‘Evangelical Responses to Islamic Revival’: A Report on the MCSCI Conference

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Rev Canon Phil Rawlings welcoming people to the conference

The theme of this conference was decided upon some two years ago, in the early days of setting out the goals and activities of the MCSCI. Since then we have seen the sudden onset of ‘ISIS/Daesh’ into the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria, deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, and the migration of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East into Europe. The responses to these events range from more Western bombing of Syria and Iraq and fear of all Muslims as potential terrorists to a welcome reception of refugees and protection of mosques from attack. The topic for our discussion could not have been more timely.

We discussed the wording of the title for the conference at great length. The MCSCI’s focus is on equipping and encouraging Christians to engage with Muslims. In this we wish to serve the Church. As such, we could well have spoken of ‘Christian responses’ in order to encompass those of all theological and confessional standing. But, we purposely chose to speak of Evangelical responses. The reasons are two-fold: one, we are Evangelicals engaged in this endeavour; two, in much of the rhetoric of today Evangelicals are often among those most caught up in the rhetoric of fear of the ‘Other’.

Discussion Panel of various speakers. (l-r): Rev. Canon Phil Rawlings, Dr Martin Accad, Dr Randy Cloud, Dan Miller & Rev Gordon Hickson

The term ‘Islamic revival’ encompasses a great range of issues, and was intentionally ambiguous. It includes the awakenings of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011; the coming to power of Islamist movements in places like Tunisia and Turkey; and the ‘fundamentalist’ military movements creating sectarian conflict in so many places far beyond the Arab world. It also encompasses a renewal in the sense of Muslim identity among young people in Europe. These find expression in greatly diverse ways, and violence is only one of the ways. What we are observing is a crisis in Islam, as it grapples with change within its own societies, and the challenges of how to live as a minority in non-Muslim societies; as well as with coping with the challenges of modernity and globalisation.

In the face of such an array of issues within Islam, there can be no single response by the Church, or by Christians. This conference had two objects: one was to try to grasp what is going on in the Muslim world; and for this we had invited speakers to inform us of what we cannot learn from public media. The second was to consider the range of ways Christians may express the love of Jesus to Muslims; and for this we invited people to tell us what is happening in the Church in various parts of the world.

The following is a summary of the presentations by the key-note speakers. Their full presentations can be found in audio on the website; text versions will become available as soon as possible, along with the presentations given in the seminars.

Photo of Dr Phil Lewis

Dr Phil Lewis

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Dr Martin Accad giving his speech to the conference

One, the long-term implications of the refugee crisis. The active involvement of Christians with refugees will be needed for a long time beyond the initial enthusiasm of hospitality.

Two, the long-term implications of the annihilation of Christians in the Middle East. Daesh, in particular but not only, actively seeks to blot out Christianity. This comes as a direct response to Western intervention, often explicitly described as in defence of the Christians still there.

Three, the long-term implications of the place of youth in the conflicts, and their radicalisation. The Church needs to work for integration in our communities, offering an alternative and positive narrative to that of the Daesh recruiters.

 


 

Dr Salim Munayer

Dr Salim Munayer

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  • How do we deal with evil and violence?
  • How do we deal with the breakdown of nation-states and the chaos this creates?
  • What is the role of the Church towards the political powers who are responsible for the protection of their people, but do not do so?
  • Will the Church accept her role in the work of creation redemption as priests to the moral worldviews both of the West and of Islam?

 

Dr Michael Lodahl

Dr Michael Lodahl

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Firstly, regarding our uses of Scripture (both Christian and Muslim), we need to engage with them as a function of the faith community, and not as isolated individual interpretations.

Secondly, Lodahl considered the widely reported phenomenon of dreams as the means by which Muslims come to Christ in comparison to Wesley’s frequent comments on similar phenomena under his preaching ministry. Lodahl suggests that these phenomena cannot work alone, but must be complemented by the actions of followers of Christ to make the connection with Christ ‘flesh’ and complete.

Thirdly, Lodahl spoke of the witness of the Church to be found in the quality of our living together, as servant communities more than in doctrine or debate. That is the quality that brings people to say ‘See how they love each other.’

