It is not Islamophobia

Though I do not dispute that some Muslims face discrimination, that Islam is derided (as Christianity is) and damned, that some Muslims are attacked for their beliefs, I have never liked the term “Islamophobia” for it is being used in Britain today as a mechanism of denial, a means of avoiding taking ourselves to account.

Were we like the best of people, I might not object to its use so much—in that case we really could decry irrational fear and prejudice—but we’re not. We’ve become a self-pitying nation, sobbing about victimisation, wallowing in denial about the diseases overwhelming us. To lament forced marriage and domestic violence* in the Muslim community is not “Islamophobia” (though it could be characterised thus if the focus was exclusively on Muslims, which it is not): it is an acknowledgment of reality. When I sat on the management committee of a charity that aimed to aid Muslim women in crisis for five years, the statistics about abuse were not made up, the imaginings of racists and politicians with foreign policy objectives. While this focus on PR remains, displacing pastoral care, thousands of real people must live with the consequences, their plight ignored. We are not in the world of hypotheticals, of disappointing words: this is the world of real lives, of the wellbeing of your sister, the happiness of your brother.

Imagine if you will a promising young student. Half way though the first year of her complex degree she comes to believe in Islam. She believes that none has the right to be worshipped except God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, so she decides to walk upon this path. She discusses it with her mother, who tells her that if she dares become a Muslim she will throw her out of the house. But she already believes—it’s in her heart—she’s sincere and strong in faith, and so her mother throws her out of the house. But she’s not turning back because her belief’s sincere and her faith is firm and strong. Her friends at university notice the changes—she’s wearing a jilbab now and she’s covering her hair because she believes it’s part of what being a Muslim’s about, she doesn’t hang about with boys anymore and now she’s fully focussed on her studies. She’s lost some of those friends along the way—those who think she’s lost her mind—but she remains steadfast. Within months she’s been advised that she ought to get married, because this is the second piece of advice it seems every new female Muslim must hear, so she’s looking for a good Muslim man. A few weeks later she invites her friends to her marriage to a man who has told her he’s a good and pious believer. The wedding is rather brief and she wonders why she went to all the trouble to have a beautiful but still modest dress made for the occasion, but she leaves for her husband’s home filled with great excitement and joy all the same, looking forward to years of marriage in which their love and compassion grows between them, carrying them hand-in-hand to Paradise. Instead her husband beats her up, yells abuse at her, calls her a nigger, flings her across the room and terrorises her.

Imagine if you will receiving an email one day in which the sender asks if you have heard from his wife and when you press him on it, he tells you that they are now divorced. Why, you ask, for it has only been a month or two? Imagine that he tells you that she complained that he was beating her. You press him on this as well: well is it true? Yes, he replies reluctantly, acknowledging his mistakes. You tell him that our blessed Prophet said only the worst of us would beat their wives, appealing to this pious man’s better nature, but he only responds with ferocious words: ‘I’m not the Prophet, am I?’ It is an addiction for him and he doesn’t know how to treat it. Still, his divorcee is undeterred. She believes in God and His Messenger. Her faith is strong and her heart is firm, and she will continue to tread this path whatever the test before her. Imagine if you will that a year or so after returning to her studies, the young student decides to marry again. She is not going to be deterred by one bad experience. So she weds a kind young man and together they have their first child; but before the baby has had the chance to get to know his daddy, daddy divorces mummy. Shirking on his responsibility (just think that “shirking” exists in the English language), he leaves his wife homeless to bring up their child as a single mother failing to provide child maintenance. Life is hard for that promising young student now: she has given up her studies and her dreams and now lives in poverty with no proper income, caring for a mischievous toddler who drains her energy away. But she’s not turning back because her belief in God is sincere and her faith is firm and strong.

Now imagine if you will that a year or so later she realises that the only way she is going to survive is with the support of a husband, so once more she seeks a good man, taking the most cautious steps this time. She meets his family, and she finds them kind and respectful. She doesn’t rush in, she gives it all the thought in the world, but eventually she decides to marry this man. She is a single mother—she never thought she’d be a single mother—and she can barely survive this way. It is the only way forward, she tells herself, so she marries this good man. But this good man does not know his responsibilities under the law of this deen, for shortly after their marriage when his new wife has just become pregnant he tells her that he can no longer afford to maintain her and a baby—as if he couldn’t have known that before—and promptly he divorces her before their child is born. Imagine if you will a young mother bringing up a toddler alone, nursing her pregnancy alone, a single mother living in poverty, with no child maintenance from two fathers.

