...I attended an Inter-Faith Service
Firstly, it was interesting to me that the Christian hymns sung had been thoughtfully excised of any mention of Christ in the originals. I'm sure this eased the path of dialogue and ensured there could be no chance for offence offered to any Muslims there.
I also noted that the very nice local Muslim leader decided to translate that part of the Adhan that referred to "there is no god but Allah" as saying "there is no god but the One God". This is a perfectly acceptable translation of the Arabic which also happily made common ground with those of a Christian background in the room. In this vein I noted too that the usual response at the end of the Islamic congregational prayer time was omitted (no time for everything in a short service I suppose) which includes the statement: "Allah has no partners". That is, for instance, that he can have no son. Just as well there wasn't enough time for that as it may have caused some confusion for Christian background guests who, at this stage, are probably happy in their understanding that both Faiths worship the same deity.
I do wonder if it may have been a mistake to give the impression that Islam's Allah and the Christian's Yahweh - or Jesus as He is also known - were one and the same. Of course this is not the case, but no biggie.
We were treated to emailed messages from dignitaries. Most especially from our new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said she wished she was able to make this landmark event but applauded our demonstration of inclusion and good will which is so very distinctive of New Zealanders. Strangely, in saying this she seemed unaware that these particular "distinctives" have also been trumpeted as the great strength of every single Western society with a growing and vibrant Muslim population. However, bowing to her position, I'm sure that, as she said, New Zealand is indeed unique in its level of acceptance, tolerance and openness to Muslim migrants and that our Muslim population will feel nothing but warmth and approval. She believed that we - unlike many other Western countries who seem to be rather topped-up with people of a fearful, distrusting or Nativist bent - through our profound belief in love & acceptance of the Other, will have only good experiences with our growing Muslim population in the years to come. After all, why would New Zealand Muslims not want to peacefully assimilate with such a Welcoming Culture?
I am sure that she is right.
We were also treated to a message from the leader of the Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ who likewise praised our renowned & distinctive Kiwi culture of tolerance and welcome. Our local Member of Parliament turned up in person & also encouraged us all in our efforts to get to know each other. He mentioned his Sunday School attendance as a boy and that his Bible knowledge sometimes surprised his parliamentary colleagues. That was good to hear.
The service included the lighting of a Candle of Unity by 2 children, one from each Faith. Unfortunately this didn't quite go to plan as they couldn't seem to coordinate their 2 respective small candles to light the single larger Candle of Unity but it was a lovely gesture.
Ministers from various Christian backgrounds spoke briefly. One assuring us that god accepts people from all religions who genuinely try to live well. He tactfully navigated around any talk of what theologians term "the uniqueness and finality of Christ". Of course this rather arcane piece of theological jargon would only inhibit deepening relationships between the 2 communities at such a vulnerable juncture and was quite rightly put to one side for the time being. We'll get to that another time I'm sure.
Another Minister made mention of the journey St Francis of Assisi made to visit Sultan al-Kamil in 1212 AD. His account of the great man's journey of peace & reconciliation neglected to mention (again, no doubt, due to time constraints) that, “Francis, like the crusaders, wanted to liberate the holy places in Palestine from Muslim rule. What was different was his strategy…. He wanted their total submission to the Christian faith”. A little embarassingly though he misspoke when he said that Francis got away from his encounter with the Sultan "with his head", which some may have found unnecessarily offensive when we all know there could not possibly be any danger of that sort of thing when encountering a Sultan so learned in the correct understanding of the Religion of Peace. In balance he did manage a bit of quick thinking moral equivalence by saying that the Sultan also managed to retain his head after encountering Francis. So all in all this very minor slip was quickly & generously overlooked, if it was noticed at all.
The Highlight of the evening
To be completely honest though the chatting around food afterwards was the bit I liked the best - I got to meet some Muslims! How lovely - and I genuinely mean that. I had very good talks with three lovely fellas. I really felt I had made some new friends and at least one of them said that, like me, he was a bit unsure beforehand but was now very glad he'd come. For me, the whole evening was worthwhile just for this!
I chatted with a recent convert to Islam and found out about his journey from a couple of what are technically referred to as Sects of "Deviant Christianity" to Islam, a religion which he said "just felt right". I managed to share with my new young friend that I also converted to my religion at an early age after a bad motorcycle accident. I had seen a vision of Jesus on the cross one night. I told him this was a bit hard for me to ignore. He agreed.
Another chap & I had a neat talk about his Middle Eastern homeland and we found we agreed on a great deal to do with the problems of clumsy, needless & harmful American intervention and also the need for 2 or 3 more generations to pass before the population will be ready to move into democracy. Some countries need a Dictator, he said. With this I completely agreed. His country was naively handed democracy by the ignorant Americans who had absolutely no understanding of the context. It could not hope to succeed. Once again America had won the war and lost the peace. Like a lot of working men he talked plain common sense. There was no theorising as he'd seen the results of war and certainly knew his own culture.
Again, I genuinely warmed to my new Muslim friends - and I am being perfectly candid here - I hope I see them again soon as I'm sure we have a lot more to talk about and I would love to help them in any way I can.
So in summation: If you get a chance to attend one of these events my Evangelical friends I urge you to do so. They really are a great opportunity to build bridges and become comfortable chatting to Muslims. The food was yummy and everyone there was extremely open, welcoming and supportive.
Go my Evangelical friends! Go! You won't regret it.
The organisers should be well pleased with themselves in what they achieved - at least as far as I am concerned - and I would encourage any of my fellow Evangelicals to make the most of such an opportunity if one should come your way.
god bless you all,
(and yes, I really do mean GO)