Earlier this month, a prayer service held by Muslims was conducted in a London church. This week, the local vicar apologised for the “great consternation” and for “any offence” caused. The event and its aftermath, however, goes far beyond the actual service itself, and shows how many people in the West view Muslims with suspicion.
The Anglican Church is today fortunate to have Justin Welby as its head as Archbishop of Canterbury. It was under his stewardship that a Muslim addressed the Church of England Synod late last year. Fuad Nahdi, a Kenyan-Briton, eloquently engaged in a discussion with Mr Welby on the suffering of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, noting that Muslims had suffered greatly at the hands of ISIL.
It is ironic that a few months later, as part of the response to Muslims praying in the Church of England building in London, others from within the church would respond with such vigour.
Indeed, Fr Martin Hislop of St Luke’s in Kingston said: “At a time when Christian men, women and children are being slaughtered in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria and elsewhere … it is a scandal and an offence that a clergyman of the Church of England should embrace an act of Islamic worship in a consecrated building.”
Fr Hislop is no doubt within his rights to reject the use of a Church of England building for any type of religious worship outside his own. Not all religious traditions will admit the validity of other faiths.
Nor will all traditions uphold the notion that tolerance necessarily means the holding of religious services within consecrated buildings of other religions.
Indeed, not all faiths have that notion of consecration at all. While Muslims might point to the Prophet Mohammed allowing Christians of Najran to carry out their religious rituals in his own mosque, not all have the same viewpoint – and it would be unlikely that Christians might do the same today. Indeed, while the United Arab Emirates encourages the construction of churches for its Christian residents, not all countries in the GCC do the same.
However, this episode in London goes far beyond notions of religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation.
Such relations do not require some kind of multi-faith unity. Indeed, some might argue that genuine interfaith relations requires the recognition that religions are unique and different.