Some RS notes

State Three religious traditions, other than Christianity, in Great Britain.

 

Explain Two reasons why the Trinity is important to Christians.

 

Explain two ways Christians respond to the problem of evil and suffering.

In your answer you must refer to a source of wisdom and authority. (5)

 

Atheists believe in NO GOD

AGNOSTICS believe it is impossible to Know

Quotations:

 

On evil

he promises to comfort his servants (Psalm 119: 66-76)

 

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field’ (Genesis 3: 17-18)

 

‘inasmuch as ye do it unto one of one of the least of these… ye have done it unto me’ (Matthew 25:31-46)

 

on creation and arguments for God:

I am alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Revelations 1:8; 22.13

 

Genesis 1-2 God creates in 6 days (some people take this literally – see my drawings for this)

Koran 79:27- Allah constructed it

All humans descend from Adam

Isaiah 42: 12: It is I who made the earth

Maimonides (Jewish scholar): “If it is created in time, it undoubtedly has a creator”

 

Upbringing:

Proverbs 22:6: Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

abraham and the angels

The Trinity:

Matthew 3:16-17

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

 

325 AD The Nicene Creed (written) at the council of Nicea and recited in Church services especially on Sundays (Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican)

and the Council of Constantinople in 381 defined the concept of the TRINITY

 

John 14:16-17: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

creation

Genesis chapter 2 (slightly different story:)

creation part 2

 

Design argument: the classical design argument for the existence of God and its use by Christians as a philosophical argument for the existence of God; divergent understandings about what the design argument may show about the nature of God for Christians, including Romans 1:18–24; Christian responses to non-religious (including atheist and Humanist) arguments against the design argument as evidence for the existence of God.

 

Many Christians believe in the design argument- this proves the role of God in the universe.

The universe does not exist just by chance- there (a) is a purpose to everything or (b) a rule that governs everything

 

Surah 2:164 “the creation of the heavens and the earth, night and day, winds and clouds are a sign for people who use reason”

Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

 

Two main ideas of design argument: 1) by Aquinas- the rule argument. (inanimate things still are governed by “rules”; today this still works if we think of the universal rule of “gravity”)

2) purpose or complexity: idea of William Paley (the watch metaphor on the heath. Every part of the watch was designed) even the smallest items in the universe seem to have a purpose. Think of the way climate change has spiraled out of control because we used fossil fuels.

 

William paley thinks of the complexity of a watch and compares this to the complexity of the human eye (many parts combine to support a single function)

Could not happen just by chance!

 

Many parts

Sophisticated machinery

 

(think of the fibonacci sequence in spiral shells and the arrangement of petals on a flower. They follow a RULE)

 

(Fine tuning theory of science: the existence of water, the goldilocks region where the earth is situated in the solar system.. the conditions of earth are uniquely suitable for sustain human life)

 

BUT: This is not the God of religion:

But even if God were a divine watchmaker or rule-giver, he does not need to exit now, and does not need to be a single God. Could be a factory of watchmakers…

 

 

Some people are not convinced. CHARLES DARWIN puts forward the theory of evolution (the survival of the fittest)

In 2009 a survey found that 37% of people in Britain accepted the principle of evolution. (is beyond reasonable doubt”)

Some people think that evolution can be reconciled to the design principle: God started off the process (maybe he no longer exists)

 

Everything has a beginning. Nothing comes from nothing (Parmenides)

 

2.7 Cosmological argument: the cosmological argument for the existence of God and its use by Christians as a philosophical argument for the existence of God; divergent understandings about what the cosmological argument shows about the nature of God for Christians, including Thomas Aquinas’ First Three Ways of showing God’s existence; (Cosmological argument) Christian responses to non-religious (including atheist and Humanist) arguments against the cosmological argument as evidence for the existence of God.

 

The Cosmological argument has its origins in ISLAM:

 

Kalam, argument by al Ghazali

actual infinite cannot exist

Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

The universe began to exist.

