We are living in tense times as Muslims and the wider population feel under threat. The miracle is that British societies are learning not to feel that their neighbour is the threat but rather that we are all under threat from Islamism. In a guest blog, Andy Pratt, the Other Faiths Advisor to the Bishop of Blackburn describes good practise by Christians demonstrating social cohesion.
The recent terrorist attacks in Manchester, London and the Finsbury Park Mosque, challenge us as Christians to find an appropriate response to this growing trend of violence. These attacks follow a long history across the world and the UK. The tube/bus bombings of 2005 seem a long time ago and the murders of Fusilier Lee Rigby and Jo Cox MP all form a pattern of human behaviour where the people subjected to these acts are seen as less than human and the perpetrators try to justify their actions with political and/or religious fervour.
The Christian response has traditionally been to pray. Of course we should be praying for peace; for justice; for help for the injured and for the cessation of violence. We are commanded to do so by our Lord and this should be our constant plea, whether it be in formal church services, our times of personal devotion or as we travel/work and live our lives. (Mat.5:44; 1 Tim.2:1-3)
The challenge to respond in a practical way is set by Jesus himself. He too lived in troubled times. The Roman army of occupation were ruthless and suppressed any dissent with death. The religious leaders of the day were complicit and our Lord himself was put to death by the collaboration of the two authorities. Yet when asked how people should live in those ‘troubled times’, he said:
‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God.’ (Mat.5:9)
We can be practical peacemakers in our communities. The Muslim communities in the UK feel under threat. They feel blamed for all the current troubles in the world and some people take it out on them with verbal abuse, graffiti, physical attacks and in the case of Finsbury Park mosque – with murder. But we can be peacemakers in our society – practical peacemakers.
An example of “peacemaking” was seen on the last Friday of Ramadan in Preston, Lancashire where members of St Stephen’s C of E Church gathered outside the Fishergate Hill Mosque to engage with worshippers as they left the mosque.
As people came out of the mosque at the end of the Friday midday prayer they were given a flower and a card, which said: ‘You are loved. May God Bless You – from your Christian friends.’
The response was incredible from both the Christians and the Muslims. One Christian said: ‘I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. I felt nervous and didn’t know what the reception would be like; but when I extended the flowers and the cards it provoked warm smiles and expressions of thanks from my Muslim neighbours. It made me feel so happy!’
A Muslim said: ‘I was overwhelmed to be greeted by Christians giving out flowers and cards of blessing. This is truly a wonderful thing!’
Let’s do “wonderful” things for our Muslim neighbours and overwhelm them with the love of Jesus.