 


 

Dr Greg Livingstone

Dr Greg Livingstone

The conference turned in the closing sessions to the voices of practitioners. [insert page=’world-wide-picture-believers-muslim-background’ display=’excerpt-only’] Britain may well be the hardest place for Muslims to become believers, but we need to remember that in places where we hear of large numbers coming to Christ there has often been generations of witness that saw no such result. Time and faithfulness would seem to be the key. He suggested we pray that the Lord would send a Cornelius (Acts 10) or a Lydia (Acts 16) to our areas of service—trusting God to prepare the heart of the person of his calling. Finally, Livingstone also spoke of the role of the Church as a living and loving community of faith (a theme common to all speakers); in our divisions and carelessness we miss the opportunity for witness that is given us.

 


 

Gordon Hickson

Rev. Gordon Hickson

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What are the most important Evangelical responses to Islamic revival? There were two themes heard from virtually every speaker:

  1. The church must live its witness in every day life;
  2. Reach out with love to the Muslims around you, and pray in love for the Muslims in the midst of life and death crisis.

On the politics of fear

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With the Paris attacks, the San Bernadino shootings, and the stabbing in the London underground, terror has taken to the streets of Western cities. The European response is an intensified bombing campaign in Syria. In the US Donald Trump has dominated reaction, with remarkable interventions by prominent dynastic Christian leaders Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. The very nature of ‘terrorism’ is to create fear, and so it seems that the terrorists have succeeded. Must we live in fear?

With this post we wish to offer some measured observations with which to consider the events of the immediate past.

A main premise of action for us at MCSCI, if not the main premise, is that Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbour’, and that includes Muslims. For those who think of Muslims as the enemy, Jesus also said ‘Love your enemy’, so that fairly well covers everyone. This is the Christian starting point for evaluation of the events that face us, and the conflicting narratives that are offered in explanation. How does this play out amidst the politics and media of fear? By Jesus’ command we may judge the comments of such so-called Christian leaders as Falwell and Graham, who counsel Christians to arm themselves and call for the deportation of Muslims from the US.

I have four observations:

Firstly, the rise of Daesh is a development of a crisis within Islam. This is an intra-Muslim war, and there are hundreds of thousands more Muslims being killed by Daesh, Al Qaida, and the Syrian government, than non-Muslims. Ultimately, this is a crisis that the world of Islam has to resolve. Western military intervention serves only to complicate matters for the worse.

Secondly, Muslims who live in the West have almost unanimously come as a result of colonial links. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were invited to the UK for their skills in textiles. Algerians arrived in France under their particular arrangements of colonial rights. Turks were invited to Germany because of a shortage of workers following the Second World War. The colonialists drew the lines of the current Arab states, now being redrawn by Daesh. As for America, a large number consist of those displaced by US military action since 9/11. In all these cases people choose to come to the West for the very peace, security, and freedom of worship that we value. Many of them could not remain in their own countries because of their association with the West.

And here is an important component of this migration: they all think they are coming to the Christian West. How do we greet them?

Sadly, usually with prejudice and racism and fear.

It is helpful to consider some simple statistics regarding Muslims in the West. France has the highest percentage of Muslims of European countries at nearly 10% (more on this later). In the UK the figure is 4%. In the US, no more than 2%, but possibly less. This makes the rhetoric of floods of refugees and the impending imposition of sharia law rather overblown. How can such a small population be viewed with such fear?

This leads, thirdly, to the new phenomenon of radicalisation of young Muslims. Again, this takes different forms in different countries. Direct comparisons are difficult to make, and not particularly helpful for discerning the American situation. The French problem is particularly deep-seated, with the relationship to Arab Muslims fraught by a lengthy and bloody war of independence in the 1960s, which echoes down to this day. The social and economic situation of Muslims in France is pronouncedly dire, with ghettoised communities, high youth unemployment (a consequence of the global financial crisis created by Western institutions), and a national doctrine of secularism that outlaws public expressions of religion. These factors, among others to be sure, have combined into a cocktail of disaffection, providing breeding ground for radicalisation. The British situation is less pronounced. A recent academic study (in distinction to a poll) indicated that only 0.03% of the Muslim population was sympathetic to the use of violence to promote their religion. That is a small percentage, even allowing for statistical margins of error, yet it could mean a couple thousand potential militants within the UK borders. This number is what worries the state security people. But it is irresponsible to suspect or accuse every Muslim, and the whole of Islam, of terrorism on the potential attitude of such a small number.

