Gavin Ashenden explains why opening cathedrals to Muslim celebrations is wrongheaded
JIHAD AND MURDER OF THE BYSTANDERS
On the 3rd of June, 2017, three koranically faithful Muslims faithful Khuram Shazad Butt, Rachid Redouane, Youssef Zaghba hired a van and killed eight kafirs on London Bridge.
They were demonstrating to the world and their fellow jihadists that they were good faithful Muslims. The agreed definition of a good faithful Muslim is one who puts the Koran into practice and imitates the life of Mohammed. The Western media referred to them as ‘radicalised’ terrorists, avoiding the word Muslim altogether.
They were trying to avoid any discussion in the public place as whether Butt, Redouane and Zaghbahired were in any way representative of Islam. Because there has been a blanket ban on the media identifying terrorists as Muslims, these conversations seldom take place. Few people have the criteria at hand by which to make a judgement.
One of the most significant flaws in the way that public opinion assesses Muslim ‘terror’ is that it adopts Judaeo-Christian ethics as an overview. The public are used to the idea that activists who turn to violence are bad or mad people who bring shame on their sponsoring movement.
But Islam has to be judged on its own terms, and not treated as an Arabic form of Judaeo-Christian religion and ethics.
THE KORAN ITSELF
The Koran of course has many irenic and tolerant passages within it. Liberal commentators ask pointedly if it is not partisan to draw out some of the occasional and more violent passages to tar the whole religion with?
So, by what mechanism or means do we evaluate the difference and the value of the competing passages in the Koran some of which direct the faithful Muslim to charity and piety and some of which demand violence?
An overview of the Koran sees it as falling broadly into two parts. The first part was written when Mohammed was in Mecca and was looking for cooperation and mutuality from other communities, and the second when he had fled to Medina when he adopted a more aggressive and violent relationship with non-Muslims.
The Islamic instrument of Koranic interpretation is the theory of abrogation, which gives the greater authority to the passages that occur later in the text. These usually preference the violent passages over the more peaceful ones.
The Quran itself reveals a trajectory of jihad (struggle) reflected in the almost 23 years of Muhammad’s prophetic career. It starts with a relatively peaceful proclamations of monotheism. But Muhammad’s message developed elements of violence with increasing intensity, culminating in surah 9, chronologically the last major chapter of the Quran, and its most expansively violent teaching.
Throughout history, Muslim theologians have understood and taught this progression, that the message of the Quran culminates in its ninth chapter.
Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians (9.29) so that Islam may “prevail over all religions” (9.33). Given that Islamic theology divides the world into two halves, the House of Islam and the House of War (Dar Al Islam, and Dar al Harb) one may ask if any non-Muslims are immune from being attacked, subdued or assimilated under this command?
Muslims are commanded to fight, according to this final chapter of the Quran, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites (9.44-45). If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys: Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits (9.111).
Of course, may of the Muslims throughout the world ignore these injunctions and live peaceably with their non-Muslim neighbours. It is a truism in the West that these Muslims are judged to be the ‘good’ Muslims, and in Western terms they certainly are. Bu the reason why so many young Muslims become radicalised, is that in Koranic terms, they are not good Muslims. They are non-observant Muslims, cherry-picking those parts of the Koran they observe. The good Muslim is the one who puts the Koran into practice, takes up all forms of Jihad, spiritual and military, and models his life on that of Mohammed. Mohammed’s life was one coloured by a violence which was directed against those he saw as his enemies, both personal and tribal.
A quick overview of the effect of Mohammed’s example in the Hadith and teaching in the Koran put into practice in the recent past, documents that from 2001 to 2017, Islamic terrorists carried out more than 32,000 deadly attacks that killed more than 85,000 innocent and unsuspecting civilians (thereligionofpeace.com).
But if one takes a longer perspective then it is estimated that between the founding of Islam in 610 and 2006, ‘Islamists’ have murdered more than 270 million non-Muslims. (Bill Warner: The Islamic Trilogy, 2006)
How should Western culture understand the Islamic presence and practice in its own cities?
Western cities contain both quiescent Islamic communities and ‘radical’ activist communities. Western culture seems to respond to them both almost along the lines of the interrogation techniques called the ‘perceptual contrast principle, ‘known more popularly as good ‘cop/bad cop’. The pressure from the bad cop is so terrifying and undermining, that when the good cop appears, the relief, protection and promise of help undermines the resolve of the person being interrogated and they fall into the metaphorical arms of the good cop, oblivious that both good and bad cop are working for the same management. The bad cop is the suicide bomber. The good cop is the local community celebrating Ramadan.
As it happened, the anniversary of the murder by the London Bridge Jihadists coincided with the end of Ramadan.
