A row has broken out in the Church of England’s diocese of Southwark occasioned by a vicar giving permission for some Muslims to hold their prayer service in his church. Some Catholics might feel a bit smug about this, but they ought not to, as the vicar in question’s attitude to Muslim worship is rather similar to that of several Catholic priests I could name (but won’t).
Needless to say I am firmly on the side of our evangelical brethren on this one. No Christian church, if it wants to remain a Christian church, and no other church property, even a church hall, should ever be used for Muslim worship. The reason is a straightforward one: once a place has been used for Muslim worship it is ipso facto a mosque – or so some Muslims tell us. So it is clearly not a good idea to let your church be converted into a mosque, because once it is a mosque, it cannot be converted back, or so it is claimed.
This story – Muslim prayers in Christian buildings – is a remarkably common one, and it keeps on popping up again and again in the media. It is a running saga in Spain, where, it seems, a group of Muslims are keen to reclaim their perceived rights over Cordoba Cathedral.
Most of us have heard of the theology of replacement, or supercessionism, which are terms usually used with reference to the Jews and the promises of the Old Testament. Catholics do not hold to such a theology, and we do not see the Covenant with the Jews as having been cancelled. But Islam has a theology of replacement, as far as I can see: for them it is natural that all churches, like the Haghia Sophia, should become mosques, as they regard Mohamed as the “seal” of the prophets. Therefore church into mosque is a sort of natural progression (the other way around would be regression.) Moreover, in a belief that strikes one as having it both ways, they see the natural state of mankind in the beginning as Islamic: they regard Adam as the first prophet, and see his life in the Garden of Eden as an Islamic one. So if a Christian becomes a Muslim they are at once progressing and at the same time reverting to the original state of humanity.
If a Muslim points out that I am wrong on this matter, I would be glad to take correction from him or her.
The vicar who hosted the Muslim prayers in his church and who took part in them, is reported as saying the following: “It is the same God, we share a tradition.” This is perhaps the most worrying thing of all, and it is something that I have heard on the lips of Catholics too. It is simply not true, and to suggest that it is is misleading, to say the least. Islam’s concept of God and of revelation is radically different to the Catholic concept of either. Moreover, our tradition and their tradition, our culture and theirs, are radically (that is to say from the root up) different. In art, in literature, in law, in cookery, in domestic life, their path is markedly different from our own. The vicar’s words do no one any favours. Moreover, the vicar seems to have forgotten the central mystery of the Christain faith, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, a mystery that penetrates all aspects of faith and life, or should.
Christians who take this, or a similar view, on the closeness of Islamic and Christian traditions, know nothing about Islam, but, shockingly, seem to know nothing about their own Christian tradition either.