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September 18, 2006



great post - i have been thinking this all day - i am actually pretty angry about the whole thing...


kester, very well put, i was only thinking this when the whole thing kicked off (that is when the pope made his comments) but it seemed to take an age for the media to get a hold of it...does make you think doesn't it. well done

Mike R

I'm going to go against the grain here.

I'm a bit worried by this post in all honesty.

I think that in a religion that runs to billions, the noisy 1-5% are getting the most press, and I use the word press deliberately.

I don't see the Muslim Council of Britain's voice as the rarity, anymore than the vast majority of good chrisitian pew-fillers who can support things like homosexuality, ordination of women, or many other issues (that have unfortunately been labelled as liberal) are a rarity.

It's just that they're not on TV are they?

This kind of sentiment is one that I hear from some extremely right-wing voices at the moment, and there may well be some validity to the argument in part, but I can't bear the thought that we would even remotely sound like that.

Proceed with caution.

Paul Fromont

Thoughtful post Kester.

As you'd imagine it's been much in the news down here too. And the irony of responding to the Pope's comments about violence with violence and threats of violence has not been missed on anyone. I've been very surprised by the range, particularly from those who would call themselves non-religious.

The Pope's comments against the context of his whole address implicates and acknowledges Christianity (and its sad record of violence)too. Hence his call for respectful dialogue. Dialogue that will honor difference but look (together) for the way of peace; for a way of disassociating religion from violence in all its forms.


Tom Allen

I had a conversation with a young Muslim leader today at a community conference - I deeply devout intelligent graduate who is seething at what the Pope says. The sense of offence comes not from suggesting that Islam has been violent (as undoubtedly it has at times in its history)but that The Prophet was directly responsible for this. The fact that the response is violent is a social and cultural response which we polite Brits find hard to understand.There really is no irony here.

The closest I can get into understanding this would be for the Main muslim leader in the world (and their isn't such a person)to suggest that because Christians have been violent in the name of religion then Jesus could not be God, and that no-one who is a Christian has ever been praying to God since.

So it is not so easy - The Pope's remarks have made the position of moderate voices infinitely harder within their faith communities ('we told you so' cry the more radical voices)and they create another layer of suspicion which must be overcome for the next generation of inter-faith dialogue - and its no good saying that Muslims should not be so sensitive - they simply organically are - and we Christians have to learn to take that into account in what we say.


If the debate is about the suggestion that Islam's founder was responsible for it's violent history, does anyone want to comment on the words of Christ: "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" ?
(I ask this as a Christian)


when you say: "his call to effectively deny Islamic status to those who promote violence would mean huge numbers of Islamists in the East and West being told they are not following Islam properly, something I think they would ferociously resist."

it occurs to me that it is exactly the same case with Christians. Backing Bush and previous militaristic leaders is also not following Christ properly, and many become quite upset with the suggestion that their "country" seems to be getting put before God; others laugh it off as if they think the issue of "Country before God" is simply a matter of their valuing both, so they scoff at the "either-or". In the case of war, in nearly all of history, it seems to me to be the case that Christians in the US overshelmingly back the empire over the Kingdom.


Probably half or more of the people i have daily contact in my ministry [downtown Winnipeg Canada - in a largely African neighbourhood] are Muslim, and, to a one, I experience it as indeed a religion of peace. When we talk, though our religion clearly differ in many ways, when they describe God, it is exactly the same God I know, same personality. I have a profound sense of peace in those moments when we are talking about the deepest point of connection between God and humans, prayer, and concern, and love. This is so recurrent that it is astonishing. So my experience is that the peaceful voices are indeed the majority.

Worth noting that my own background is Northern Irish. My forefathers were not only Orange they were Scarlet and Black and whatever other colours were in vogue - and they were far from peaceful, not much tranquility in those broken, brittle hearts.


Mike, I'm sorry if the post worried you, and obviously I don't consider it to be 'right wing'. You say that the noisy 1-5% get the press... and then talk about the view Muslim Council put across in the press as 'not a rarity.' That's confusing.

