Christian Encounters with the Muslim ‘Other’

**This is a couple of brief reflections hopefully for each day I will be at CMCS‘ summer school in Oxford. My intentions behind these posts are similar to those behind the purpose of this blog – a space to publicly process my own thoughts. This post is the last. 

Baby steps

Having abandoned the initial plan to write daily reflections on the CMCS summer school. I have settled for writing a final piece on the whole experience of spending 7 days with a religious ‘other’. I must say that this (going to oxford) was not decided on a whim, but as a follow-up to baby steps initiated by one of my Trinity modules. This initial step allowed me the opportunity to step into a Mosque for the first time without feeling a sense of idolatrous guilt. The second time at Oxford was much easier.

A fitting end to a brilliant but intense 6/7 days. #CMCS #Lastsupper #finalnight

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Here is where I say something you’ve heard elsewhere but remains true. In a fast paced, reductionistic, Ted talk watching, follow your dreams, marketing cliche filled society, the idea that ‘changing the world’ is a hard slug can come as an unwelcome truth. The millennial youth pictures success, fame and fulfilment in one’s chosen mission as something that can be contained within a 1 1/2 hour narrative in the form of a documentary or Movie. This is the packaged version of reality we’re used to, the Hollywood missionary that heads into the jungle to civilise and evangelise the ‘savages’. We forget the created ‘good’ of the culture of the savage and the necessary step of meeting  other humans on their own terms. Jesus’ words to his disciples to “carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes” could also be read an injunction to empty oneself of all cultural baggages. To be understood requires the hard initial step to understand.

On not levelling Difference

The failure of multiculturalism has been mostly due to a policy of ignoring our differences. On the other hand, some have insisted that we are so different from each other that it is near impossible to live side by side. Implications of this type of thinking being, Culture and identity are fixed entities, not matter how much we try apples will never be oranges, Muslims and (cultural) Christians are so different that we should simply allow them to be them, and ‘us’ remain untainted by their backward ways. Although some interfaith discussions follow the well-trodden path of ignoring the profound differences between the Quran and Bible, this wasn’t one of them. Yet Muslims were shown to not be so different that they become aliens in a hard sense of the term. The experience of sitting down to discuss the differences in each other’s text has, on the contrary, enriched my own understanding of Christianity and also to see Islam in a new light – without Christian-tinted glasses on.

Dialogue – a better way

Much of our use of language makes no sense without proper context, this is a truth we take for granted. There is no such thing as ‘pure’ communication, there is a scriptural reasoning that takes place and is necessary when reading the Bible. Much of our misunderstanding of each other is in this scientific understanding of speech, I cannot simply go off to read the Quran and then go off to debate Islam with Muslims.  There are so many unspoken assumptions that I bring with me that needs to be shed. Although inevitably debate will take place after understanding and generally an impasse is reached when both sides are truly understanding each other. On issues such as the concept of ‘revelation’ in either Islam of Christianity when both sides are no longer reaching for polemical arguments and realise that the Quran is to Muslims what Jesus is to Christians and that the veneration of the Prophet has a Christian equivalence in debates about the Bible’s infallibility. The obvious impasse in the case of the latter is Christianity’s portrayal of the obvious flaws of key prophetic figures, some of which we share with Muslims.

Identity as a key issue

I went to Oxford with questions about Identity which I knew won’t be fully resolved, but the whole experience has opened up so many others I’m very grateful for. That Islam is a political religion is an issue most Muslims living in the U.K for example, want to shy away  from. Accepting democratic rule is somewhat of a compromise for faithful Muslim. Theocracy in Christianity is a debated issue and Christendom is an embarrassment to the anabaptist, the reign of Christ is now and/or not yet. The religion of Islam inseparably weds itself with culture and inevitably has to, yet culture is something Christianity can have or do without. Although I sense an underdevelopment of the idea of a ‘Christian culture’ without the burdens of cultural imperialism in Christianity.

The religion of Islam inseparably weds itself with culture and inevitably has to, yet culture is something Christianity can have or do without. Although I sense an underdevelopment of the idea of a ‘Christian culture’ without the burdens of historical cultural imperialism. In Islam, this issue runs much deeper. First is the insistence on Arabic as the holy language, which feeds the superiority of Arab Muslims in comparison to everyone else.  In so far as Islam remains a ‘practical’ religion with set rights, rituals and ordinances, imperialism is a necessity. The problem with most Christians is that we are too quick to uncritically baptise every cultural phenomenon, there so many elements of our culture that are incompatible with the Christian message we should be naming as a compromise and incidentally Democracy as currently understood is one we share with Muslims.

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