Imagine if you will, a young single mother who quite understandably now hates all men, but Muslim men in particular, who finds her life a great burden. Imagine if you will, a once promising young student who finds herself seriously contemplating leaving her religion, although she won’t because she believes in it with certainty—it’s in her heart—for she’s strong in faith. She’s not turning back because her belief’s sincere and her faith is firm and strong. She’s not going to be driven out of the deen because she believes in the Day of Judgement and in Paradise and Hell. Imagine.

I wish I could tell you now that I made this story up, that it was from my imagination like in the books I write, but I can’t. I wish I could say I decided to write a short story based upon extremes. I wish I could say that this didn’t happen to a real person, that it was a metaphor or a fable. I wish I could, but I can’t for this happened to somebody my wife knows for whom I have immense respect because the strength of her faith provides massive inspiration to me. I wish too that this was the only story I could tell, but alas it is not. I wouldn’t say I know many cases—fortunately most people we know are happily married—but those cases that exist are quite enough to make us take note. There is the mother who brings up two severely disabled children all alone, left to cope when her husband walked out because he could not. There is the man living a solitary existence in the loveless marriage that will exist as long as it takes for his wife to get her whole family leave-to-remain. There are alas a multitude of stories I could tell of men and women living in crisis in the Muslim community in Britain.

When somebody highlights stories like these and you dismiss it as “Islamophobia” you are hurting every person affected by them and you are hurting this deen, because it means that the problems persist untackled. The charity I worked with that aimed to help Muslims in crisis had to close this year after almost twenty years serving the community, not because the problems have gone away—if anything they have increased in number—but because our community did not think it important to fund such an organisation. We have become a community which believes it has no problems and that every accusation of an issue is merely a manifestation of “Islamophobia.” Unpalatable certainly, but I raise it here because it matters. In this context the accusation of “Islamophobia” is not the saviour of this community, but its curse.

Please note

Those who rejoice in the problems in the Muslim community should note that it is estimated that a total of 18,569 women and 23,084 children were accommodated and supported by refuges during the year 2003/04, reflecting a deeper problem in wider society. It is said that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime and between 1 in 8 to 1 in 10 women experience it annually. Source:

“Domestic violence occurs across society regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth and geography.” Source:

To honour a solemn oath

You may have forgotten that the day God created our souls He took a solemn oath from us. Have a billion years passed since then? Perhaps; perhaps more. But do we abandon our promises just because time has passed us by? Or because we have forgotten them? I wish I could say I was perfect, that I am a pious believer whose heart is clean and strong. I wish I could. But instead the recurring realisation day and night, even if I do not act upon it, is that I must repent. I have so much for which I must repent, and its time is drawing near.

“Repent and ask your Lord’s forgiveness before you leave this world. Before the world occupies all your time, hurry to do deeds to save yourself.” {Ibn Maja}

We have been here before, but that’s life, isn’t it? Those recurring cycles and phases. Now is the time. And yes I will repeat these words in the future, no doubt. But now is the time. And if I return, then now will be the time again. So we repent over and over, renewing our faith week after week, driving onwards towards the inevitable event. That day when our bodies will not breathe another breath and our souls will hang there waiting – still alive, but unable to put forth any more deeds. Perhaps we will hang there in our graves for another billion years as our bodies become dust, but a day will come. How did we honour that solemn oath of ours back millenia ago?

“Repent and ask your Lord’s forgiveness before you leave this world. Before the world occupies all your time, hurry to do deeds to save yourself.”

Now is the time, and tomorrow will be the time, and a month from now will be the time. Every moment is now.