The universe has a cause of its existence. (so, the universe ‘s existence proves the existence of God)

Ghazali wrote: Kitab al-lqtisad fil’ltiqad =moderation in belief

 

He believes in the dignity (sharf) of knowledge

If All knowledge comes from God (God created us as thinking beings) then we can use our knowledge to get to the point where we can understand revelation. Religion and reason should be in harmony.

 

(1) Thus, all knowledge or science must lead towards reaching the ultimate reality of God, to the extent possible given human capabilities.

(2) The potentialities of human knowledge are affirmed by Islam in its recognition of various registers and abilities, including external and internal senses, reason, intuition, and revelation.

(3) Moreover, all knowledge must be established with certainty,

knowledge. the rational and logical method, independent of intuition and revelation, could also lead to a level or a form of certainty

Surah 79 27-33

 

 

The Mediaeval scholars in Europe like Thomas Aquinas were influenced by Muslim thought (because of the Muslim population in southern Spain)

Aquinas (13th Century 1225-74) defined 5 ways to philosophically prove the existence of God. The first three form the COSMOLOGICAL argument

 

-argument from Motion (everything is in motion(Heraclitus). Something started all that motion)

Argument from Cause (everything is caused in a long chain of cause and effect. There was an original first cause)

Argument from Contingency

(Everything we know is dependent on something else. At some point there was therefore nothing. As nothing can come from nothing, and as there is clearly something now, them must be a being on which everything else depends. So that non-contingent/ necessary being is God)

 

There is also a 6th way invented by Anselm of Canterbury (11th century) called the Ontological argument which tries to prove the existence ofn God by simply defining what God is (that than which nothing greater can be considered, or in 17th Century, God is perfection, a re-boot of the argument by Rene Descartes)

 

 

OBJECTIONS:

1) BUT: If everything has a cause, why is there an exception for God. (God is the uncaused first cause. Why could we not say the universe is the uncaused first cause?)

2) no evidence that the first cause is actually “God”

3) some people think the big bang is the first cause. Some other people ask what caused the big bang – In fact, this is a silly question. The big bang creates TIME and SPACE so we cannot ask what is before time and space…

 

Big bang first defined by Georges LeMaitre (Belgium catholic priest)- so religion and science do not have to be in opposition)

 

2.8 Religious upbringing: Christian teachings about raising children to believe in God, including reference to Proverbs 22:6; features of a Christian upbringing and why they may lead to belief in God; Christian responses to non-religious (including atheist and Humanist) arguments about why a religious upbringing may result in a rejection of God’s existence

 

Atheism assumes an initial belief in God

Atheism is about a rejection of THEISM

 

Principles of the family:

Ideas of modesty and the role of women may be rejected by some people today

Ideas of gender equality may be more emphasised today than in Bible

Traditional role of the marriage may be questioned by development of legally recognised gay marriage

Laws that redefine marriage:

Same sex marriage legislation: Marriage (same sex) couples act 2014

Adoption and Children Act 2002 –allows single parents and gay couples to adopt

Statistics:

In UK, in 2011 only 1 in 3 marriages involves a religious ceremony and 33% end in divorce (society has become more secular)

 

St Paul to Ephesians: 5.21-22: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

 

Galatians 3: 28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

Pope John Paul II: Men should truly esteem and love women with total respect for their personal dignity, and society should create and develop conditions favouring work in the home.

 

Genesis 2:8: The Lord God said ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’

 

1 Timothy 5:8: If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

 

Ephesisans 6:1-4:

Children, obey your parents…Parents, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the instruction of the Lord.

 

Passing on traditions:

Deuteronomy: 6:5-6: These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

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Travel bans

The current stand-off between Holland and Turkey actually centres around the divisive figure of Gert Wilders and his supporters across Europe. Certainly, his attitude to Islam and to the treatment of refugees makes the charge of Fascism seem quite reasonable. What is more worrying is that this current fight may well bounce Wilders into power after Wednesday. The whole story shows Europe in the very worst light possible. It looks xenophobic, cheap and chaotic.

