Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Theological Reflections 1 on Priest Boot-Camp

So, Christian witness in a plural society: our trip to Bradford took us around a largely conservative Muslim area. Our course members sported an eclectic variety of head wear for the occasion. We visited a Mosque where a personable young man called Sajit talked to us of his concerns for a lost generation of disaffected Muslim youth. What has the Mosque to offer first and second generation Muslims with their culture of secular Britain mixed with rural Pakistani values and an overlaying of rude-boy and hip-hop attitudes? Add to that a generation of Imams brought up and “educated” abroad, and with little English language competence and what have you got? A disaster in the making is what you have got.

Sajit, however, is one of those saints with nothing short of the reformation of British Islam as his goal. He talked movingly of marginalisation and how that opens some to the seductions of radicalism and worse, and then he shared with us a teaching tool which he had been instrumental in developing for use in Mosque schools. This excellent tool uses the British National Curriculum Citizenship programme and applies it’s themes to Quranic teaching. He has had some problems getting some conservative Mosques to take it up, but there is progress. I would ask you to have a look at it and pass the link on to any Muslim friends you have, especially those with youngsters in the mid to late teens. Muslim Citizenship teaching tools

We followed this with a visit to a Gurdwara (see picture above), where Manjit talked us through the basic tenets of Sikhism. Manjit is a sassy young woman in her thirties and the Gurdwara was a lovely, light and airy purpose built place of worship. I have always admired Sikhism and Sikhs for their commitment to non-violence and to equality. Their belief in one God and their determination not to be an evangelistic religion makes them attractive and respectful partners in dialogue. What I also like is their ministry of hospitality and the lovely food which was prepared in honour of our visit.

Back at Boot-Camp we had two Muslim visitors, Zaff and Zahira who both continued with the theme of the development of a modern British Muslim identity. Both were well educated and articulate. Both were devout Muslims and both were integrated citizens. Zaff developed Sajit’s themes of radicalism and Zahira talked movingly of her ministry, which was to challenge and educate Muslim women away from the cultural restrictions which for generations have been laid on Quranic teaching and which marginalise and disadvantage women.

I know that we could have met Muslims whose attitudes would have terrified us, but I also know that they are in the minority. The challenge for interfaith dialogue and civic relations, though, lies in the many high profile trials that are likely to take place in the coming years as terrorism plots are uncovered. Plots that will send the ignorant white underclass on to the streets in search of retribution and which will drag Manjit and other Sikhs into the slipstream. After all, aren’t they all the same, those Pakis? Asian surely equates to Muslim!

The next few years are certainly going to be a challenge, but I for one am heartened in the knowledge that there are people out there like Sajit, Zaff and Zahira.

Part of that challenge is a challenge to Christians and to Christian leadership. We don’t have to agree with the teachings of Islam to recognise that we have a responsibility to out neighbour as the parable of The Good Samaritan illustrates so effectively. For many of us that neighbour is a Muslim individual or family who we will need to love and value, to support and defend when times get rough as they surely will. For every nutter with a violent agenda and a corrupt understanding of Islam there are thousands of Sajits, Zaffs and Zahiras who need our understanding and support because they are agents of change. For every nutter with a violent agenda and a corrupt understanding of Islam there are a dozen disaffected young Muslims at a crossroads. How we behave towards them may determine the path they choose.

More to follow. I am warming to my theme.