Divine Comedy

If ever we needed evidence that we have no control over our own lives, it is in my garden. Last year my wife and I spent a lot of effort working on our vegetable patch, digging it over and working in the manure, all to little avail. It did not get enough light, we concluded, and so this year with advice from my brother and sister we decided to turn it into lawn, seeding it with grass while dispersing the vegetables amidst the flowers in our sunnier beds. The rather wet conditions this summer have been perfect for establishing that lawn. Zeynep did most of the work preparing the ground and making it level. A few days before she spread the seed I took it upon myself to move the compost heap, emptying its contents onto that flat ground temporarily as I relocated the bin. This may have something to do with what happened next. My wife scattered the seeds during the sunny spell we had a few weeks ago and with daily watering the grass began to sprout. And then came the rain. Over the past week the grass has really started to grow quickly and strongly, and almost the whole patch is now green. But a trip down the garden two days ago revealed a very funny sight. All over that fertile ground, amidst the shoots of grass, are a hundred little tomato plants, lettuces, cucumbers, even melons. Seeds from the rotted fruit and veg in the compost heap? Last year’s seeds revived? A scattering blown by the wind? God knows best. But an autonomous vegetable patch in our lawn – yes. However we look at it, our lives remain in our Creator’s hands. We may convince ourselves that we have everything under control, but the truth is quite distinct. Oh for the parables of our lives.

Act 1883

As Robert Cottage from Colne, Lancashire, finally goes on trial at Manchester Crown Court, pleading guilty to possession of explosives, Home Secretary John Reid is set to address Christian children about looking for the tell-tale signs of extremism in their parents.

Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, came under fire last night for his call to ban Orthodontist Ghettos last month after retired dentist, David Jackson of Nelson, Lancashire, denied both charges* under the Explosive Substances Act.

Both men have been charged under the Explosive Substances Act 1883, which was designed particularly for white people who cannot be charged under recent “anti-terror” legislation because it would be unsightly.

Mr Cottage denies conspiracy to cause an explosion. Alistair Webster QC, defending, said Mr Cottage was a former BNP candidate and had been the subject of threats. Mr Cottage accepted the possession charge on the basis that the explosives were designed to deter attacks on his property, Mr Webster said. When police raided his house on 28 September 2006 they discovered 21 types of chemicals which, when combined, could form explosives. Ball bearings – which the prosecution claim could be used as shrapnel for explosive devices – were also found, along with four air pistols.

In a statement released this morning, the Community Cohesion Taskforce says it will be taking a long hard look at extremism amongst middle-aged Englishmen. The Minister in Charge said that community leaders must do more to combat the tide of radicalisation rising in our midst.

But it also sounded a note of caution in dealing with disaffected members of the largely peace-loving British population. “This is a sensitive issue,” said a spokesman, “It is not appropriate that we try to make political capital out of the case of two men found in possession of rocket launchers, a nuclear biological suit, extremist literature, a master plan and a large haul of bomb-making chemicals. We need to look at the underlying causes which are leading old English men towards extremism.’

Pressed on the question on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Tony Blair told John Humphries, ‘Those who don’t like our way our life, who don’t like our values, whose ideology is hate. They can just sod off.’

The trial continues today.

* Pardon the pun.

The return of the ragged Hajji

21 December 2006: It is our forth day in Medina in the warming heat of Arabia according to our own grand master plan. Shortly we will depart for Mecca and the wondrous House. Planned months in advance and carefully financed—ihram sourced a month before departure, suitcases packed two weeks before—but though we plot and plan, Allah is always the best of planners. Here I sit in my own study, warming myself against the icy air beside the radiator, the fog outside covering the hill across the valley, the house across the street obscured by this hanging haze.

Our flight was last Sunday, but it left without us. Awaiting our visas, Tuesday was the next available flight, but still our visas failed to materialise. We planned, hopefully, for Wednesday, but even if it had all come through our plane would have been grounded by the heavy fog suffocating Heathrow airport. Now we plan for Friday, our visas secure we believe, but the meteorologists think the fog will hold for another day or so. Perhaps we will fly on Saturday. Perhaps not. Perhaps we will fly to Mecca direct and there will be no Medina for us this time. Perhaps not. We plot and plan, but Allah is the best of planners. And Allah is ever with the patient.

We finally got on our way on Sunday 24 December after a couple of false starts, making our way to Stansted airport at half a day’s notice. How lovely to meet with our companions again, each face beaming despite the draining tensions of the past week and the many miles travelled my some of them to get here on time. An evening of further delays could not knock our patience now; we knew we had been called.