Bill, while its great that the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people, it's also worrying the percentage of UK Muslims who, when surveyed, do support violent struggles like the one Al Queda is involved in.

My concern is that any attempt to discuss such concerns, to have dialogue about them, are - sometimes literally - shot down, both by the violence we see, and by the press giving too much attention to a fringe minority.

If Islam really is a religion of peace, then I would expect a much more clear condemnation of this response. The actual text of the Pope's speech was, I believe, very careful. At an academic conference. Quoting a 14th Century writer he said he didn't agree with. I simply don't believe that if a similar comment had been made about Christ we would have had similar response.

Tom Allen

If I may say so your response is one of a rational educated westerner speaking from the perspective of the Christian Church - and then expecting Muslims to behave in the same way - and they won't and to some extent don't and can't.

The Muslim faith is a very localised faith with no actual regional, national or international religious leaders so it finds it very hard to respond to homogenous faiths such as the Catholic Church which do have clear hierachy.

Muslims find it hard to offer what the western media needs like "spokespersons" in a culture where a press-release is still not understood and where anyone claiming that role is almost inevitably "unrepresentative" and viewed with some suspicsion within their own sub-community.Only in the Shiite branch of the faith (Iran etc)has the concept of a religious/political leader developed in the last two centuries.

In a local mosque the Inmman is regarded as the internal spiritual leader - not the external representative - and this has been compounded in the UK by the tradition of having Immans from Pakistan rather than the UK. The first Imman I met as a priest had to have a 14 year old boy with him to interpret what I was saying when we met.

So in a situaion I know it took a local Catholic priest about a week to persuade a group of local immans who he knew well (but actually did not know each other) that it would be important to issue a press release to the local press condemning 9/11 - they could not understand that anyone would think that they or their people could possibly support it - so why say it.

What Al Queda (and others) have done is adopt political structures and weld them to so-called Islamic values, and the religious faith has no way of responding or controlling them.

Why do a "worrying percentage of UK Muslims" support violence
1.not cos they are Muslims but because they have seen their " home" countries and fellow Muslims around the world as the victims of the violence of other faiths ("Jewish" Israel as the aggressor in Palestine for example)and " Christian" allies on Iran, afghanistan etc. In that sense their response is a political reply rather than a religious instinct.
2. They have seen that it "works" - when did the (Christian)West take seriously the plight of the Palestinian refugees - when PLO etc starting their terrorist attacks.
3. There is a generation of young men who have drifted in limbo between the values of their community and the values of the west - these are being offered an identity by extreame political groups - much to the dismay of their parents and leaders who feel powerless to stop it - and that is if they know what is happening.

The idea of an "academic conference" is utterly lost on most of my Muslim contacts who simply do not have that concept of "dispassionate" offering of thought. To them you only say what you believe.

- and no we would not reply in the same way about Christ because we live in a liberal multi-cultural society which chooses not to use the blashemy laws which are still on the statute books - imagine the response if a Bishop called for some-one to be prosecuted.

The major mistake of the Pope and others is to believe that dialogue can happen in that context - and that it would be understood by Muslims - and not exploited by the press.

The way forward in the UK is not in meetings of leaders (bishops and co)but in local street level meetings, building friendships, beginning to understand people as people - just as Bill describes.

I do not start dialogue by spelling out what is wrong with another faith (which is what the Pope did by using the quote), but by appreciating what is good about a faith - only then can the dialogue move onto the problem areas - just like any reconciation process.

None of what I have said justifies indescrimate violence - whether from Muslims or from any other faith.


Kester, great post

It reminded me of that remarkable scene in the book of Genesis where Abraham and Sarah encounter three strangers in the desert. And rather than reach for a weapon, Abraham reaches for a loaf of bread and welcomes these strangers into his tent. This notion of opening our tent – our homes, our lives, our hearts if you like – to strangers, to people who are different from us, to those we don’t agree with, is a Biblical lesson I think we all need to learn.

its time we all probably really started to listen a little more


Tom Allen makes a lot of points that are worthe pondering, I think however, that there are counterclaims to be made on some of them. "The Muslim faith is a very localised faith with no actual regional, national or international religious leaders", true and yet certain figures do command respect much as various Christian figures do by virtue of office or respect gained. So various people like at Al Azhar, or national figures serve to coelesce opinion and direct it in a way say Billy Graham might once have done for that localised and diverse faith tradition formerly known as Evangelicalism.