Gert Wilders by TIM

A few points are well worth noting. The first is that the various attempts to stop Turkish ministers from speaking in Europe have been couched in the language of “putting public order and safety in jeopardy”, but in fact there is clearly an agenda going back weeks if not months to stop these rallies at all cost. Indeed, this is what Mark Rutte originally wrote on his facebook,

“Many Dutch people with a Turkish background are authorized to vote in the referendum over the Turkish constitution. The Dutch government does not have any protest against gatherings in our country to inform them about it,…But these gatherings may not contribute to tensions in our society and everyone who wants to hold a gathering is obliged to follow instructions of those in authority so that public order and safety can be guaranteed.”

What I find particularly disturbing, therefore, is the late claim by the Dutch Prime Minister filmed by AlJazeera that holding a rally to promote a political cause in another country is actually illegal in Holland. This is how the AlJazeera joiurnalists have documented the comments later:

In the Netherlands it is illegal to hold a public rally about another country’s politics.

“The Dutch authorities appear not to want to allow any Turkish government minister to address any rally in this country,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Rotterdam, said.

“That’s in their law, and all the parties appear to be supporting the position of the government.”

However, no one appeared to think it was illegal before Saturday and before the damage had been d0ne! Indeed, Dutch News reported a few days ago ”

Legal experts say that the government has few options but that Aboutaleb can ban the meeting on public order grounds.
http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/03/dutch-look-at-legal-options-to-stop-turkish-referendum-rally/

It would have made so much more sense, then, if it is truly the case that it is illegal to hold foreign rallies, to have said that at the outset, rather than to have whimpered on about “security and timing”. It smacks of mendacity. It is certainly not straightforward and it is thoroughly regrettable.

More to the point, there is a good record of Mr Wilders’ lengthy campaign to stop these rallies and of his personal opinion of Mr Erdoğan. The British press have chosen to conflate the various events of the last few days, suggesting that Mr Erdoğan’s language was intemperate and that the removal of the Family Minister was sparked by that. In fact, Mr Erdoğan was simply articulating the fact that Mr Wilders’ campaign was winning and I certainly do not see a vast gulf between the sort of things Mr Wilders promotes and the views of Fascism.

It has been a view certainly shared by the UK which issued its own travel ban to Mr Wilders, in force from 2006 to 2009. Following his most recent visits at the request of Lord Pearson, and Baroness Cox, and the screening of his film, “Fitna”, the Home office noted that his “statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him”. It is unclear what the official British position might be, but Maxime Verhagen was quite candid. She said,

“He incites discord among people in a distasteful manner. And in the meantime he damages the interests of the Dutch population and the reputation of the Netherlands in the world”. In the article where this is quoted, Wilders is also abusive of the President Erdoğan: “En de Turkse premier Erdogan noemde hij een ‘total freak’.”“Verhagen: Wilders beschadigt reputatie Nederland” 

Indeed, as Lord Ahmed said, Mr Wilders’ presence in the UK was a platform to “provoke violence and hatred”. He has clearly done that in Holland, and the effects of his manipulation are now dictating the way Turkey behaves. What a mess!

The Rohingya

In January this year, following a visit to Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Human rights envoy to Myanmar said,

“There are more than a million Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar deprived of some of their most fundamental rights. This is a million too many.”

She met privately with Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw to discuss the future of the Rohingya.

These people have rightly attracted the attention of the International community. They are abandoned and rejected, and many have tried to escape by boat to nearby States. In Myanmar, they are seen as a “self-defined” an unregistered Islamic community with a militant past, at a time of growing anti-Muslim prejudice. The Rakhine province, isolated by a range of mountains from the rest of Burma, was independent before it was annexed in 1785, and the only text from before the late 20th Century to mention the Rohingya by name dates to just 14 years after this annexation. Rakhine was then a stronghold of Buddhism, with a celebrated Statue of the Buddha, the Mahamuni image, which was later transported to Mandalay. Maybe there is a sense that the State has been sidelined and this is shared by both the Buddhist and Islamic communities. Today, certainly, Rakhine Buddhists say they feel vulnerable.

