Friday, May 20, 2011

Tea with Muslims

I have some Muslim friends, they are Lebanese. They used to run a Kebab shop. They used to feed the hungry free, because that is what the Koran told them to do. They used to allow the homeless to sleep in the back of the restaurant until one of them trashed it because that is what the Koran says they should do.
When I go to see them Mrs H who always wears a headscarf sits down at table with us us pours the tea and bosses her husband and children about. She believe in education, she seems mildly disappointed that her youngest daughter is a speech therapist rather than a doctor or a lawyer. They love England, have a picture of the Queen on the living room wall. They are pro-Palestinian. When there is some Islamic bombing Mr H will describe them as "ignorant idiots". They are not fundamentalists, they believe the Koran is the literal word of Allah but would say that it therefore needs to be interpreted, "we cannot look at Allah directly", they might in Muslim terms be heretics but Mr H is a leading member of the local mosque which has a weekly congregation of several hundred. "First, we know God is merciful and compassionate", he will say when interpreting a particularly bloody verse of the Koran. Mr H is gently kind and compassionate.
Mr H grew up playing with Christians and is fascinated by Christianity but he is a convinced Muslim, his interpretation of Islam is very much one of Allah the merciful, Allah the bringer of peace.
When I speak of Islam and the sword, he recognises the difficulties of forced conversions, of killings and the sackings of cities but he will always stress that he interprets this as a misapplication of a spiritual struggle, a difference between words and actions, the same with the more extravagant acts of the prophet. In Catholic terms he would be a demythologising liberal, but he would say, "We just have to wonder at Allah, we cannot understanding everything, Allah is merciful but he is Allah and we are not", he would site Abraham and his inability to comprehend the ways of God.
If I talk about the Pope, who he much admires, he will smile and say, "Pope Benedict is such a good Muslim, he is a good man, obedient to God" but for Mr H I am a good Muslim because I am obedient to God, certainly much better than bin Laden who for him and his family he is a very bad Muslim. Being a good Muslim is about being good, goodness brings salvation
I have gently suggested that in Christian terms he is a Pelagian, that Christians, Catholics at least, would say Jesus Christ alone is the Way to salvation, he would smile and say, "What, we will not have tea, baklava and a cigarette in Paradise?"

I do believe that the Koran is anti-Christ, I do believe that the forced conversion of so many Christian down the centuries is diabolic but the faith of Mr and Mrs H is actually refreshing, it is gentle and has made them gentle, the preaching at their mosque seems to be about gentleness, respect for authority and avoiding television.

The Koran is unreasonable and yet thirteen centuries of human reason have been a work on it, in the case of the Hs the power of God has purified it. In Catholic terms they are invincibly ignorant and although we are willing to tease one another heavy preaching would be counter productive. The idea of "good faith" is much over used but in the case of the Hs they are in "good faith", I pray for their conversion as the pray for mine, I am right and they are wrong, of course but they are people of goodwill.
Would we pray together? No. He and she pray before they eat and so do I.


Michael Petek said...

They certainly have it clear as a bell that God is Subsistent Being and therefore immense, eternal, simple (non-composite) and incomprehensible. They also have it right when they know that God as Pure Act possesses all possible perfections lacking none, therefore there cannot be more than one Subsistent Being.

If they're Lebanese they're probably Shia Muslims and hold that the Koran is the created word of God.

If they're Sunni, they would typically hold the Koran to be the uncreated word of God.

I can't see how any Muslim in his right mind could be invincibly ignorant of the fact that it is idolatry to profess that anything existing besides God is uncreated.

nickbris said...

Very nice Father Ray,we are constantly being told by the Xenophobes & GARBAGE PRESS that Islam is source of all evil.The vast majority of Muslims follow the teaching of the Koran and live by it.

All people of Faith are better than the Heathen Atheistic Humanist fringe and are not out just to fill their boots.

Christians and Muslims have a lot in common but it is impossible to Pray together for fundamental reasons that I am not articulate enough to enlarge upon.

meipsum said...

What, the Koran says that the homeless should trash restaurants? Wouldn't surprise me


Anonymous said...


I fear the new (perhaps a very old) faith of good and nice. Yes, people should be good and nice, help those who are in need. But this is not the most central part of our religion. It is not about goodwill, being gentle or about social work in the first place. It is about love and sacrifice. Love and sacrifice need not be "interpreted." Perhaps Satan can also be merciful and compassionate and can do many good things. So are many (if not most) aggressive atheists. Many crimes are made of mercy, e.g. eutanasia and abortions: cannot a killer doctor be compassionate? They may be kind but this kind of kindness is damned. Here there is a fundamental difference. Love and the Cross are not in the centre. The things they do should not be going from love and must not be sacrifice. The "work" is what is the most impotrtant. They are (to a very significant degree) going from obedience. God is too far, too Great, we may only obey His Word, we cannot understand even the smallest part. In many cases, we should not even try to understand. In contrast, in Christianity, a single, the worst, human beings is the most valued and loved treasure, even to the degree of the Death of God. There people must die for God, here God Dies. The idea of God's Love and deification and life with God and in God in unknown. Therefore the image of the Paradise can be bizzare. The idea of good faith... A killer doctor may also be doing "in good faith." What is this faith about is most important. IOf the doctrine if wrong the "good faith" is evil. The most terrible things were done in "good faith." Please do not stop preaching (and prey), even though it may be very difficult.

Jonathan said...

"I am right and they are wrong"

I find it very refreshing to here this said so clearly in the context of a friendly and warm relationship. We don't have to believe that there is no Truth in order to accept and live peacefully with neighbours who disagree with us.

Patruus said...