"Muslims find it hard to offer what the western media needs like "spokespersons" true again, but then that's one of the functions that the Muslim Council of Britain and other such bodies try to fulfil. It is still the case that they only represent their own constituency, but that only the same as any other groups. Our problem is really that we are not so aware of the political and tradition issues behind the scenes. So when they speak, they do represent opinion of a number but most of us can't 'hear' the nuances and have no sense of how many they might represent [a bit like trying to tell some Muslims, as I have in the past, that the Pope doesn't necessarily speak for all Christians]. We should note too, then, the recent attempt to form a Sufi Council of Britain 'to speak for the silent majority', clearly there are issues of who speaks for whom, but it is also operating at a national scale.

Wrt supporting violence,
"not cos they are Muslims but because they have seen their " home" countries and fellow Muslims around the world as the victims of the violence of other faiths ("Jewish" Israel as the aggressor in Palestine for example)and " Christian" allies on Iran, afghanistan etc. In that sense their response is a political reply rather than a religious instinct." Hmmm. 'Fellow Muslims', see what I mean? 'Political rather than religious' maybe, but that is imposing western categories too. The fact that the two run so closely together is part of the issue. Surely?

I really agree with this: "I do not start dialogue by spelling out what is wrong with another faith (which is what the Pope did by using the quote), but by appreciating what is good about a faith - only then can the dialogue move onto the problem areas - just like any reconciation process." But the problem is that we are not there, we are not at the start, we are in the middle with patchy trust and lots of misunderstandings where some people have built the bridges and most others have not, and the hot presenting issues appear to be around why it is that Islam, in this case, seems to be susceptible to violent interpretations. And we can't unask the question. It is not even necessarily a hostile question, some of us know that most Muslims are appalled. But from what we know of the way that Islam's 'theology' is supposed to work, we are having trouble discovering how the 'theology' of peace works out in Islam. And I'm afraid that using violence to demonstrate against an accusation of violence really doesn't help, no matter how much understanding and contextualisation we throw at it. YOu know, Tom, of my own involvment in interfaith, principally Christian-Muslim stuff in the past... so it's not like I'm lacking in Muslim friends, or experience here.

Perhaps we should also appreciate the Pope's context of heading up a church whose members in certain Muslim majority contexts are subject to violent persecution ...

I think everyone might find interesting and helpful this article by a respected Australian Muslim.


In case that link was overlong.


interesting thread . . . i really appreciate tom's cross-cultural perspective - without this understanding of context there is no possibility of understanding actions/meaning. The link between violence and religion is a human link [again my background context is N. Ireland, where we had 'troubles' rather than war]. Christian history, Muslim history - we have all found ways to justify violence. There's even Buddhist violence, which has to be among the most oxymoronic phrases imagineable. the vital thing is to help individuals and the press overcome their fear of the stranger, the identifiable other.

Simon (3W)

Are Muslims especially noisy, or just the ones we get to see on TV? To look at Christianity's public profile you'd assume that more of us were more like Stephen Green than Rowan Williams, and we only know that's bollocks because we see it from the inside. Most Muslims I meet *are* peaceful.


Derek - Jesus brought a sword for us to the the honourable thing and fall on it. Sepakku for ones Master is the greatest chi.

Christianity's public profile... eeew now there's a horrible thought... must we have one?


Thing is Simon, it's not the volume level or public profile that concerns me. It's dead nuns, firebombed churches and 'days of anger'.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, I mean it, but I simply don't see this sort of thing coming from Christians when Christianity is mocked, misrepresented or satirised.

May be that's a lack of passion, or may be it's something else. But it is an issue nonetheless.

Tom Allen

All I can say Kester (and I can say it as the great great-grandson of two teenage lovers who were forced out for their homes and work and community for getting engaged across the Christian religious divide) is that you plainly don't remember or have experienced recent history in that part of the United Kingdom called Northern Ireland.

