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ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR CHURCH OF ENGLAND NEWSPAPER. 7th Feb 2006

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ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR CHURCH OF ENGLAND NEWSPAPER. 7th Feb 2006

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Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has said that he wishes to see Muhammad protected from insult or disrespect.

Interestingly, he did not make this remark in the context of the current furore over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. He said it much earlier, in a debate on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze on the subject of legislation to ban incitement to religious hatred. Sacranie’s hope was that the new law once passed would be used to protect Muhammad from any negative criticism.

Sacranie was greatly disappointed with the form in which the religious hatred bill was eventually passed on 31st January, and complained of injustice and impediments to the promotion of a cohesive and harmonious society in Britain. However, he may soon find his hopes for the protection of Muhammad are fulfilled in the wake of the international response to the Danish cartoons of the Islamic prophet, a response which appears to have been not only orchestrated but deliberately aggravated.

The worldwide responses to the cartoons have raised two questions. (1) Why are Muslims, even “moderate” Muslims, so passionate in the defence of Muhammad from any kind of slight? (2) Why do British politicians and church leaders feel the need to tread so delicately around Muslim sensibilities?

The answer to the first question lies in the veneration of Muhammad. This is a paradoxical aspect of Islam, which in theory affirms the believer’s direct access to God without the need for any intercessor. Accordingly, Muhammad should be viewed by Muslims as simply a human channel for God’s revelation. In practice, however, Muhammad’s figure towers over Islam not just as its founder, but as the “perfect man” who was divinely inspired not only in his Qur’anic revelations, but in all his sayings and deeds. He is considered infallible, free from sin, and serves as the supreme example which all Muslims are obliged to emulate in every small detail. Muhammad is also seen as the intercessor with God who can change the divine decrees and admit those he intercedes for into paradise. Love for Muhammad (and his family) is deeply inculcated into most Muslim children. Many Muslims, especially in the Indian subcontinent, hold that Muhammad was created from an eternal heavenly substance (Muhammadan light) that pre-existed with God. He is a logos-like figure similar to Christ – a sinless saviour, mediator and intercessor.

A main concern of Muslims is the person of Muhammad who must be protected from any criticism or slight. Protecting his honour is an obligation on all. Any suspected denigration of Muhammad immediately creates disturbances and riots in many Muslim countries and communities, more so than blasphemy against Allah himself.

The antipathy towards pictures of Muhammad stems from several of his own comments, as recorded in traditions which Muslims call hadith. An example is his statement that “angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture” (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 5.338). However, this has not been taken as an absolute prohibition in all kinds of Islam at all times, as witness the numerous examples of Muslim paintings of Muhammad in earlier centuries.

Many Muslims have vocalised their outrage that the Danish cartoons could be interpreted as suggesting that Muhammad was a “terrorist”. Here too is a paradox. For these Muslims seek to portray Muhammad as a Jesus-figure, a peace-maker and channel of God’s mercy, motivated by a profound love for humanity, who treated his enemies with forbearance, even kindness. They say that Muhammad (himself) never killed anyone. Yet Muhammad was a general who led his army in wars of conquest against non-Muslims, and under whom brutalities were committed against some of his opponents. His words and example are cited by the most militant of Muslims today as the justification for their violence which others would call terrorism.

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  • Pray for Barnabas Fund partners in South Sudan who have been supporting Christians forced from their homes by violence. Conflict between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar in December and January displaced around 860,000 people. Churches were burned down and a number of pastors killed, while many people lost their belongings and were left destitute. Give thanks that churches in and around the capital, Juba, were able to provide food and other essentials to many families with help from Barnabas. Pray that they may continue to be salt and light in their country at this unstable time (Matthew 5:13-16), and that it will soon be safe for displaced Christians to return home. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 9 hours ago

  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks on this Easter Day for the living hope that You have given us and all Your people through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). We pray that the prospect of an enduring inheritance and future salvation will encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters to persevere in their faith, whatever may happen to them. We pray that we too may be sustained by this hope in the sufferings that we experience for the sake of Christ. We ask that the joy and resurrection power of the Lord will give strength and peace to persecuted believers today and every day. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Give thanks for the Christ-like responses of Christian leaders in CAR to the crisis that threatens them and their churches. They have distanced themselves from the anti-balaka militias, saying that these should not be labelled as Christian and that they hold no mandate from the churches. The leaders have also condemned the violence in the country, whatever its origin, and have called on Christians to pursue forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Churches are hiding, defending and caring for thousands of Muslims endangered by the anti-balaka, and one of CAR’s most senior church leaders has invited the president of the country’s Islamic community to move into his church compound. Pray that this powerful witness to the grace and love of Christ will help to bring peace to the shattered country. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Apr 2014 00:00

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