2009 Magazine

Christians and Muslims: Side by Side and Face to Face

Introduction by Barbara Butler

We have planned this weekend because we, the planning group, are aware that it is essential for the peaceful and creative future of our communities that people of the world’s faiths meet each other and develop understanding and trust, so that we are all able to share in work for our communities, for our country and for our world.

It is sometimes said that religion is like a knife. It can be used to cut down fruit from trees, to gather crops and to slice and butter bread. It can also be used to wound and even to kill.

We are all people of faith and we all have a responsibility to meet people of other faiths and to listen and learn from them. It is only in this way that those who use their religion to wound and to kill others can be challenged and stopped. And it is important to remember that wounding and destroying are not just physical. People of all faiths, all of us, are in danger of wounding others. We tend to think that our faiths and cultures are in some way best and that others fall short.

We have arranged this conference to give all of us the opportunity to learn about Islam and to meet Muslims, so that we may appreciate a little of what inspires them. Meeting people is the best way towards understanding and working together. We hope that we may all take our experiences of this weekend out into our communities and continue to meet and share and work together, ‘Side by Side and Face to Face’ for a peaceful future for us all.


Ven. Dr Michael Ipgrave was the Inter Faith Relations Adviser to the Archbishops’ Council and Secretary of the Churches Commission on Inter Faith Relations before becoming Archdeacon of Southwark in 2004.Prior to this his ministry had been spent mostly in the Leicester Diocese where he was Bishop’s Adviser on Inter Faith Relations from 1990 – 1999, combining this with parish ministry. He has written and lectured extensively on inter faith issues, Christian-Muslim relations, and religion and human rights. The following is a summary of his opening address to the Conference.

Three examples of inter-faith co-operation set the scene.

At the height of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 15 years ago, about 500 Christians and Muslims met together in a park in Leicester to pray for peace. ‘We were side by side as we faced together towards God’.

In the autumn of 2001 Christians and Muslims went in pairs on a house-to-house collection in Lancashire. They introduced themselves to the somewhat surprised and puzzled householders as ‘I’m Ahmad from the mosque round the corner and I’m collecting for the victims of 9/11 in New York,’ and, ‘I’m Albert from St Peter’s Church up the hill and I’m collecting for the people being bombed in Afghanistan’.

In the early 7th century Muslim refugees fleeing persecution went to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). The Christian king there asked them about their faith and they recited to him some verse from the Maryam chapter in the Qur’an which tells of the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus. After hearing it the king drew a line on the ground with a stick and said, ‘The difference between our faith and yours is no thicker than this line’ and gave them the protection of his kingdom.

These examples show three reasons for engaging with people of any faith: first a commitment to be alongside each other; second a partnership formed by working for a common purpose; and third a hospitality which welcomes others despite their differences.

Keeping presence alongside each other involves maintaining a worshipping, praying and serving community in a religiously diverse area. In Leicester Hindus often come into the churches and join in the liturgy because they recognise church buildings as a sanctuary of prayer and holiness, and Christian chaplains in hospitals are sought after by patients of all faiths asking for prayers or a blessing. This should awaken us to a greater appreciation of the treasures entrusted to us as the body of Christ whom people of other faiths honour from within the boundaries of their own faith.

Connecting our energies for peace and justice reminds us of John Wesley’s sermon ‘On the Catholic Spirit’- ‘If your heart is as true to mine as mine is to yours, give me your hand’ (2 Kings 10, v15). Wesley said ‘Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?’ and although originally he was thinking about different denominations we can apply it equally well to our relationships with people of other faiths. We think of Ahmad and Albert raising funds together, or of people of all faiths working together to ‘Make Poverty History’. These relationships open us up to the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. However we must beware of the dark and repressive side present in all religions which may lead to defamation of other religions.

Giving and receiving of hospitality to one another – an often neglected Christian duty. We are shamed by the hospitality shown to us by people of other faiths, particularly Sikhs welcoming Christian groups to a common meal at the Gurdwara and reminding them that ‘this is the house of God and all who come here are guests of the divine hospitality’. We are being re-evangelised by people of other faiths and reminded that the space in our churches and halls is not our space but God’s space. Our church halls, our scriptures and our lives are God’s blessings for others to share and this helps us to realise that we are all guests at the Father’s banquet.

Some thoughts on Mission.  Dialogue and evangelism are not opposites that we have to choose between; being alongside each other, working together and hospitality are the context in which we need not be afraid to speak openly and confidently about the Good News of Jesus, and then we can leave the outcome to God. They also enable us to share in the life of the Trinity – the Son being alongside us, the Spirit empowering us to renew the face of the world and the Father inviting all to his banquet. We must not separate ourselves from mainstream Christianity or deny the people we encounter the fullness of our faith but through engagement with others find our own faith and spirituality renewed.

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