In what sense the Koran is to be deemed "anti-Christ" is not altogether clear, but consider the following extract from the Annunciation dialogue (Q3:45) -

"When the angels said, 'Mary, God gives thee good tidings of a Word from Him whose name is Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary; high honoured shall he be in this world and the next, near stationed to God'."

Mike T said...

Beautifully written!

This expresses something that I have come to suspect: even within a religion founded under false pretenses, the Holy Spirit will nevertheless work with the good will of the humbly faithful to produce good fruit.

Mike T said...

Beautifully written!

This expresses something that I have come to suspect: even within a religion founded under false pretenses, the Holy Spirit will work with the good will of the humbly faithful to produce good fruit.

Toddy said...

Righ, 'cause Christians never engaged in forced conversion (see the reconquista of Andalusia).

Michael Petek said...

Patruus, the sense in which the Koran is antichrist is in that it presents us with another Jesus. It denies that God is by name the Father of Jesus Christ.

Consider this quote from William Kilpatrick in his online article "Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus of Neverland?"

"The Jesus of the Koran appears mainly in the role of a counter to the Jesus of the Gospels, but 'appears' is really too strong a word. This Jesus doesn’t attend weddings, or go fishing with his disciples, or gather children around him. He has practically no human interactions, and what he has to say is formulaic and repetitive. He is more like a disembodied voice than a person. And, to put it bluntly, he lacks personality.

"The Jesus of the New Testament is a recognizable human being; the Jesus of the Koran is more like a phantom. When did he carry out his ministry? There’s not a hint.

"Where did he live? Again, there’s no indication. Where was he born? Under a palm tree. That’s about as specific as it gets in the Koran.

"Next to the unanswered questions about the Jesus of the Koran, President Obama’s problems over establishing his birthplace seem minor by comparison. In short, Muhammad’s Jesus is a nebulous figure. He seems to exist neither in time nor space. On the one hand you have Jesus of Nazareth, and on the other, someone who can best be described as Jesus of Neverland."

Gigi said...

Hi Father. I have a dear Muslim friend, a Sunni. We worked together in London until my job disinegrated in the local government cuts. When my partner and then my mother died, he was such a source of spiritual support for me. He prayed for them and for me. When I lost my job and started to put my case forward against my ex-employers, he was one of the few of my former colleagues not scared to talk to me and support me. Again, he prayed for me and I know he continues to do so.
He is devoted to his wife and baby girl, and his elderly parents. He is devoutly religious, and although you and I would say it is devotion to the "wrong" religion, his faith in right-doing and justice is apparent in all aspects of his daily life. He truly believes, as you quote in your post, that: "Being a good Muslim is about being good, goodness brings salvation".
My friend gave me my own copy of the Qu'ran; not to convert me in any way, but so that I could read about Jesus there and how He is depicted. He also wanted to make sense for me of any passages I found confusing or alarming. His own concept of Jesus is similar to that of Jewish friends of mine: without doubt a man of goodness, but for him not the Son of God. His religion is that of his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfathers. I have suggested to him that our spiritual differences may be inherently geographical and cultural, and he says he accepts this and finds it comforting.
Yes, I do find it refreshing to hear you say over biscuits that you are right and Mr and Mrs H are wrong! I have said it to my friend R and he has said it to me, but always with humourous affection and respect. What I would never say to him is that his faith is "bad"; and I apreciate you were not saying that in your post.
I'm sure my friend prays for my conversion; he tells me that Jesus' followers are friends of God, and he wants me to have a place in Heaven. When we sat together at work, I would tell him about the merciful love of God the Father and what it means to me to be a Catholic. I pray for him as I pray for my dearest friends, but I already believe that my God will not exclude a good soul. Sadly, maybe it's on that very point that R and myself essentially differ. I am also vehemently opposed to the death penalty, but he is, with expressed sorrow, obdeient to the idea of vengeful punishment.
He is dismayed by their actions, but is able to explain the origins of Al Quaeda. I am horrified and disgusted by sectarian violence in my mother's Northern Ireland, but am mindful of the background of the Irish Republican Army.
This is a long reply and I hope it won't offend anyone: truly not my intention. Thank you for the post; and I am very pleased to see you take Tea with Muslims.

Patruus said...

Michael, thank you for drawing my attention to William Kilpatrick's article. I think he put his finger on the root of the problem when he wrote: "You don’t have to be a Christian to see that the New Testament looks much more like a historical document than the Koran." As far as I can understand it, the Koran never purported to be a historical tract in the first place. Indeed, many of the prophets mentioned in it (e.g., Job) are accorded even scantier detail than Jesus.

The late Geoffrey Parrinder concluded his book "Jesus in the Qur'an" with the words, "Yet the Qur'an does not claim to give all the teachings of Jesus, nor does it set out to recount the whole story of his life and compassion, his healings and his death. These are in the Gospel, to which the Qur'an refers, which it confirms, and over which it claims to act as a protector against outside detractors and internal divisions."

But to return to the original point, while the Koran is indisputably "anti" the divinity of Christ, it seems to me that it is not "anti-Christ" per se - rather, quite the contrary.

meipsum said...

Of course the Koran speaks of God as a subsistent Being, eternal, non-composite, incomprehensible etc and it is not surprising that Mary gets a mention - the Koran was written by an apostate Nestorian monk! Hence the confusion about the Person of Jesus: as for the Koran being 'antichrist,' have a look at 1 John 4:2-3.

Michael Petek said...

The monk, Meipsum, was Sarkis Bakheera.

The point about Jesus in the Qur'an is that he himself denies that he is the Son of God.

So who among his comtemporaries was following him around affirming it?

gemoftheocean said...

Tea with Muslims?! TEA with MUSLIMS?! Are you mad? Tea with sugar, lemon, ice, or even *gag* milk...okay. But MUSLIMS?

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