While preparing for Hajj, most of the advice I had received had seemed overwhelmingly negative, my well-meant counsellors insisting that they only intended to prepare me for the inevitable. Yet, good though their intentions were, their guidance merely filled me with gloom, undermining my emotional preparations for this incredible expedition. When I set out on my own journey, therefore, I was determined not to moan or fret and to count Allah’s blessings instead. And there were many, even before we arrived: the kindness of friends who dropped everything to take us to the airport, the generosity of airport security staff who took us back to the main terminal for food after the shops closed on Christmas Eve at our satellite gate, the free sandwiches from Pret. Not to mention beautiful company.

We arrived at Medina in the morning, circling the city and sending our salams to the Prophet as we glided above his mosque, its white minarets a centimetre apart, and descended through the cloudless cobalt sky for an easy landing. Alhamdulilah: another blessing. Although we were only able to stay there for two days, our visit was filled with great bounties. We spent wonderful moments in the Prophet’s mosque, visited Uhud and other significant sites, stocked up on provisions for our journey and found ourselves very well fed. It is strange to find that our stay was so short, for my memories could fill a week. How grateful I am to one of my companions who pulled me from my slumber before Fajr on Boxing Day: wearied by my lack of sleep, I would have snoozed until the last athan had he not reminded me where we were and the reward attached to it. Instead we hurried to the mosque to pray tahajud and contemplate on the magnificence of God’s creation, setting in place a routine for the remainder of our stay on sacred soil.

I was soon to discover that our expectations do not always mirror reality. On route to Mecca by bus, we found that the famous golden sand dunes depicted on the big screen in The Message were the product of artistic licence; we found a rock strewn, grey-brown volcanic landscape. After entering the state of Ihram our journey took all day, passing by with relative ease until our arrival at the outskirts of Mecca. There was plenty of cause to say Alhamdulilah: I was taken by the generosity of the charities that provided packed lunches and bottles of water for every pilgrim passing through. That feeling of gratitude was to repeat throughout our Hajj as we encountered the generosity of others.

Our Hajj however was not without its difficulties. In days of old the tribulations faced by the pilgrim on his journey to Mecca included the assault of ravaging bandits determined to make quick profits by pillaging the winding desert caravans. In our own age, say some, the road to Mecca is easy, a comfortable voyage by jetliner to comfortable five-star accommodation. That may be so for some, but others of us unlucky enough to encounter the twenty-first century bandits know that all of us are tested by degrees according to our intention and will.

Today’s bandits come in different guises. Some may claim to be mujuhideen, while others ascribe to themselves Islamic legitimacy unaware even to themselves that they are no more than petty criminals. But what of the businessmen who sell Hajj Packages to hundreds of eager pilgrims only to leave the worshipers high and dry? Our own Hajj was filled with great blessings, too many to enumerate: the kindness shown to us by others, the generosity of strangers, the beauty of our two days in Medina, the ease with which we completed many of our rites. We were truly humbled by the experience. Yet with every period of ease there was hardship, just as with every period of hardship there came ease. Thus the most frequent thoughts that recurred in my mind over and over again were those words of the Qur’an: ‘Do the believers think they will say, “We Believe” and will not be tested?’

Though we travelled as a group, we were all tested as individuals. Personally I found great ease—to the extent that I now fear my Hajj was wanting—but others in our group found our Hajj deeply challenging and a great test. Walking the Hajj made it for me, but was difficult for others. Our stay in the tents at Mina as orphans to another group was a beautiful experience for me—there I discovered one of my closest friends from England as well as folk from the two villages I lived in as a child—and yet it was an uncomfortable period of tension for others. Where there was difficulty though, it was always possible to see good and if not good at least humour: at Arafat I asked Allah to aid me in controlling my tongue and the very same night I lost my voice. In any case, I think all of us drew great inspiration from the most senior member of our group, whose great strength and perseverance throughout was a lesson for us all.

