Faith Matters

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Sarah Waseem, London

In the Evening Standard (07/12/15) the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has coined a lovely phase. “Every vicar is really a mad jihadist in mufti”. To put his remark in context, he was referring to the fact that …“Visible religious commitment means we are instantly at risk of being manipulated subtly in the direction of horrific “medieval tyranny and irrationality.”

I’m with Dr Williams, an intelligent but often misunderstood man, and his ‘jihadist vicars’.  As if to demonstrate Dr William’s point, Rashid Razaq, writing in the same edition, talks about turning “down the religiosity dial a few notches. Yes you may be a Muslim but it can’t be the only way you see the world. Not every injustice suffered by every Muslim is an existential threat.”

I’m a Muslim and my faith is the lens through which I view the world. My belief in God and His Commandments, direct me in everything I do. My faith lays down the standards of care and compassion that I must direct towards my fellow beings, before I look to my own needs. My faith tells me to embrace the one who rejects me, to give to the one who asks, even if I have little for myself, to help the needy and the orphans, and to give in charity both secretly and in open. It directs me to have ‘Love for all, hated for none’.

So Mr Razak, I have no intention of turning down my ‘religiosity’ dial. That does not mean I go about with a chip on my shoulder about injustices towards Muslims. Why should I? The UK is one of the most tolerant societies that I know of. I can dress as I like. I can go where I like, dressed as I like. I can pray and fast when I want to. The tragic event at the weekend at Leytonstone and the resulting top trending hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv demonstrate to me, the fact that religious tolerance is alive and well in this country. I’m proud to be British and thankful to be an Ahmadi Muslim.

I agree with Dr Williams’ point though, that visible religious commitment can be misinterpreted for fanaticism. I share Dr Williams’ politely worded indignation regarding the ban on the screening of the Lord’s Prayer in cinemas. What’s the problem with it? We are subjected to daily violence on our TV screens, but the censors are frightened that an advert reminding us of God is going to be damaging in some way or cause offence? Come on people!

Britain is a multicultural and multi-faith society. We need to talk to each other about faiths and as Dr Williams says, we have to distinguish between sane and mad religion. I would go a step further and say if you think your religion is telling you to do mad things, “it ain’t no religion bruv”.

Religious discussion and interfaith dialogue should be encouraged, not repressed. There is only one proviso, that laid down by the founder of my Ahmadi Muslim community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – that such discussions should be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. Insulting others’ faiths lays the seeds for religious intolerance and hatred. I and my fellow Ahmadis would condemn all forms of violence, even against those who insult our faith, and urge the need to allow discussions to happen. We need to share our theologies and practices, remembering the injunction of the Holy Qur’an, ‘There should be no compulsion in religion…’

That way, we will no longer be worried about overt displays of faith. We will understand what truly matters to people, what makes them tick and what offends them. I believe this will lead to greater tolerance. I welcome my  ‘jihadist vicar ‘ colleague in faith to come  out of mufti and share his passion and commitment for his beliefs and discuss with me , my beliefs and my faith. We may not agree, but as long as we can talk, we remain sane.



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