Some thoughts on the current situation in the Muslim world - July 7th 2015
This was intended to be a meeting addressed by a speaker from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Leamington Spa, but he was unable to come because of the long hours of fasting in Ramadhan, and so Christopher Lamb stepped in to offer some thoughts on the current situation in the Muslim world. Noting that something like a revolution was taking place among Muslims world-wide, he continued:
It is a hard time to be a Muslim. A huge proportion of the refugees waiting at Calais, or paying thousands of dollars to cross the Mediterranean in over-crowded boats are Muslims. Most of the victims of ‘Islamic terrorism’ are Muslims. The plight of Muslims world-wide calls for compassion and understanding. Everywhere you look it seems that the Muslim world is in turmoil; in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Eritrea, Somalia, Mali, Cameroun, Nigeria. What are the roots of this turmoil?
Let me take you back to 7th century Arabia. This was a tribal society with no central authority, no government, no army, no law-courts, no police, merely a shifting pattern of alliances to keep the peace. To lose both parents in early childhood, as Muhammad did, was to rely on the protection of a grandfather and later an uncle in a society which was always likely to dissolve into faction and vendetta. From a purely secular viewpoint, Muhammad’s major achievement was undoubtedly to unite his own people and the whole Arabian peninsula on an ideological not kinship basis. The energy and military power which was then released brought Arabs into the heritage of European and Middle Eastern culture, the intellectual legacies of Greece, Rome, Egypt, Palestine and Persia. Many Europeans have still not grasped the fact that we owe our knowledge of medicine, optics, astronomy, architecture and philosophy in significant part to the Arabs who took these torches of learning from the Greeks and the Romans and added massively to them before passing them back to Europe and on to us.
Since the Middle Ages Christians have puzzled over the person of Muhammad. Part of the problem is that the role of a prophet is understood differently in the two faiths. Adam, Moses and David are all prophets as Islam understand them, and that means that they are almost a different kind of humanity. When Jesus describes John the Baptist as ‘more than a prophet’ (Matthew 11.9), Muslims would ask ‘how can there be anyone who is more than a prophet?’ Many Christians who gained some real understanding of Islam came to see his career in two halves, distinguishing between the persecuted prophet of Mecca, and the victorious general and law-giver of Medina. They compared him, of course, to Jesus, feeling that Muhammad should have, as it were, stayed to face the music and pay the full price of his prophetic witness in Mecca, rather than taking the opportunity of flight to Medina, to become a general fighting his previous fellow-citizens and a statesman ruling the city and eventually the whole of Arabia. There is no doubt that his career changed radically in 622 CE, and it is extremely significant that the Muslim calendar begins from that year, and not from the birth of Muhammad in 570 or the first revelation of the Qur’an in 610. The Qur’an itself distinguishes between passages revealed in Mecca and those revealed in Medina (though not entirely consistently).
Christopher Lamb then distinguished between ‘quietist’ Muslims, who do not seek a political expression of their faith, and the Islamists who do – either constitutionally or through acts of terrorism. He then posed the question: what is the right relationship between faith and public life? A long discussion followed about Constantine and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, about the Church of England, the monarchy and how the law deals with religion in this and other countries.