In the eyes of Western Liberalism, the quietist Muslim community has achieved victim status as a response to the muted fear and anger engendered by the Jihadists. Anyone experiencing fear of Islamic jihadists has their fear tarnished by group think so that is becomes a phobia and then ‘Islamophobia.’ By this strange but effective slight of group think, the quietist (pleasant and cooperative) Islamic community are offered special status as victims to compensate for this ‘Islamophobia.’
What might anyway have been simply the generous reflex of a multi-cultural community, become further energised to reach out in charity and support to the victim quietist Islamic community.
But when this happens formally sponsored by the Churches, there are two significant problems. Both are masked by the relativism of secularism that Western Christians have imbibed from their secular education for the last 50 years.
The first is that there can be no qualitive or epistemological difference between Islam and Christianity, or the Koran and the Bible, and that any attempt to ask the question is itself bigoted.
The second, the nature, ambitions, and methods of Islam.
The conflict over the Iftar events that came to the surface with the event at Southwark Cathedral where the Christian community used the premises to host the Muslim event that masks the end of Ramadan causes two serious problems when viewed om the light of these two issues.
JESUS V MOHAMMED
The first relates to the claims of Islam. Islam is founded on the revelations to Mohammed by his angel that Jesus was lying when he said he would rise from the dead and that the Gospels are lying when they claim that he did.
These two revelations, the one of Jesus and the other of Mohammed, are binary opposites. They can’t be reconciled. Wherever Islam takes power, it does what it can to proscribe the Gospels and silence Christian evangelism. It is predicated on a spirituality of power, and so will tolerate the “People of the Book” so long as they occupy a dhimmi status and pay high levels of tax in reparation for not having been forced to convert to Islam. In some circumstances, the option of Dhimmi status and Jizya tax are not given and people are given the stark choice of Islamic conversion or death.
THE THREE OPTIONS
Historically Christianity has only three options.
-Submission to Islam and acceptance of repression and control as dhimmis;
-Pursuing freedom and independence from Islam by matching Islamic force with force.
-Converting Muslims to Christianity.
In the Southwark context, neither the latter two options are being pursued, to history teaches us that the Christian culture that pursues accommodationism will end up by being subsumed into and by Islam.
Failing to read history or Islamic theology the defence of the offers of hosting the Iftar celebrations has been that Christians have a biblical duty of hospitality to the neighbour, and in the culture of the Middle east where both religions originated the sharing of food has multi layered significance.
In a very helpful analysis of the Biblical material The Rev’d Dr Ian Paul questions this rather lame and shallow hiding behind the simplistic cultural expression of hospitality. A moderately observant reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus’ practice of eating with a wide range of people happens at their invitation, not his, and is restricted to the same source of revelation, the Law and the Prophets, and never for example the Samaritans, or the Romans of the Zoroastrians.
And when he shares a meal in those circumstances it is to witness to his mission and the invitation to repent, be healed and saved.
The rather lame advocates of Christian groups offering hospitality to Muslims or anyone other religion, seem to have no sense of the conditionality of Jesus’ practice of hospitality. It is beyond the simplistic terms of the relativism through which they come to the Biblical accounts.
There is one meal that Jesus hosts, and that is the last supper where he calls the apostles together to equip them for the ordeal facing them that will be concluded by His resurrection, to encourage them to maintain a unity that reflects the reality of the Holy Trinity and to overcome the assaults of Satan who is Lord of this world; after which they are to call all people to repentance and the life of the Kingdom. This equally resists all simplistic sub-Christian relativistic idealising of breaking bread or picnicking with communities whose practitioners have killed (and continue to kill) Christians who refused to renounce Jesus.
THE EXAMPLE OF MOHAMMED
The second issue relates to the role that Mohammed plays in Islam. He is the ideal man, and all Muslims (Suras 68.4 & 33.21). Ramadan is not just, perhaps not even a parallel spiritual practice to Lent. For Christians Lent is the period when they stand with Jesus in his confrontation of evil in its most raw form presented in the assault by Satan, in fasting prayer and spiritual struggle. For Muslims, Ramadan is the time they fast in recognition that it marks the month when the Koran was revealed; the Koran being the revelation that denounces Jesus as a fraud.
Why would Christians choose to celebrate a festival in which people model themselves on Mohammed and celebrate the denial of Jesus as the Living Word of God and saviour of the humanity and the cosmos?
A cathedral stands for the place where the bishop, the successor of the apostles, bears witness to the Apostolic witness, against the claims of the Koran, that Jesus rose from the dead after bearing sins of the whole world, and that eh evidence and experience of the Gospels is true and can be relied on. How can it act as a venue to celebrate the conclusion of a false revelation by a deceptive angel who brought a message that Jesus was a fraud?