I do have regrets of course. The first is that I did not go to Hajj with a firm grounding in Fiqh. This personal preference arose after a snap decision that I made during the course of my Hajj rites which I immediately regretted and which continued to bother me until I had paid a penalty of compensation. Other regrets are more personal. At the end of the day, however, we can only do our best and overall my Hajj was a wonderful experience, even as the illness that started on my return from Arafat began to change my mood. On Hajj expectations rarely mirror reality: the image of Arafat in my mind was very different from what I found there, while Mudzalifa could not have been further removed. But more than that, I found myself often impressed when I had been prepared to be disappointed, humbled by the efforts of those who helped to make our pilgrimage what it was and grateful to have been invited to the House when I thought I was not ready. Labbaik Allah humma labbaik. Labbaik la sharika laka labbaik. Innal hamda, wan-ni’mata, laka walmulk. Laa sharika lak.

Ashura 1428

Undercover Wudu Area

Tonight on Dispatches – Muslim fundamentalists claim that cleanliness is next to Godliness, but our under cover investigation reveals an atmosphere of whiffiness spreading through Britain

Mullah Nasrideen: We Muslims have lost the mop

Abu Imran: Jif is bid’a

Sheikh Ahmed: If the toilet doesn’t flush, we throw in the towel

Part One

A Dispatches investigation has uncovered the stinkiest toilets in England, spreading from the basement of mosques run by major UK organisations which claim to be dedicated to the message of Islam, to cleanliness, good manners and civilisation.

Caption: Undercover filming

Our reporter went undercover last summer, joining thousands of worshippers. He’s staying anonymous. After his foot got trapped in the sink. The enamel had turned brown and smelt like chicken and rice.

Caption: 9 August 2006

Our undercover reporter discovered this toilet hasn’t been cleaned in three years. He asks the cleaner why?

Abu Imran: Why should I clean it? It has its own cistern. It automatically cleans itself when you flush. Brown is the new black anyway.

The imam didn’t want our reporter talking to the cleaner for long.

Mullah Nasrideen: This is exactly why we can’t afford toilet cleaning fluid. The man’s always talking. If he would just stop talking we might be able to afford some soap.

Shots of manual of Fiqh

This book contains a whole chapter on ritual purification. But our reporter filmed there in a mosque for over four months, and found that nobody cleaned the toilets once.

Reconstruction using actor
Reconstruction using actor

Fatima Khan investigates smelly toilets. She keeps her face hidden in interviews because of the dangers of her work; plungers and squat toilets are an explosive combination.

Fatima Khan: Muslims believe that cleanliness is half of the religion and that it’s next to Godliness, but nowadays the ummah is engaged in important debates about the kuffar, so we have to make compromises.

Not cleaning the toilet is opposed to the traditional beliefs of classical Islam, according to leading Muslim academic Dr Ali.

Dr Ali: We tell non-Muslims that our way of life is best, but they can smell that the stench coming from our bathrooms. We don’t understand the irony when we call them dirty kuffar.

Our undercover reporter discovered just how far the culture of leaving the toilets to clean themselves goes in mosques up and down the country when he dropped his hidden camera down the trap by accident. Find out what he discovered in Part Two.

Disclaimer: This is satire. It did not really happen, although, yes, it may sound familiar.

Hajj Bandits

In days of old the tribulations faced by the pilgrim on his journey to Mecca included the assault of ravaging bandits determined to make quick profits by pillaging the winding desert caravans. In our own age, say some, the road to Mecca is easy, a comfortable voyage by jetliner to comfortable five-star accommodation. That may be so for some, but others of us unlucky enough to encounter the twenty-first century bandits know that all of us are tested by degrees according to our intention and will.

Today’s bandits come in different guises. Some may claim to be mujuhideen, while others ascribe to themselves Islamic legitimacy unaware even to themselves that they are no more than petty criminals. But the bandits we encountered were the suave businessmen who sold Hajj Packages to hundreds of eager pilgrims, pocketing tens of thousands of pounds and leaving the worshipers high and dry. There were those who never left these shores, who stayed behind when they were told that their Hajj visas had been rejected. There were the others who arrived in Arabia only to discover that no accommodation had been arranged for them, and no transport, and nowhere to rest in Mina or Arafat. We met many of these despondent folk along the way.