Aung San Suu Kye on the TODAY programme 24th October 2013

What appears to be a simple humanitarian issue shown in the 2013 Meiktila campaign, the deaths and destroyed homes that followed, the atrocities in Mandalay in 2014, the rise of 969 and in the grotesque camps of Sittwe, and an appalling example of State brutality is by no means straightforward. It is compounded by support for Aung San Suu Kyi who seems to follow an agenda in this instance that is comparable to the Nationalist agenda of her father. In a shocking interview with Mishal Husain that she gave to the BBC’s Today programme in October 2013, she justifies the exclusion of the Rohingya community in terms of the war on terror (what she calls “worldwide perception”) and allegedly commented afterwards, “no one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”. Her comments on and off record seem to suggest that (a) Aung San Suu Kyi is herself prejudiced and (b) that if she wanted to do something to help the community, she could. Significantly, however, she does not deny the rights of the Rohingya to live legitimately in Myanmar. She simply denies that muslims have been subject to a form of ethnic cleansing and goes on to say that

“Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subject to violence.”

In that interview, she suggests that the violence suffered by the Rohingya is about adjusting to the demands of becoming “a genuine democratic society.” Yet at the same time, she makes no offer to award the Rohingya any citizenship.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s views are actually supported academically by people like Christian Fink, an anthropologist who admits that the Rohingya have been denied citizenship, but also notes the “Buddhist Rakhine population’s fears of a Muslim takeover.” (“Living silence”). This is no reason to deny healthcare, education and citizenship. It also does not address the historical record that the Rohingya voted in the first Constituent Assembly Elections of an independent Burma in 1947. If they were accepted then, it does not really make sense that they are excluded now.

aung san suu kyi by tim.jpgMuch was expected of Aung San Suu Kyi and in 2015, the Dalai Lama observed, “It’s very sad. I mentioned about this problem and she told me she found some difficulties, that things were not simple but very complicated. But in spite of that I feel she can do something.” The Pope has joined criticisms observing that the Rohingya are targeted “simply because they want to live their culture and their Muslim faith.”

Official Silence and Actual threats

Since this interview, Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to take action, and remained silent about the Rohingya, whose plight has simply got worse. This has involved a rise in hate-speech, travel controls, population control, signed by the then President Thein Sein, to restrict the number of children as well as a migration, now thwarted on rickety boats to Thailand and Malaysia. The few refugees who today make it through, are left in no doubt about their country of origin. whiteboards declare them to be from Burma. In October 2016, Benedict Rogers notes that 2000 Rohingyan villagers were held in fields by the army.

This is what John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, said:

“Right now, it is routine for Burmese politicians, Burmese people in all walks of life, to say extremely reactionary and hateful things about the Rohingya population of Burma. Nobody is standing up and saying, ‘No, this is not what democracy is, what modern pluralistic societies are like. Aung San Suu Kyi could have been that person, and she failed to do that.”

The militant monks

The Rohingya face the rising popularity of demagogue monks, among them Ashin Wirathu, Ashin Wimala, and Ashin Parmoukkha who stretch the pacific image of Buddhist monasticism to breaking-point, though arguably it is nothing new (cf U. Ottoma also from Rakhine). They also face political discrimination from a topsy-turvy understanding of law, like Section 295 designed to prevent inter-religious conflict, now used to silence any criticism of Buddhist Nationalism. A new law purporting to be for the Protection of Race and Religion forbids conversion and inter-marriage.

Anti-Muslim propaganda, as well as Rakhine Buddhist fears threaten even greater violence that may entrench community divisions and deepen hostility. This may well explain Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence as, after 50- years of military rule, Myanmar is finally moving towards democracy. While the local population is broadly behind the Democracy movement, it does not seem sympathetic to efforts by the international community to solve the Rohingya problem. The muslim population of Myanmar, of which the Rohingya is now the majority, makes up only 4% of the whole population. In 2015, following the rescue of 1000 refugees off the coast of Ayeyarwady Region, protestors led by monks, demanded the expulsion of what they called the “bengalis”. Initial slogans critical of the UNHCR were removed but slogans demanding that “INGO/NGO respect the truth” remained. The truth they wanted to assert is that the Rohingyas have no right to be in Myanmar at all.

