I do not really understand the pleasures of prejudice. I was brought up to detest it, and the enduring legacy that my difficult, demanding, unsatisfied father gave me was a conviction that other people are interesting and approachable. A rock solid belief that it is going to be rewarding for both me and them if we meet as equals. I never realised just what a wonderful lesson and legacy this was until I got out into a world where people do not merely judge others, but pre-judge them based on a position of total ignorance about what they believe and what they stand for.
I am not alone in my conviction that we need to encounter others as real people, because the really-rather-wonderful Isaac Poobalan of St John’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen has been encountering real people. He encountered real people praying in the cold and he thought they would be better off praying inside his church in the warm.
The result has been warm congratulations from thinking, feeling people, and a storm of abuse from those who prefer the pleasures of prejudice. Because those he encountered praying were not Christian but belonged to one of the worlds other great monotheisms, Islam.
It appears that those attacking the Rev’d Poobalan are utterly ignorant of Islam. This is not the time nor yet the place, and I am not the person, to give you a full account of a noble religion, but let us deal with a few misconceptions. Allah is not a moon-god. He is the One True God that Christians love and try to follow. Islam does not believe that women should be oppressed and subjugated and denied an education, although regrettably a minority of its followers in unenlightened cultures do think that – and before we get sniffy about that we might stop and consider the really vile things a minority of Christians in our own country appear to believe. Not to mention the fact that our sister church in England still does not allow women to become bishops, and has just enthroned a man who still does not believe God blesses gay relationships despite what he admits is the evidence of his own eyes. But I digress.
Islam has as an utter key-stone the need to give to and support the poor, in a way that Christianity at its worse (though not at its best) simply ignores. Islam is to its core a generous faith. At times in history it was Islam which kept the light of learning alive, and the scholarship it promoted in science has left every one of us an important legacy. Indeed, the legacy of Islam in opening Western minds to the possibilities of creating clean, safe cities is also remarkable. Islamic states had them and we did not.
Never the less, a number of incredibly stupid people (have I offended them? Oh GOOD) have attacked Isaac through Facebook for his enlightened, sensible and utterly Christian stance. Our faith, too, is about generosity – about meeting people where they are and quietly, and for no ulterior motive, seeking to be of service to them. I just hope Isaac knows how many more people support him to the hilt.