Our own Hajj was filled with great blessings, too many to enumerate: the kindness shown to us by others, the generosity of strangers, the beauty of our two days in Medina, the ease with which we completed many of our rites. We were truly humbled by the experience. Yet with every period of ease there was hardship and with every period of hardship came ease. The most frequent thoughts that recurred in my mind over and over again were those words of the Qur’an: ‘Do the believers think they will say, “We Believe” and will not be tested?’

Our agent would have had us believe that the Saudis were sitting on our visa application and were dragging their heels. Only, the leader of our group discovered that the Embassy did not even have our passports and had received no application on our behalf. Were it not for the kindest soul from another agency who came to our rescue to take these Hajj Orphans under his wing, we would have had no hope of standing on the Plain of Arafat or kneeling by the Prophet’s minbar. Blessings and trials. There was great beauty in our Hajj, great ease at times and bounty. And still sometimes there was hardship, even if only for moments.

Do the believers think they will be left to say, ‘We Believe’ and will not be tested? We have had our tests. But I wonder if the bandits — ancient and modern — realise that we are a test for them. Do they not think they will be asked?

Storm in a tea cup

Much ado about nothing, I say. Before we can draw our team brief to a close this morning at work we have to cover preparations for Christmas Dinner. It’s all going swimmingly until the organiser thinks she should inform us of a problem. Apparently a certain employee upstairs cannot attend because it has been booked in a pub and her beliefs stop her from going to pubs. She’s a Muslim. That causes a few raised eyebrows and laughter. Someone points out that if it was a restaurant, they’d still be serving alcohol.

I start sinking in my seat, burying my eyes in the table top. The organiser adds, actually the lady in question wasn’t bothered too much, that it was another member of staff who was worried about it on her behalf. Who’s attended Equality and Diversity training, asks our Director, what should we do? My Manager starts saying that we should have thought about this. Yes, they agree, but now what are we going to do about the lady upstairs? Will we have to cancel our booking and arrange something else? I could easily say something – suggest that I’m sure she’s not even bothered about it – but I’m staying out of this one.

Except I’m not going to be allowed to let this pass me by; I’m about to be outed. We should have thought about this from the start, says my Manager, she’s not the only person in the organisation who wouldn’t be able to attend for that reason. There are at least two people affected. Who, asks the organiser, you don’t mean X (the Indian woman upstairs)? My time has come. I think she means me, I say, and all eyes are on me, a look of horror on six of the faces. Tim’s a Muslim, my Manager tells them.

Faces are red. It probably wasn’t the best timing; after the words exchanged moments earlier. Never mind, my Manager’s brought me in. So yes, I tell them, it’s true, I am a Muslim. Personally, I tell them, I wouldn’t go to the pub either, which is why I excused myself from attending. I don’t expect them to change their plans on my behalf. I appeal to the memory of my Methodist grandfather who similarly excused himself from alcoholic gatherings. I explain that the lady upstairs probably isn’t worried about the matter at all and wouldn’t expect anything to be rearranged. I point out that last year’s storm about a council allegedly banning the word Christmas in case it offended Muslims had absolutely nothing to do with Muslims, but was the product of some well-meaning official. And I say, yes perhaps my faith has implications for them when it comes to organising social functions, but I am not guilty of keeping a secret any more than they are; none of them had told me they were atheist, Catholic or whatever.

After the meeting my Manager sends me a one line email:

Tim, I didn’t mean to embarrass you in the team meeting. Sorry if I did.

I tell her not to worry about it, but I send an email of my own to my immediate colleagues, my Director and the organiser of the Christmas Dinner.

Dear all,

A clarification on today’s revelation during team brief… It is indeed the case that I am a practising Muslim – as I have been for about a decade. This was a personal choice, following a period of searching prompted by the discomfort of being the only agnostic in a very religious family – both my parents are Anglican priests.

I really don’t have a problem with people knowing that I am Muslim, but I did make a conscious choice when I started this job not to publicise it widely given the prevailing political climate. I am sure it won’t have escaped your attention that my religion has been receiving a lot of negative attention over the past few years, particularly after the massacre on the London transport system in 2005. Having experienced colleagues making wild assumptions about me because of my beliefs in past roles, I felt that silence was the best option. Thus I disappear off at lunchtime to do my prayers and make excuses for not coming to the pub with you.