The study also identifies factors that may contribute to the readiness of a young person towards radicalisation: a major life crisis; mental health problems; previously aggressive behaviour; minor criminality. That is to say, religion is not necessarily the root cause, but the recruiters for Daesh look out for such people and offer a religious solution to life’s problems. Additionally, those who are radicalised tend to be young people who have not previously been religious, did not attend mosque, and thus had little religious education. They are ripe for fundamentalist and literalist interpretations of the Qur’an because they do not know what orthodox belief would say.

These young people, born in the UK, even third generation British, thinking of themselves as British, have experienced a crisis of identity in the post-9/11 years, for society at large insists that they are Pakistani, or Bangladeshi; ‘Other’. What Daesh has to offer is an identity—a strong Muslim identity. Islam is, indeed, about power and strength.

The San Bernadino attack introduces the phenomenon of radicalised American-born Muslims to the scene. The task ahead is to learn to what extent the young couple represent a wider tendency in the US. My suspicion is that the sources will be similar to the UK, and the motivation rising out of the consistent policy of bombing the countries they come from. Pakistan has borne the brunt of drone bombings and the high cost in citizen casualties. (This is not to condone or excuse, but to seek to understand the others’ point of view).

Which brings me, fourthly, to the question of how to view the San Bernadino massacre. The combination of mass-shootings and an Islamic motive is a uniquely American combination, in which the Islamic component should not silence discussion of the similarity with other multiple killings with assault weapons. I note that the discussion of the shooting followed the now-normal pattern in the media and politics—shock, calls for gun-control, calls for more guns, calls for prayer—but the discussion only turned to hysteria when it was determined that this was an Islamist attack.

There are two points to make here. The first is that the Trump/Falwell response, and the rising chorus of demands for registration or deportation, is a total collapse in the face of terror. The terrorists win.

The second point is to ask in what way this is to be defined as terrorism as distinct from the shooting in Colorado the week before, or Sandy Hook a year ago. We become more afraid when it is labelled as terrorism. Why are Americans not more afraid of white extremist right-wing men?

 

How shall we respond to those who seek to spread this terror? Let me close with a story. When I arrived in Manchester 34 years ago, I discovered that the community around the church I had come to serve included a significant South Asian minority. As I sought to learn how to minister in this community, it was explained to me that many had come to the UK from Uganda in the early 70s, having been expelled from there by Idi Amin. These people came to what they thought was a Christian country, and were interested to learn what that meant. They were met by racism and exclusion, even from the churches. The Church lost an opportunity to show these newcomers what it means to be Christian. By the time I arrived they had found ways of supporting each other in their own communities, parallel to and apart from interaction with the indigenous community around them. We, Christians, share responsibility for the atmosphere which leads to the circumstances we now face.

The Church in the US is not only replicating the mistake of the British Church, but is compounding it with the reaction of the past weeks.

There is an alternative way. For Christians who wish to show the love of Christ to those around them, who believe that Christ gave himself for the whole world, the alternative is to reach out in friendship, and in hospitality.

(I do believe the British Church has begun increasingly to put this in to practice.)

For those who wonder what you can do, I would encourage you to find out who the Muslims are in your community, to reach out to them, and to offer affirmation and safety by friendship and the love of Christ.

[Sources for statistics can be provided upon request.]

 

D D Swanson

 

Conference booking window extended

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The MCSCI conference, Evangelical Responses to Islamic Revival, is now only 4 weeks away, and we are very pleased with the range of speakers and topics we are able to bring you.

We know that Christmas is taking over a lot of people’s thinking right now – so we have extended the booking window for our conference to make sure everyone who wants to be there can do so – but we cannot hold bookings open forever, so please do secure your space today.

Late Bookings

We still have some spaces for extra delegates, so please do book a place at our conference if you have not already done so! We will be accepting late bookings until at least Thursday 17th December – but book now to avoid possible disappointment.

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Conference approaches with a new name!

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Here at the Centre, we are getting pretty excited about our conference, Evangelical Responses to Islamic Revival. There’s a lot of work still to do but we think it will be a great event.

