Thought for the Month (February 2014)

Islam A Rather Different Perspective The Rev. Alan Clifford (Pastoral Letter. January 2013) does not set out his credentials for writing about Islam. If I were putting pen to paper twelve years ago, my only qualification to pass any comment on Islam was that in studying for my degree at King's College, University of London, in the 1960s, we had one lecture each week on comparative religion in the final year three or four of which were on Islam. This in itself would have left me poorly equipped to comment. However, my work in a Multi-Faith Team to those who worked on the Greenwich Peninsula for nine years did rather change that. Today, prisons, hospitals (including our own new hospital) and workplaces have Quiet Rooms and Multi-Faith Worship Spaces rather than Chapels in the past usually furnished by the Church of England to suit their requirements. And these institutions that reflect our multi-faith and multi-cultural society have multi-faith teams of chaplains to serve them.

When the Greenwich Team was set up eleven years ago, the Team Rector of East Greenwich, the Chair of Trustees (a Pentecostal Pastor) and the then Archdeacon of Lewisham, asked me if I would be prepared to partner the local Muslim Imam in the Chaplaincy Team. The deal, as I recall, was that if I served in this capacity for one year, partners would be exchanged so that someone else got a turn with Ali, the Imam, and someone else would work with me. However, the local URC Minister, being a kindly and thoughtful sort, immediately made me an offer "if you really cannot cope for a full year, Michael, I will exchange with you". This is probably the most important sentence of this article.

Far from the views of Rev. Clifford, the East Greenwich URC Minister was actually volunteering to work with a Muslim Imam. He was to be disappointed. Ali and I served together as a partnership in Chaplaincy for nine years (until I retired); we were the only people not to request a change of faith partner, and we both refused approaches to move on to working with those of other religions. At my farewell supper, the Team and the Trustees gave me presents, and Ali also purchased a memento of our time together. I rarely listen to speeches made about me, but as Ali thanked me for my help and support in his early days in Chaplaincy, many in the audience noted that the tears streamed down his face.

But my own thoughts and views are of little consequence. The message I need to convey is that as Ali works on, and broadens the places he goes to, hundreds of construction site workers, supermarket employees, the constabulary of two Police Stations, and above all those who work at the 02 and its nightclubs, bars, cafes and shops, could all testify that when life kicked them in the teeth, Ali picked them up again. And on the same evening I read the article on Islam in the January issue of the Group News, I also read in the Christmas issue of the Radio Times an article by John Sentamu Archbishop of York. He wrote about the love he has for everything to do with Christmas, but especially the love that God shows in giving His Son to the world.

Clearly, there is a massive gulf between the Archbishop and my former colleague different faiths and very different ethnic backgrounds. But, perhaps for the first time, I saw in my former colleague his total love and commitment for his God. And so, for me, what these two very different men have in common is a love for their God - that is immediately infectious. This is in no way an answer to all that the Rev. Alan Clifford has written, and it is not intended to be. My concern is that in all he writes, he ignores all the unimaginable historic suffering some Christians have inflicted on those of other faiths, and yet in all three peoples of the Book Christians, Muslims, and Jews, there have been outstanding people who have stood firmly by the love they feel they have received from God, and that this empowers them to pass on this love for others.

(Rev) Michael Dent


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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church