The Union Citizenship Act of 1948

This act, following an earlier act the previous year, and coming just a few years after a serious massacre of the Rohingya by “the Rakhine Maghs”, restricted citizenship to any person “from ancestors who for two generation at least all made any of the terriories included within the Union of Burma their permanent home and whose parents and himself were born in any such territories.” (Section 11 iv) Following this, many Rohingyas were formally registered, given identity cards (NRCs) and allowed to vote. (under section 30 of the 1950 Burma Population Registration Rules states that no foreigner may be thus registered). One wonders, incidentally, how long a foreigner needs to be resident before he or she qualifies for citizenship, of course! This is what MA Gaffer, a member of Parliament, said at the time,

“Though Rohingyas resemble a little with the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), their literature, names and tittles, dresses, languages, customs and cultures are as difference as the sky and the earth. Therefore to regard Rohingyas as Chittagonians is a grevious hurt to Rohingyas and a matter of tragedy and a great blow to Rohingya and far from actual history.”

“Although Rohingya’s culture, tradition, history and civilization are not inferior to that of other indigenous races of Burma, Rohingyas are always victims of persecutions, specially, the immigration used to arrest them. In June 1959, 76 Rohingyas were rounded and arrested in Akyab and Mayu districts by the  immigration and were sent to Rangoon by steamer for ultimate dispatch to Gawdu-thoung in Pyapon District.”

“…Section 4(2) of the Union Citizenship Act. also pointed out that those persons whose ancestors had made Burma for two generation as their home and who and whose parents were born in Burma were also citizens of the Union. It had been observed by the court that in Union of Burma there were races who could not speak the Burmese language and who nevertheless were citizens of the Union of Burma.”

In the early 1950s, Government officials, including the Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, and the Defence Minister U Ba Swe confirmed the identity and rights of the Rohingya. This is what UBa Swe said in November 1959,

“The Rohingyas are equal in every way with other minority races like the Shan, Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Mon, and Rakhaine. They have lived in Myanmar Naing Ngan for ages, accordingly to historical facts. They are of the Islamic faith. There is historical evidence that they have lived faithfully and harmoniously with other races of the Union.”

Confusion over 1973 census

There are two approaches to the historical evidence: the first is to establish the origin of the Rohingya peoples and the second is to establish the use of the name “rohingya” itself. the two issues, however, are often (deliberately?) confused by people on both sides of the debate. Certainly, the modern term is a political construct while the weight of evidence suggests that the Rohingya have been in Myanmar for about seven centuries, though there is some confusion about nomenclature.

In the 1973 census, though, they were recognised along with 142 other ethnic groups. This put into law the statement by the Prime Minister in 1960 on Sept 25 that the Rohingya of Arakan were one of the ethnic races of Burma.

However, this was later delisted, admitting only the Kamen to the number of recognised Muslim groups. While this effectively made the Rohingya “foreigners” in Arakan, local Government records at the time do not note an increase in the number of registered aliens. Indeed, in 1972 there are 1192 foreigners recorded by the Arakan Divisional security and administration committee, while in 1975-6, there are 1037 people recorded in the three monthly report by the Arakan State people’s council. No adjustment is allowed for the thousands of Rohingya excluded in the delisting.

1982 Citizenship law

The Rohingya appear today to be utterly displaced, rejected both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar.

