All sorts of people promote their religious beliefs at Meridian Square outside Stratford Station in east London. Pentecostal Christians, Jehovah Witnesses and radical Muslims are the most frequent proselytisers, and it is fascinating how their styles vary. The Pentecostalists preach loudly quoting Scripture, the JWs stand quietly offering their Watchtower literature and the Muslims often have a stall and always engage in discussion and argument.
One afternoon last week it was business as usual. As I crossed the Square a group of bearded Muslims were debating heatedly with a well-built African Christian who, Bible in hand, seemed to be holding his own.
Separately, a Muslim man in front of me held a large poster which declared: “Jesus – Prophet of Allah”. He handed me a leaflet which informed me that God has sent many Prophets and Messengers, from Adam the first Prophet, through Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, to Muhammad “the last and final Messenger”.
Apparently all those who believe in the one true God and follow His commands are called Muslims. Therefore Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus were in fact all Muslims even though there was no such word as ‘Muslim’ in their day and there is no record anywhere of these men of God understanding themselves in this way.
It is, of course, theological imperialism. The Islamic intention is to take over, neutralise and reinterpret Jewish and Christian redemptive history in an attempt to give Muhammad a legitimacy he would not otherwise have. It certainly seems – according to traditional Islamic teaching – that Muhammad was an effective Arab preacher, military leader and state governor. But he was not an Israelite descended from the patriarch Jacob. He cannot therefore stand in the line of authentic Hebrew prophets any more than can Joseph Smith or Guru Nanak.
It’s the old military adage: “the best form of defence is attack”. Classical Islam is based on shaky prophetic foundations so it has initiated theological jihad. It attempts to colonise the Jewish and Christian story and capture these religions’ major figures. It aims to establish itself as the superior all-encompassing global religion.
Hence, as the Muslim man’s poster revealed, it has tried to highjack the Founder of the older and more numerous world religion, strip him of his divine status and reduce him to one in a long line of Islam’s prophets. That’s why the poster used his New Testament name, Jesus, rather than Muslims’ own preferred Quranic/Arabic name for him, Isa. The man in Meridian Square was declaring that Christianity’s Jesus is the prophet-servant of Islam’s god, Allah.
Award-winning journalist Mehdi Hasan is a Shia Muslim and an “interviews with attitude” talk-show host for the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera TV channel. Previously he was a senior editor of the centre-left political weekly New Statesman in London where, significantly, he seductively promoted the possibility that Islam’s version of Jesus may be a way of building bridges between the two faiths – and published his article with a front-cover image of Christ wearing a kofi or Muslim prayer cap.
It was a double affront by Hasan. Not only did he dress Christianity’s Founder in Muslim clothing but he replaced Christ’s crown of thorns – the only recorded item that Christ wore on his head and the sacred sign of his humiliation and crucifixion that lies at the core of Christian belief – with Islamic headdress.
Imagine the bloodshed if a Western magazine published a drawing of Muhammad wearing, say, a crucifix or pectoral cross around his neck.
So Muhammad’s religion is nothing if not pushy, and it is pushing hard at the doors of churches, congregations and Christian communities across the UK with its debased version of Jesus.
It’s partly for this reason that a colleague and I recently created a roadshow for churches called Can We Talk About Islam?
My African Christian friend in Meridian Square apart, Christians have been reticent about engaging with Muslims and Islam. Political correctness; multicultural sensitivities; fear of Islamic aggression; lack of knowledge; invertebrate leaders; confusion about whether Islam is the religion of peace that we are told about or of violence that we see on our screens; and, amongst English Christians, post-colonial post-Crusades (yes, really) guilt – all these and more have left the church like a rabbit transfixed and sometimes terrified in the headlights of the oncoming juggernaut.
The aim of the roadshow is first to educate Christians in the basics of Islam and then to empower them to engage with their Muslim neighbours and workmates on matters of personal faith. Christ’s command to his followers to “love your neighbour as yourself” means that such engagement must flow out of respect for Muslims as equal citizens and fellow human beings.
The roadshow aims also to embolden people to challenge the inappropriate Islamification of society. Why, for instance, are children offered only halal meat in a school canteen, as mine were? Why, further, do teachers enforce the demanding Ramadan fast among Muslim children at the local LEA primary school, denying them water and food throughout school hours even during a heatwave? And why do politicians in our secular state fund mosque-building in east London, support Muslim-only youth work and promote Islamic religious practices to the general population?
It’s a bit-by-bit society-wide process, Islamification by salami-slice; we encourage roadshow attendees to challenge this process whenever they find it unnecessary or unjust.
If you reckon the Can We Talk About Islam? roadshow may be suitable for your local church or churches, contact us at info@CanWeTalkAboutIslam.com.