Faith is high on the public agenda at the moment. Last week saw the Muslim Festival of Eid, marking the end of the month of fasting, as well as the Jewish New Year. The media covered the controversy of the planned public desecration of the Koran by an extreme religious fringe group in Florida, and later this week Pope Benedict is visiting Britain, a visit which is occasioning a wide range of responses in our diverse country.
How does a Christian respond to living in a land of so many faiths, and none? There is the fortress approach: put up high walls; only if you are on the inside are you coming anywhere near to God. And only Christians, and often only a specific type of Christian, are on the inside of the fortress. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the ‘new age’ approach which says that all faiths are equally good ways to God.
Neither of these works for me. I need to find a way of both of being a real Christian, and at the same time having a profound respect for the beliefs of others.
Muslims worship the one God, merciful and all-powerful, who has spoken to humanity; they try to submit to His will; like Jews and Christians, they acknowledge Abraham as a spiritual ancestor. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They live their lives in expectation of God’s judgement. Finally, they value the moral and family life, and worship God through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
Christians can and must fearlessly proclaim and live by the Christian Gospel. This obliges us to honour our neighbours, bring reconciliation and peace between nations and, following the example of Jesus, be prepared to see God in the most surprising places, and in the hearts of the most unlikely people.