I do not expect you to make alternative arrangements on my behalf. Generally I do not sit where alcohol is being consumed – partly for reasons other than religion – which I guess is rather an anathema at Christmas time. But don’t worry about it. At the end of Ramadan, I had a lovely Eid celebration – I don’t feel I’m missing out. Others may feel differently, but that’s my personal take. If in doubt, talk to the people concerned – whether it is someone with health issues or specific cultural needs.

Apologies to anyone who thinks I should have been more open about my beliefs – but you know the English way; we tend not to broadcast our beliefs. Hence I never knew that David is a Jedi Knight.



Almost straight away, my director responds.

Tim, I apologise if you were put in an embarrassing position this morning. As a PCT I hope we are sensitive to everyone’s beliefs. Sometimes it is difficult to think of everything so I was appreciative of your understanding. Please don’t hesitate to come and see me if there is anything you want to talk about.

The organiser of the Christmas Dinner writes to me to say she’s sorry I won’t be attending, but now she understands why. Meanwhile, my colleague writes:

Good clarification, thanks Tim. And there’s nothing wrong with being a Jedi Knight! It is an official religion on a number of planets I visit as an ET Technical Projects Manager, including:

As for the conversation which sparked gale force winds in our best china: a colleague of the lady in question casually mentioned it in passing that she would have liked her to be there for Christmas Dinner. The individual organising the dinner became very worried after this, even though the lady explained several times that she did not celebrate Christmas and did not feel left out at all. Having explained that she did not want any plans changed on her behalf, she left it at that. She tells me, “It’s all a storm in a tea cup.”

The Semitic Way

In British politics today, there is so much talk of identity, of what it means to belong, of shared values. Sometimes it is assumed that we must all trace our values back to Hellenic roots, as if this were the foundation of civilisation. Yet my heart has always felt comfort in the Semitic pathway. As a child, the Parables spoke to me, but Paul’s Epistles did not. As an agnostic it was the Letter of James. And now: well you know the journey I am walking, the road I am taking.

My burgundy-bound Bible from those days before faith is filled with scribbles in pencil, with scruffy underlining and highlighter ink: the etchings of a searching soul. But one book stands out. On the title page of the Letter of James there is a handwritten note which reads, ‘The most beautiful book in the Bible.’ I was yet to learn of Islam—yet to tread this path—but looking back now it seems clear to me that the author was a Muslim. A Muslim of the era before Muhammad, peace be upon him.

I’m not alone in reaching this conclusion though. James’ address of the twelve tribes dispersed throughout the land nods to the Judaic-Christian world, whose resemblance to another tradition has been widely noted over the years. Hans Küng et al point out in their work on the World Religions, ‘the traditional and historical parallels between early Judaic-Christianity and Islam are inescapable.’ Meanwhile, while I would naturally dispute the case of dependence given my belief in revelation, Hans-Joachim Schoeps writes in Theology and History of Jewish Christianity:

Though it may not be possible to establish exact proof of the connection, the indirect dependence of Mohammed on sectarian Jewish Christianity is beyond any reasonable doubt. This leaves us with a paradox of truly world-historical dimensions: the fact that while Jewish Christianity in the Church came to grief, it was preserved in Islam and, with regard to some of its driving impulses at least, it has lasted till our own time.’

When I put the teachings of the Letter of James and the teachings of Islam side by side, the similarities are striking. About six years ago I began work on a small text that would do just that, for I felt that the parallel presentation conveyed meanings that have sadly escaped many. Much is made of difference when we encounter the Other, but there is a great deal to be gained from highlighting the common ground.

The reality of the focus on identity, on what it means to belong, on shared values, is that what defines our present is a hugely diverse past. While the phrase ‘our Judeo-Christian heritage’ has emerged over recent years, that old focus on Hellenic and Grecian ancestry remains dominant. I have seen it in the current debates on multi-culturalism. That is wrong: Semitic pathways have had a huge influence on our culture. What is more, where would Britain be had the no one translated those ancient works held up so high?

So talk of identity, of what it means to belong and of shared values, but don’t give me a hard time when I say I am proud of who I am: a devotee to the Semitic way.