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Cathedral marks Epiphany with Koran reading

St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow offered Sura 19 from the Koran as a liturgical reading.

A Scottish Episcopal cathedral has marked the Epiphany with public readings from the Koran. At a 6 January 2017 service at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow Sura 19 from the Koran was read offered as a liturgical reading.

A 7 Jan 2017 post on the cathedral’s Facebook page stated: “Last night’s Epiphany celebration in St Mary’s was a wonderful event. In the course of service there was an incredibly wide selection of music celebrating the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. The congregation was also reminded during the service that it is not only Christians who give honour to Jesus. We were joined by friends from two local Muslim communities. Here’s Madinah Javed sharing the Qur’anic version of the news that Jesus was to be born to Mary.”

Ms. Javed read Sura 19 (Maryam) which recounts how the archangel Gabriel in the form of a man delivers the news to Mary that she will conceive a son. Mary ask how this can be as she is chaste. The angel responds that God creates what he will and that these things are easy for God. Later Suras, 21:91 and 66:12 state God breathed “his spirit” into Mary while she was chaste, and this led to her conceiving a son.

The inclusion of Muslim readings in Christian liturgy has raised concerns amongst other Anglicans, however. The Rev. David McCarthy, rector of St Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Corstorphine, Edinburgh observed: “It’s a strange and erroneous matter for the clergy leadership of a cathedral to allow a reading from the Koran which later goes on to deny the divinity of Christ. Of course it is nice to invite people of other faiths to be present for worship, but sadly this recitation reveals a naivety and the growing tendency towards a lack of confidence in the uniqueness of Christ.”

“My Muslim friends have a strong confidence in their faith and would not be at all happy if a passage like John chapter 1, which affirms Jesus is God, was read out in their mosque,” Mr. McCarthy said. “So why did the leadership of the cathedral allow a recitation from a book which Muslims believe is the final unaltered revelation from God which supersedes the Bible?”

The Bishop of Glasgow, the Rt. Rev. Gregor Duncan, was unavailable for comment and was not present at the ceremony, as he was hospitalized the day before the service after having suffered a stroke.

The former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, noted the doctrines put forward in Sura 19 were not interchangeable with the nativity narrative found in Luke 2.

Bishop Nazir-Ali wrote: “Christians should know what their fellow citizens believe and this can include reading the Koran for themselves, whether in the original or in translation.This is not,however, the same thing as having it read in Church in the context of public worship.”

He stated the “passage read at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, appears to be from the Sura known as  Maryam or Mary and is about the birth of Christ. It affirms the virgin birth and speaks of Jesus as zaki or sinless, as rasul or messenger to whom a book has been entrusted and as nabi or prophet.”

Sura 19: “speaks of his unique birth, his coming death and his resurrection. Jesus is called the very word of the truth (or of God). Much of this Christians can agree with but the passage also denies that God can have a son — although the verb used, yattakhida, suggests God taking to himself a son.This seems to have the heresy of adoptionism in the background and is not what Christians believe.”

“They believe he is the eternal Word proceeding from the Father and son in this sense, as well as because of his unique birth and his resurrection from the dead. It is particularly insensitive to have this passage read in Church on the Feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate not only Christ’s manifestation to the gentiles but also his baptism and the divine declaration,”you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”.

Bishop Nazir Ali asked the “authorities of the Scottish Episcopal Church” to “immediately repudiate this ill-advised invitation and exercise appropriate discipline for those involved.”

He further stated Archbishop Justin Welby “should also distance the Church of England and the world wide Anglican Communion from this event.”

The Koranic readings at the Episcopal cathedral in Glasgow coincidently came as Anglicans were encouraged to pray for church workers serving the Muslim immigrant community in Glasgow. One clergyman observed: “my CMS prayer diary focuses this weekend on mission partners serving amongst asylum seekers in Glasgow; they mention the interest that many Muslim asylum seekers in the city are showing towards Christianity.”

St Mary’s appears to have chosen a course in opposition to this work, he said. “The actions of St Mary’s Cathedral only serves to undermine this kind of ministry and causes more confusion for Muslim-background enquirers,” he charged.

N.b. This article was updated on Jan 9 to correct the name of the Bishop of Glasgow & Galloway.

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