Thursday, 13 September 2007

"True" Islam?

Last week, the planned "mega-mosque" in West Ham was again in the news. Complaints about the plans for the Abbey Mills site have not just mentioned the usual issues of traffic and noise, but Christian People's Alliance councillor Alan Craig implied that opposition was not based on racism or anti-Muslim feeling. He didn't object to mosques, just to Tablighi Jamaat, the particular group that is planning to build the mosque, which he says encourages Muslims to separate themselves, causing harm to the community, as well as being a potential breeding ground for terrorists.

Around the same time, Gerard Henderson was on the radio giving his views on how Australia has confronted militant Islam. (He wrote on the topic for The Times earlier in the year.) He highlighted the bipartisan nature of much of the reaction to the events of the last six years, and the government's deliberate attempts to interact with "moderate" Muslim groups and exclude extremists.

Community cohesion is probably a good thing, and in my experience Australia has more of this than Britain, although this is older than any recent government action.1 Governments choosing to work with religious groups to achieve this aim may also be a good thing,2 but suggesting that approval for the building of a mosque should be hindered by the religious or even political beliefs of the owners seems to me to be another matter entirely. Imagine this sort of reasoning being used to deny permission to a church of a particular denomination, because it's teaching is less inline with the public ideals.

This seems vaguely related to a bugbear of mine - non-Muslims who tell people what real Islam is. It doesn't matter whether they are trying to persuade us that Islam is wrong because the real version follows the violent commands in the Qur'an, or trying to achieve cohesion by saying Islam is really about peace, I don't think it is honest. If a Muslim tells me the Islam teaches something, they are telling me what they believe to be a message from God. If a Christian tells me Christianity teaches something, I can respect them as honestly conveying something they believe to be from God, even if I disagree. If a non-Christian tells me what I should believe as a Christian, they're not taking Christianity seroiusly.3 There is only a "true Christianity" if the Christian message is true.

So I conclude that the only "true Islam4" I can speak of is that modelled by Jesus. I can say that Muslims should believe something only if, and only because, I, too, believe it. With love and respect, I can agree or disagree with different Muslims on different issues, because their beliefs are or aren't in line with what I believe God teaches, without attempting to judge whether they are valid interpretations of the Islamic tradition.

1 Why is this so? Is it a matter of government policies in the past, or are there other factors?
2 I'm not so sure about the effectiveness of excluding a group on the grounds that they are separatist!
3 I'm not saying I don't listen to non-Christians talking about Christianity. Anyone can quite honestly point out that they think certain beliefs/actions are inconsistent with the Bible or other beliefs, without making statements about "true Christianity".
4 Submission, or surrender to God.
The site is just to the left of the photo. 8 points for the name of the tallest building in the background.

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