How do Christians feel about Muslims?

Christianity will remain on a par with Islam in terms of numbers

Reverend Frank Gelli, a Christian priest, argues that Christians and Muslims should form an alliance against secularism.

I am probably too fond of Islam to answer this question objectively but I will give it a go.

Firstly, practicing and serious Christians often admire Muslims’ commitment to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. A priest I knew confessed to me how he had become lukewarm about his own prayers but that on seeing Muslims praying in North Africa he had got the habit back. The zeal Muslims show in their religion can therefore have a positive influence, by osmosis, on the spirituality of some Christians.

Second, the importance of family life and values in Muslim communities impresses Christians. Given the parlous state reached by the family in the West, the spectacle of warm extended families, of people engaged in mutual support and fellowship, of caring for each other, cannot fail to strike a chord.

Atomisation, loneliness and fragmentation – those endemic, accursed plagues of modern Western societies – righty worry pious Christians. When Muslims show how their faith protects them from such evils, Christians tend to respond with sympathy and approval.

Third, as religious dialogue is now widespread at all sorts of levels, Christians are learning more about Islam in general. God willing, this will result in a better understanding of “the Other,” not just one way but both ways. Muslim understanding of the Christian Church is sometimes partial and skewered. It perhaps mirrors the lopsided ways in which Islam has been perceived by Christians. Thoughtful religious dialogue should help to redress and mend such imbalance.

Secularism and violence

On the negative side, there is the vexed matter of the way religion is perceived in many Western countries. The canonical, secular view is that faith is a private affair and that it should not impinge on public life at large. Religion is something you do on Sunday morning (or Friday, or on the Sabbath) for a few hours and then you forget about it for the rest of the week.

Such dogma – invented by the French, who call it “la laicite” – whatever the uninformed may believe, does not correspond to the Church’s teaching. God is not a private affair and faith affects the whole of life. Nonetheless this secularist claptrap is bought, alas, even by many Christians. Thus the image of a “political” faith, a way of life like Islam, one enveloping the whole of reality, strikes fear into the heart of many well-meaning believers. The foes of faith then exploit those fears to drive wedges between us. It is pretty wicked stuff but it works.

There is also the problem of indiscriminate acts of violence and terrorism aimed at innocent civilians. They are sometimes perpetrated, rightly or wrongly and for whatever reason, in the name of Islam. I myself in London on 7/7 I nearly was caught in one of those horrors near Tavistock Square.

Naturally, those actions outrage and frighten peace-loving Christians, as well as anyone else. Muslim spokesmen rightly repudiate such crimes and condemn the culprits. If the media gave those condemnations the publicity and prominence they deserve, Christians would be reassured that the Islamic religion does not stand for such wicked deeds.

Christian minorities

These remarks are chiefly aimed at the situations obtaining in Christian-majority countries, where Muslims are in a minority. What about countries in which things are reverse? Where Christians are in a minority?

Having lived for nearly two years in Turkey, as chaplain at the British Embassy, Ankara, I have to report that the proud secular state founded by Kemal Ataturk does not treat its minorities fairly. For example, both the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Churches in my days were not allowed to have their own seminaries to teach students training for the priesthood.

Recently I read that the Jacobite, Syriac Mor Gabriel monastery in Turabdin is having to fight a long and acrimonious legal battle to keep lands that have belong to it for centuries. Erdogan’s government is playing an unpleasant game, methinks…

Events are still unfolding in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring – or Islamic Awakening, take your pick. One detects both lights and shadows; it is too early to say. My own mission and ministry as a priest are to advocate not just a rapprochement between our two faiths but actually an alliance. For the good of humanity and to combat the malignant influence of secularism. Am I too idealistic? Am I tilting at windmills? A lost battle?

Time will tell.

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