How do you respond when you get angry - do shout - wave your arms around - hit the other person - threaten them - go quiet and withdrawn. Can you think of circumstances where due to peer pressure you have responded differently from what you would normally expect.

Anger is expressed in different ways within different cultures - disputes are settled in different ways even within our own society. So for example I think it unlikely that if you had a disagreement with another man it would be a natural recourse to hit him - but for many british males that would at least be an option.

In our liberal age British Christians do not react to blashemy - but in ages past people were burnt at the stake for the same thing and you might get a different response in small town bible-belt America.

So when we see angry "Muslims" on our screens and read of such attacks that is a cultural response - British Muslims I know would not dream of responding that way however angry - but culturally they are British now - though their reat-Grandfathers might have been bought up in rural Asia where it would have been quite instinctive to burn down a neighbours house in a dispute - not right or acceptable but instinctive.

Do you not see that 'how' we respond in anger is cultural rather than specifically religious. The offence is religious and genuine - how people respond to that offence is largely cultural.

There are plenty of Muslim theologians who suggest that Sharia law is a cultural phenomenon rather than a religious pre-requisite of being a Muslim. So if you live in tight knit interdependent communities what Sharia law offers makes sense putting the good of the whole above the interests of the individual (so no real concept of human rights for examply) - though the response (the punishments etc) is clearly unacceptable to Western standards which do not live in such communities


Orangemen. Uberulster anything.
IRA. Sinn Fein
Christian Militia -Lebanon.
Christian Militia -Nigeria
even the SPLA, Sudan,
yet they are never called Christian extremists, or Christian terrorists, why? Because christians in the west are dominant culture - media operates out of that context.


Derek, if you read further on from Matthew 10:34 to 36 it says, 'I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, your enemies will be right in your own household'. Matthew 10:21-22 is saying the same thing. 'Brother will betray brother to death, fathers will betray their own children, and children will rise against their parents and cause them to be killed, and they will hate you because of your allegiance to me'. Have you read Jesus Freaks by dc Talk, The Voice of the Martyrs. There are some intresting stories of what has happened to muslims for accepting Jesus into their lives.


Thanks for this. Interesting examples. Would you consider the Northern Ireland ones as good parallels? Are the political, rather than religious aspects more important there, or is there a real theological difference at the root?

Simon (3W)

Well you do see abortion doctors killed, BBC producers' home addresses posted on the Internet and death threats to theatre managers. All in the name of Christ. And that's before we delve into history for the Inquisition, witch-burning and crusades. All stupid versions of our faith. Just as fascist jihadism is a stupid version of Islam.

Tom Allen

Not sure that you can really seperate them and different issues evoke different religious or political responses - on matters of marriage religion seems to count - as I understand it both my great great grandparents were republican - a Prot from the South and Catholic from the North. Both families reponse was therefore cultural/religous rather than political.

I think however you have been offered numerous examples of how Christians react just as strongly as the cultural examples of the Middle and near east where Islam is the cultural religion.


martin hill

I do think the extent to which this thread has taken the view that extremism on either/any religious body is wrong is right. More outspokeness on the part of those who are against violence and for peace, but wheres the media sensationalism in that? I am going to the Stop the War Co-alition Protest in Manchester on Saturday. I expect to be among Christians, Muslims and other who want peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The way that violent people get attention is by shouting. The way peaceful people get attention is by standing together. It has been attested to through Ghandi in South Asia, the civil rights movement in the U.S, and the peace movement in Northern Ireland among others. Peace loving people don't get the kind of exposure that those who hate do. The Asian communities in this country have a hard enough time seeking to be seen as equalls in society. Such a community may live peaceably in the face of anti-Asian antagonism every day but that never makes the headlines. Why should they feel that anyone will listen now? Pax Christi.


In other words, Tom, to get back to the initial post, are we again called to pare apart Islamic and Muslim, and Christian and Protestant/Catholic? This is, as I mentioned, a very difficult task.

Perhaps those with voices always take faith and make it politics?

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