It’s got even more exciting now that we’ve been able to confirm an extra speaker. Dr Greg Livingstone, who was the founder of Frontiers, will be giving a speech outlining the picture of Believers of a Muslim Background (BMBs) – those who have come from a Muslim culture, family or personal religious conviction and who are now followers of Jesus Christ.

Also speaking at the conference will be:

  • Dr Michael Lodahl (Professor of Theology and World Religions, Point Loma Nazarene University, California)
  • Dr Martin Accad (Director, Institute of Middle East Studies at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary)
  • Dr Salim Munayer (Founder, Musalaha, Jerusalem)
  • Dr Phil Lewis (Lecturer in Peace Studies, University of Bradford/Bradford Churches for Dialogue & Diversity)

In addition to formal Keynote Speeches, there will be a series of smaller discussion groups available for delegates to explore certain issues in the area of Christian responses to Islam today. The issues to be covered will range from the Refugee Crisis to different Muslim groups (the peaceful and the militant), plus matters such as the legitimate uses Christians can have for the Qur’an, and the interplay between human rights and texts such as the Bible and Qur’an.

We hope to see as many people as possible take part in what we expect will be a fantastic event – so if you haven’t already, please book a place at our conference!

The conference itself takes place at Didsbury in south Manchester, from Thursday 7th January to Saturday 9th January 2015. Please book by 10th December, as places are limited and we do not want you to be disappointed.

MCSCI response to recent terrorist attacks

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The shock of the terrorist attack in the centre of Paris has reverberated across the Western world. We grieve at sudden death of innocent people; we are angry at those who brought violence and bloodshed into the midst of our ordinary lives; we suddenly feel horribly vulnerable to the same sort of chaos we have seen enacted across the Middle East—it is one thing to read reports this week from Beirut (40 dead) and Baghdad (26 dead), which we add to the litany of distant tragedies, such as Nigeria (219 school girls kidnapped a year ago) and Kenya (147 students killed in April), but men with suicide vests on European streets suddenly brings it all close to home.

How do we respond? Continue reading

Rearranging the chairs (and the bookcases, desks…)

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No, not a defeatist attitude…but something that has actually happened in the Centre this summer. Half the room has been reorganised, we have gained a new bookcase, and Phil Rawlings (who not long ago told us about his trip to Pakistan) has now given up the pretence of having a proper desk to work at.
So why is this important? It recognises that just as with the church and work with Muslims, resources are almost limitless – but sometimes you have to look at how you do things… Continue reading

MCSCI in Pakistan

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The Christian community in Pakistan has been in the news for very bad reasons over the last few months. I now wish to share something of the courage, perseverance & loyalty of the Christians in Pakistan.

I and two friends spent four days in Karachi, leading a retreat at a theological college, speaking to students and staff, and clergy in the Diocese.
We were very encouraged by the students’ enthusiasm and commitment.

 

Theological education in Pakistan largely depends on ex-patriot teachers. We want to see more Pakistani Christian leaders gain an education good enough to teach.

The Diocese of Manchester has a formal link with the Diocese of Lahore, and we flew there to build on this link.
One of our party was interested in exploring how to creatively help community development in Lahore’s Christian communities.

 

I had three main aims:

  1. to develop friendships & partnership with leaders and Christians in the Diocese
  2. to explore the recruitment of students for the MA Theology course at Nazarene Theological College: they would then have a basis to teach their peers.
  3. to build links with Christian publishing houses, to supply the new Alexandria Christian Bookshop on the Curry Mile in Manchester.

We achieved all three – I interviewed seven possible students, and a two-year distance learning course is planned for them (subject to funding).
I contacted three publishers, and their products should be on sale in Manchester soon, and the links between Manchester and Lahore grow stronger every visit.

132 children & staff were killed at an Army school in Peshawar a month before I arrived. The tension was considerable and the army were on the streets.
Every school now has higher walls, razor wire, roof-top snipers & armed guards. Christian schools are especially warned, but children continue to come.

 

Before heading home, I shared in some interfaith dialogue, and also met some Believers from a Muslim Background – two of them evangelists in their home areas.

