There is a worth watching television program that I don’t usually get to see because it clashes with my getting ready to go and going to church. It is called “The Big Questions” and I managed to catch a few snippets this morning, which roused enough interest for me to watch it later on BBC iPlayer. This weeks question was “Do we need a British Islam?” and involved experts and interested parties with a wide range of views. Before coming back to the program, I would like to relate a pertinent experience that I had last night.
I happened to drop in to one of our town centre fish and chips shops and got talking to the proprietor, who I had not met before. We had a pleasant conversation while he was getting ready my order. I made mention that when I was a Street Pastor we would often call in at his shop to order coffee and chips in order to give to some homeless person we had come across, typically sitting inside one of the shop doorways, and how we had always found the people serving to be helpful and sympathetic to what we were trying to do.
The proprietor was surprisingly switched onto the homeless scene in the centre of our town and sympathetic to their plight, declaring that if he came across a genuinely homeless person he would feed them for free. His dilemma, however, is that some (many) who push themselves forward as being homeless are not genuine, and how best could he distinguish the needy from the greedy. His motivation for showing compassion was religious and if turned out his religion was Islam. I was able to reminisce on some of my own (positive) experiences interacting with the mosque he attended and some further pleasant exchanges were made before I bid “ma’a salama” and went on my way with my fish and chips, and an OAP discount!
It seemed to me that when it came to a version of British Islam that the non-Muslim population could feel comfortable with, what this man had demonstrated would surely fit the bill. Regarding the question posed in this morning’s program, it was recognized that Muslims were quickly becoming an established and significant minority in the country, with numbers approaching three million and rapidly expanding. It was also recognized there were significant variations among the Muslim community, and in fairness to the person chairing the discussion this was one of the many important points that he sought to clarify with those taking part. I suppose what the question was alluding to was the desirability of a form of Islam that can co-exist with British values (whatever these are).
Having listened to the program, I can reflect that many interesting and important points were raised but as for answering the question this did not happen, at least as far as reaching a consensus is concerned. Issues raised included segregation of the sexes, whether or not Sharia courts are forces for good, whether the issues being faced are cultural or religious in origin, whether community cohesion concerns had their roots in social injustices outside the remit of Islam, the death penalty for apostates that certain Muslims believe to be acceptable etc. Despite not coming away convinced one way or another as a result of the arguments being put forward, I found it helpful to be exposed to these various viewpoints.
As some of my blog readers will know, I do have a particular interest in Islam and how this impacts now and in the future on this country / world in which I live. I have had many past interactions (usually positive) with Muslim folk, a number of which I regard as friends, and while I will unapologetically raise concerns and put forward the “Christian” case, I will continue to seek to befriend and understand Muslims, realizing the pertinence of the question that was debated this morning and one that is not going to go away any time soon.