight them until persecution is no more and religion is for Allah.’ (2:192) ‘And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.’ (2:194) (Surah 2 is seen by Moslems as a summary of the whole Koran.)

Jesus teaches no retaliation – ever. He tells his followers to love enemies, to pray for those who persecute them, to look to God to bless enemies, change them.

Looking at the history of Christianity and Islam you wouldn’t know that their origins are so different. Christianity followed Jesus faithfully for about 350 years. Then came the great compromise between Christianity and the Roman Empire. Christianity embraced, and restricted, militarism and retaliation. When Islam emerged, it copied and countered a State Religion with a powerful army.

The Christianity of the Crusades, of military retaliation, was far from following the teachings of Jesus. The ‘Christianity’ of the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of IS etc. is far from following the teachings of Jesus.

Christians need to return to the teaching and Spirit of Jesus, especially in responding to terrorist attacks:

No retaliation, ever.

No military response. No relying on weapons, on the ‘security’ industry.

No deeming people evil. People can be infected and misguided by evil but there are no ‘evil people.’

No giving up the freedom to mock and be mocked.

No further restriction on the welcome we give to strangers, despite the differences and the dangers.

Christians need strength, inner strength, not to retaliate, to keep loving. We need strength to fight fear and anger / vengefulness etc. etc.

Christians need to encourage and strengthen each other:

We shall not be moved…

We shall not give up our civic freedoms. We shall not give in to the fear of strangers, of immigrants. We will not cower behind more and more security, more weapons. We will go out into the streets and squares of our towns, lighting candles, carrying pens. We will not be moved from being an open, democratic, welcoming, fair, just society.

Just like a tree that’s standing by the waterside…

To have the strength not to be moved, we need a river to feed into our roots. Europe has never seen a wholeheartedly Christian country, rather various compromises between the State and Jesus. Yet there has been a river flowing from Jesus which has watered, influenced, the roots of Europe. We need to keep drawing from that river.

The Qu’ran has always been at odds with Jesus. We need to live Jesus’ way, now more than ever.