It was a very exciting trip, and I look forward to developing the links with the Church in Pakistan, and ask you to pray for the brave Christians there, as they face constant discrimination, and sometimes severe persecution.

Thanks for your support.

Christianity: A crash course for Muslims

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This week we have some visitors from Turkey.

A Gothic cathedral with grey and green lead roofing, nestled between Victorian and modernist city centre buildings

Manchester Cathedral (aerial view)

Arranged through the British Muslim Heritage Centre, 10 students are joining us for a week-long introduction to Christianity in the West. The aim is to explain clearly what makes our faith and its expression unique, and also to demonstrate the historical and current influence of Christian belief and practice on British society and culture.

A mug of coffeeAs we are now in the Muslim month of Ramadan, our visitors will be joining other Muslims in fasting from food (and in most cases drink) during daylight. The day’s activity at our base – NTC –  revolves around the morning coffee break. This gives an interesting perspective to their experience: By joining us at coffee time but not drinking anything, the Muslims will be able to witness to us in a very practical way, while we have a unique opportunity to not only give some formal instruction on Christianity but also what living as a Christian looks like in Britain. We hope this will lead to some interesting discussions between our visitors, staff, and NTC’s Postgraduate students who are currently working on their dissertations!

Any Christians who feel called to pray for our Muslim guests, or for Muslims they know, may find the 30 Days resource useful – a website with guidance on prayer for Muslims during Ramadan. There is also a UK-specific version of the site where you can order a physical prayer guide.

Joining the Family: Findings

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Background

Last week, MCSCI hosted one of several seminar days currently planned across the UK titled “Joining the Family“.  The seminar days were prompted by the discussions of a nationwide group of around 40 people.  The initial group, both Christian Believers of a Muslim Background (BMBs) and members of the churches they joined, fleshed out the issues in Birmingham last May (2013).  They covered both concerns around knowing how to help new BMBs, and also how to answer questions from Muslims.

Manchester

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MCSCI’s Joining the Family seminar in progress

This time, about the same number of people based around Greater Manchester, met to share the knowledge gained – not just in that initial discussion, but also the everyday experience of people from churches across the city.

The aim is that the core “Joining the Family” group will produce resources including a teaching course for churches to both understand the issues and to be equipped to help new disciples of Christ.

Here are some of the findings from the day:

Implications for new BMBs range from a new ‘voice’ – especially for women, to a loss of honour & community persecution.  There may be confusion over what is Christian rather than Western, in areas such as how genders relate to each other.  Despite a passion to learn, there may be issues to deal with including lies or misleading information BMBs have previously heard about Christianity.

The group drew up various ideas of what the Church could and should do to support BMBs, both internal (respecting and knowing our own scriptures) and external (encouraging BMBs to continue their own culture rather than becoming fully Westernised, learning the power of an honour/shame culture).

Interested?

If you want to know more about the Joining the Family programme and the planned teaching course, please contact us and – if you have not already – sign up to receive our newsletters.

Welcome to MCSCI

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Welcome the website of the Manchester Centre for the Study of Christianity and Islam.

The Centre is a project supported by Nazarene Theological College, aiming to create a centre of educational excellence in the area of Christianity and Islam.

If you would like to receive our newsletters, designed for churches and Christians who might be interested in our work, please sign up to our mailing list.

If you would like to talk to someone about the centre and what is likely to be offered contact the Centre Directors.

Directors:

Revd. Canon Phil Rawlings

prawlings@nazarene.ac.uk

Tel: 0161 438 1926 (Ext. 1935)

 

Revd. Dr. Dwight D. Swanson

dswanson@nazarene.ac.uk

Tel: 0161 438 1926 (Ext. 1928)

 

The Vision:

The centre seeks to work through teaching, learning, resourcing, equipping, and facilitating encounter and reflection in multiple ways.

¨      at the grassroots, to engage people and churches and raise awareness of the need for Christians to encounter Muslim people and develop an understanding of the Islamic faith, traditions and practices;

¨      by developing specific classes and programmes that explore ways Christians can encounter and engage with Islam in local and global settings;

¨      partnering with others to train people engaged in mission;

¨      developing research-led practice in relation to Islam and Christianity; with academic excellence, resourcing the global church with specialists.