For those for whom Christianity is a bourgeois spirituality that goes little further than encouraging people to be nice over meals to the neighbours, it may be that the theology and mutually exclusive claims of the Gospels and the Koran, of Jesus v Mohammed, are hidden, or melt into a relativistic, syncretistic muddle swallowed up by the attractions of the community picnic.
But to Christians who honour the courage of the countless millions of fellow believers who faced death at the hands of both historic and contemporary Islam rather than submit to a false revelation that rubbished their saviour and denied their experience of the risen Christ, picnicking in cathedrals, churches or even church halls, in celebration of the month that brought that document that has denied Christ, is not an option.
THE INDIVISIBILITY OF ISLAM
A kind of spontaneous generosity excused this Biblical and Koranic illiteracy by taking relief that the Muslims who accepted the invitation to end Ramadan in Southward Cathedral were not the same, or qualitatively different from the three jihadists who waged war on the Kafirs on the bridge above the cathedral.
They underestimated the extent to which quiescent Islam is only radical Islam temporarily dormant. So it came as a shock when they discovered that the Ifta being celebrated in the Church Hall of St Ethelburga’s Yardley in Birmingham was a sharia compliant Ifta. Women were excluded. This had the awkward side effect of banning the woman suffragan bishop of Birmingham whose parish it was.
For the first time, this assault on the integrity of feminism gave a clue that Islam is not as friendly, malleable or culturally passive as the ‘religion is the practice of the nice’ advocates assumed. Had they known the facts they would not have been so surprised.
UNDER THE SURFACE OF ISLAM
A recent poll for Channel 4 found 47% support the introduction of sharia law in some form. The problems with sharia law are enormous for a liberal democracy. But it is astonishingly naïve to think that Muslims will prefer secular culture to sharia culture.
The difficulty that Islam poses the West is that the increasing observance of the Koran leads firstly to sharia and ultimately and relatively easily to jihad.
Another recent poll demonstrated 21% of British Muslims believe that `the suicide bombings of Jihadists are justified.
What the theological illiteracy masks is that Christianity is a religion of the Spirit and Islam a political religion of the law.
For a Christian to move from liberal relativism and sleepy superficial observance takes an earthquake of the Holy Spirit. For a Muslim to move from observing the Koran superficially to thoroughly takes encouragement, pressure or rage.
The transition to what we misleadingly call radicalisation is a gradated move along a simple line of observance. There is no ideological chasm between celebrating Ramadan (and its end) and beheading an unbeliever.
In Koran 2.185 the faithful believer reads, “The month of Ramadan (is the month) in which the Qur’an has been sent down as guidance for mankind containing clear signs which lead (to the straight road) and distinguishing (the truth from falsehood)..” and later in the same text without any textual distinction, Koran 8:12 admonishes, “When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
This is not a separate Koran. This is not a different spirituality. This is one Koran, one religion, one scale of required action. You cannot have Ramadan without the possibility, or some would go further and say the probability of inflicting violence on those who refuse to submit, or offend the Prophet by resisting him.
The liberal solipsistic day dreaming than imagined that ‘reaching out’ to Muslims to be nice at the end of Ramadan as an antidote to the Islamophobia engendered by the non-stop assassination of the Kafir by faithful Jihadists is confronted by the stark reality that armed Jihad is the duty of the faithful follower of Mohammed. And that those who imitate Mohammed in the observance of Ramadan may find that they move seamlessly through fidelity to Sharia to the integrity of the armed (terrorist) struggle.
WHAT DOES RAMADAN STAND FOR?
It stands for a period of fasting. It stands too for obedience to Mohammed and his replacement of Jesus as God’s last word.
What response should Christians make to Ramadan? Endorse or evangelise? Perhaps inviting Muslims to come and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, who overcomes evil, breaks the cycle of violence by turning the other cheek, and transforms broken people into compassionate saints not vengeful terrorists, might achieve more than the multicultural picnick. But if eating with Muslim neighbours acts as a way of loving and developing trust, then let it be done in homes as neighbours, not in churches endorsing Islamic narratives.
Celebrating the end of Ramadan is to celebrate the practice of Mohammed. What Mohammed practiced was distorted and contorted vision of violence that demanded and continues to demand world-wide submission.
The memory of the eight people slaughtered by the behest of the Koran and the truck of the Muslim activists, was not honoured by the recognition of Ramadan, it was besmirched.
The eight are added to 85,000 victims of Mohammed in Europe between 2001 and 2017, and the 270 million of his victims since the first Ramadan ended in the 7th century.
The question that remains, facing Southwark Cathedral and the church, is whether the celebration of Ramadan, and the Koran which requires it and the prophet who conceived it, brings either an end to the violence it endorses, or of a closer proximity to the Kingdom of Jesus?