The Work of the Christian Muslim Forum

The Christian Muslim Forum began with the friendship of a small group of Muslims and Christians working on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Initiative in Christian-Muslim Relations. This grew from Archbishop Carey’s comments in 1997, ‘For the sake of the health of this country, we need to find ways in which members of our two communities can meet regularly together in a more structured way than has been possible up to now.’ His remarks, received warmly and positively by leaders of the Muslim community, led to the Initiative’s Listening Exercise between 2002 and 2004 and the founding of the Christian Muslim Forum in 2006.


Joy Barrow, Inter Faith Relations Officer for the Methodist Church, chaired a discussion between:

Julian Bond, Director of the Forum and a Methodist. He studied theology at Aberystwyth then joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving HM Revenue & Customs to become the Forum’s first member of staff.

 Dr Musharraf Hussain, Chair of the Forum since 2008, a former full time teacher and Chief Imam of the Karimia Institute in Nottingham. This is an Islamic centre which offers education and welfare to Muslims of all ages. Dr Musharraf is also involved with interfaith relations locally as well as at national level.

Here are some of the questions posed:

Are there any constraints on what Christians and Muslims can do together? What about scripture study or worshipping together?

Julian Bond:  People should do only what they are comfortable with. I took 30-35 men and women from my church to the mosque in Aylesbury, most of whom had never been in a mosque before. In his welcome the Imam said, ‘this is not our place; this is God’s house.’ He patiently and graciously answered questions and afterwards there was tremendous hospitality. The group moved from not knowing and being suspicious to great appreciation of the hospitality and spirituality of another faith.

There are theological constraints. There are areas on which Christians and Muslims we will never agree -belief in incarnation, for example, is a major divide, but it is good to know where we agree and where we do not, and to respect that.

Musharraf Hussain:  Every religion has certain beliefs that define it and make it exclusive. But religion is far more. From it comes the fruit – the moral and spiritual dimensions – and social interaction. Here there are huge similarities. I believe that inter faith activities are about building positive friendships, about recognising our common humanity and spirituality. Sharing these will bring us closer together. Getting into the differences in our beliefs will drive us apart.

Julian Bond: On the other hand I once spent part of Ramadan in a mosque on retreat. A sixth of the Qur’an was recited while I was there. Every now and then came a verse which was challenging to me as a Trinitarian Christian. In inter faith dialogue we don’t often discuss these things but in time, with the right people we may be able to say. ‘I read this in your scriptures and it made me uncomfortable. Let’s talk about it.’

We can also take part in ‘Scriptural Reasoning’ whereby Christians and Muslims find a similar theme or story in their scriptures and read and discuss the stories and their similarities and differences.

What about the creative tension between’ inter faith’ (showing understanding and mutual respect) and ‘mission and evangelism’ and the belief that ‘for me Christianity is my way to God’?

Julian Bond: In both our faiths we witness. In Islam is the Shahadah, the confession of faith. In Christianity we give testimony. As a Christian I can say what my experience is and I can talk about God from my own tradition. I do not have the right to say. ‘Therefore your faith is….’ When I’m with Muslims I talk about Jesus (who is a highly revered prophet within Islam) and I know they appreciate hearing stories of and words from the Gospels. If we think of what we do in terms of Jesus’ commission as witnessing, then it works both in an evangelistic as well as an interfaith context.

Musharraf Hussain: In Islam we believe that God has given us freedom of choice. This is absolutely clear in the Qur’an. The Qur’an has many words for the activity of mission, e.g. ‘give good news.’ Mission also means warning people of the consequences of disobedience to God. Then there is ‘da’wah’ – inviting people to a banquet. ‘Shahadah’ means ‘being witness to mankind’. I don’t see a contradiction because inter faith is a means for me of sharing my faith and inviting others.

Joy Barrow: Someone said ‘Judaism is my home but not my prison.’ Christianity is my spiritual home but that doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from sharing with people of other faiths.

What are the key issues for Christians and Muslims in the UK today? How do these link with the work of the Christian Muslim Forum?

Julian Bond:  The media’s ongoing fascination with Islam, often in a sensational way, and lack of interest in Christianity.

Increased involvement of evangelical Christians in interfaith activity. Traditionally Interfaith has been seen as the preserve of liberals but evangelical Christians have been becoming more aware and are beginning to engage seriously. There is scope for evangelicals and liberals to cooperate and learn from each other.

There is need for more dialogue between people of faith and people of no faith and it’s probably up to us as people of faith to make the effort to engage with people who feel threatened by the place of faith in society.

A further challenge to the inter faith movement is that it doesn’t trickle down to congregational level. Somehow those of us involved need to encourage this to happen to overcome ignorance and prejudice. One idea is twinning congregations.

Musharraf Hussain: There are many misunderstandings on both sides. Many Muslims see the American war on Iraq and in Pakistan as a war against Muslims. British Foreign policy is seen as being against Muslims. The British Government and George Bush are regarded as representatives of Christianity. This leads to fear of the West, which they see as Christian. They believe Christians are behind the conflict in Palestine and supporting injustice though I know this is not the case and not a Christian view.

And Christians have huge misunderstandings about Muslims, about extremism, about the Islamic concept of Jihad. Jihad is really about working hard for God- striving for justice, truth and goodness. The Qur’an absolutely forbids offensive war.

Regarding women, Islam liberated women 1400 years ago. It is clear in the Qur’an that women have equal status with men. Later on as Islam spread into different parts of the world it took its colours from those cultures and sadly this wasn’t always practised – but the problem is with Muslims and not with Islam.

These are some of the challenges but people of faith have to understand we share our God, our humanity, our values and these determine our humanity. The ‘credit crunch,’ we believe, is the result of greed and consumerism, of jealousy and anger, which both our religious teachings try to help us overcome. Moral bankruptcy out there is because of turning away from the values that we share together as people of faith. We can do a lot to bring these back and we can do a great deal together.

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