Difficult Questions and Controversial Answers

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The ‘Invitation to Faith’ evening (which follows the first ‘Difficult Questions’ event in Bradford) took place on Tuesday 9th September in Wheeler Hall, Leeds. The night consisted of four esteemed speakers who underwent the challenge of posing difficult questions to us as an audience centred around the meaning of Christian ‘mission’ and Muslim ‘Dawah’.  At the same time they also attempted to increase an understanding of what can be successfully achieved (or in some cases unsuccessfully!) whilst raising controversial questions such as; “does ‘mission’/’dawah’ undermine our relationships with others?”

Celia Blackden (‘Churches Together in England’) took the lead and noted that what we need in order to address these difficult questions and engage in mutual discussion is friendship and exchange, which are both divine and human concepts in themselves. The floor was then handed over to Nuzhat Ali who began by giving an account of what she feels is meant by the term ‘dawah’ as a Muslim. She picked out the idea of honesty as a key theme when it comes to ‘mission’ and ‘dawah’; “Of course I believe I am right, I would not be entering into discussions about Dawah if I did not. What is important here is not to reflect this in our attitude, we must be sensitive and sometimes we must agree to disagree.” Nuzhat linked this to the idea of multiple truths, what is true for her a Muslim may not necessarily be true for a Christian. This honesty, rather than raising barriers in the audience, did quite the opposite and caused murmurs of agreement at her blunt honesty. This prevents ‘tip-toeing’ around the difficult question of why we bother with ‘mission’ and ‘dawah’ to begin with.

So are we also bound to ‘mission’ as Christians? How does it portray our relationships to other faiths? These are some of the questions Reverend Charles Dobbin began to sort through; “mission is built into our Christian DNA, it is the way in which Christ is present to the world.” Again, Charles reiterated the idea that in increasingly secular society we must reflect the mind-set of Christ by showing a certain peacebuilding and selfless attitude when entering into conversations about ‘mission’ and ‘dawah’. He then joked that the postman had declared “you religious people are no better than those politicians”, Charles countered this by saying that those who can distinguish between real success and obedience to God are truly encompassing the idea of Christian ‘mission’. On a more serious note, he finished by remarking; “what is at stake is the credibility of faith itself, which could save a world in darkness.”

This was indeed a controversial point to leave us with, and after an intense first half to the evening the well-deserved break invited the audience to talk and to digest what had already been said; and to raise any burning questions that needed answering. This gave the evening an interactive aspect and increased flow and dynamic of the audience as a group, which in turn provided the discussion which the night intended to achieve. Halfway through the evening, people were already beginning to develop strong ideas and pressing questions as to where we go from here, and what we can do to counteract divisions that may be caused through ‘mission’ and ‘dawah’.

The second half commenced with a brief but powerful talk from Qari Muhammad Asim, who introduced the idea that if God had wanted us all to have the same faith, he would have created us with the same faith. His primary focus addressed the question; what can we do together to deal with the challenges we are facing? Muhammad answered this by saying essentially we need to work together in order to deal with difficult questions, rather than highlight our differences, we highlight our similarities. This links to the concept that a shared understanding is what is needed here, a mutual understanding underlined by ‘love’. Liz Firth promoted this understanding by stating that although to deny ‘mission’ you are in many ways denying your faith, faith itself is no longer static and there must therefore be an acceptance of the role religion has yet to play in the public sphere. As the next generation progresses Liz states it is vital that young people are incorporated in interfaith; “young people are moving further away because a lack of faith involves a lack of understanding, not knowing where faith can fit into their lives.” Following on from this idea, Liz is looking to go into local sixth form colleges to host events for both students and parents alike to increase this understanding in the hope that discussions can continue to take place for generations to come.

So what next? Liz’s idea of getting more young people involved in discussions and difficult questions would encourage the younger generation to become more active in the interfaith aspects of daily life. It was also suggested towards the end of the evening that the next event should be held in the Leeds Makkah Masjid (Mosque) to show diversity in location as well as content. Another humanist idea raised was the notion that we should not discriminate in any way, we are all human regardless of faith, and it is this attitude which must be integrated in everyday life. Another idea for future events involves getting women from different faiths together in Leeds on an informal discussion basis. Julian Bond (‘Christian Muslim Forum’) reflected that the main outcome of the night however was the acknowledgment and celebration that everybody was discussing these matters freely, and in a peaceful manner! In Muhammad’s words; “move on from tea and samosas to difficult questions, and resolve them!”

Tweets and pictures from the evening can be found on Twitter using: #difficultquestions

Emma Booth
Intern, Christian Muslim Forum

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