Wednesday, 28 November 2007

When will it end?

A teddy bear called Mohammed.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

You may be forgiven for confusing the two images above. One is of a teddy bear called Mohammed, the other is of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. They are both, really, minor figures in the history of the world, but one of them, when assassinated, was used as an excuse for the First World War, the bloodiest battle in the history of the World. I am hoping and praying that the other one will not become a similar totem. As we all know by now, a well meaning British teacher who had just been given a job teaching in an exclusive Western style school in Karthoum, Sudan, allowed, naievely maybe, a teddy bear to be called Mohammed, at the suggestion of a seven year old boy (also called Mohammed) and voted for by the entire class. Each child was to take the bear home for the weekend and then write a piece of work about Mohammeds weekend, what he had done and so on. Now she is in jail awaiting an undecided, but potentially barbaric punishment, for blasphemy. The school has also had to close temporarily for fear of reprisals, and may close permanently, thus freeing up the largest amount of private parkland in the town, a prize which many wealthy locals have wanted to claim for years. I should point out that this school is mainly patronised by the children of wealthy Sudanese Muslims.
What should we be thinking? Inter religious relations between Christians and Muslims are enjoying an uneasy peace at the moment in many parts of the world, and downright hostility in others. I have written on here before about an Asian family I met in Birmingham who, upon their conversion to Christianity from Islam, had to leave their house after numerous death threats. I am told this is a common enough problem. I have worried before and still do now about gangs of Asian and White lads beating each other up but I am concerned far more for Religious liberty, which is a far more contentious issue. As Christians, we are called to suffer for our Faith as well as to evangelise , which is a difficult balance to achieve. One may parallel this teacher with an early Christian Martyr, languishing in jail awaiting a kangaroo court and use her as the early Christians did for propaganda and the spreading of the Word. But in reality she represents a clash of cultures, rather than religions, between the secular, Western World and the Islamic world, which, lest we forget, are in many places living side by side with little knowledge of each other.
Do we speak of tolerance or understanding? How will these two worlds meld together or, indeed, will they and if they do where does that leave Christians and other religions? There is rising up a strain of Christian extremism as well, mainly from demographic areas long known for their reactionary nature, which splinters Christianity even further, each splinter believing that they and only they have the answer and see the true path. It was explained to be by a Roman Catholic friend the other week that some Catholics are only accepting the sacraments from Priests ordained in the Old Rite, much as some Anglicans will only accept the Sacrament from Priests ordained by a Forward In Faith Bishop. I know Conservative Evangelicals who reject the leadership of the Church of England, feeling it to be inadequate and that only they understand how it should be. However we hold together, that is exactly what we must do. We need to understand our differences within our own Faith and to respect (which those who are in gangs and think little of shooting rivals tell me is so important, but more of that another time) each others ways of fulfilling Christ's message and reflecting His redeeming love. Then we can engage with a world of Islamic extremism that we little understand. I stress though that understanding each other and being able to pray with each other is enough, nothing is served by welding an ever larger disjointed communion of interchangeable Holy Orders which serves to exclude more on principle that it includes on paper.
As Christians, we can engage with radical Islam and, indeed, find we have more in common than we think. It may be a shock to both sides of this argument to discover that the real enemy is radical secularism, the denial of anything Holy or Sacred in our lives.
In the meantime, we should pray that the Bear Mohammed does not become the Archduke Ferdinand, for we would open a wound which would, i think, be impossible to heal.