“There is after all, very little in common – except common religion – between the Rohingya of Arakan and the Indian Muslims of Rangoon or Burmese Muslim of the Shwebo district. These are different groups that do not identify with each other, do not share the same goal and aspiration.” Moshe Yegar, The Muslim of Burma: A Study of a Minority Group  p. 111

But I believe the Political key to their future lies in the repeal of a fairly recent 1982 Citizenship law which defined citizens as Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and other ethnic groups settled within Myanmar before 1823. At the same time, this law accepts the Rakhine historians’ claim that the Rohingya were slaves settled in Myanmar after the first Anglo-Burmese war in 1824 and therefore foreigners. (It is this law that effectively brands the Rohingya as foreign, non-indigenous and/or “illegal immigrants” without cultural, religious or social ties to Myanmar) But even so, aliens should be given proper human rights.

Moreover, if the law were quite as clear as it appears, I do not understand why the Myanmar government repatriated so many refugees from the 1992 Rohingya exodus.

The 2 groups

The issue is complicated by the existence of two lists of ethnic groups that underpin the 1982 Citizenship law, one of 101 groups, that is pre-colonial, and a later one that includes 135 specific groups. Neither list mentions the Rohingya. It seems that any legal advance must involve a review of these lists and a recognition that the strict definitions of the past need to be loosened today. In other words, a solution to the Rohingya problem should involve change throughout the country. Some observers question whether it is even right to talk about “national races”.

Defining a group

It is certainly not clear how any of these groups were ever actually defined- is this by self-awareness, language, political affiliation, or some sort of (dare I say?) colour-coding? There is a fundamental, legal and philosophical question that underpins this: Is ethnic identity something we choose for ourselves or something that is imposed on us? Identity is often contested; it is actually fairly fluid and becomes more so as one group is exposed, intermarries and interacts with another.

This is what a British writer in 1945 records,

“The Musulman Arakanese generally known as Bengalis or Chittagonians, quite incorrectly…To look at, they are quite unlike any other product of India or Burma that I have seen. They resemble the Arab in name, in dress and in habit. The women and more particularly the young girls, have distinctive Arab touch about them.. .As a race they have been here over two hundred years.” Anthony lrwin, Burmese Outpost (London: Collins, 1945) p.22.

Just to draw an uncomfortable parallel here- The concept of Jewishness may have seemed clear to the Nazis, but it would not be a definition shared by the average Jewish beth din. In other words, identity is by no means a clear-cut issue.

A solution today?

International Observers today tend to favour the government granting full citizenship and rights to the Rohingya community, but this solution also overlooks the growing tension on the ground. A solution “from above” or from outside the country itself would be unlikely to sort out the tension between the communities, and given the jigsaw of differing ethnic groups that make-up modern-day Myanmar, a solution that is rejected by the Buddhist majority threatens to tear apart this newly emerging Nation.

De facto recognition from 1961-1964

In this historic process of ethnic categorization, the Rohingya has been a largely illiterate group, now denied basic education, that falls by the way. Nevertheless, there is a collective understanding among the Rohingya that they have lived together in the North of Rakhine state for many generations.

Indeed, from 1961-1964, under the “Mayu Frontier Administration” (MFA)there appears to have been some sort of de facto recognition of the community which was governed as a separate province from the rest of Rakhine by the Burmese army. Rohingya language programmes were broadcast on the radio from May 1961-March 1965.

The name “Rohingya”

There are four distinct etymologies that I can find.

The first is that the name Rohingya appears to be an indian form of Rakhine. Bluntly, the term Rohingya could mean simply the people who live in Rakhine. The second, that it derives from the terms Rohai and Roshangee which denote Muslim peoples in old Arakan. It could be a version of the word “Roshanga”, used in Bengali literature in the Chittagong region. Thirdly, it is suggested that it is a corruption of the arabic term Rahim (blessing) or Raham Borri, meaning the Land of God’s blessing.

The fourth etymology is most interesting because it suggests the word derives from the Magh language and refers to the Pathan General Wali Khan and General Sandi Khan who helped to restore Narameikhia to the throne of Longgeret, setting up the Maruk-u-Dynasty in 1433. Narameikhia had formerly been in exile in Bengal.

It is clear that from the 1950s, the Rohingya has emerged as a political and military unit (the RLP and from 1974, the RPF led by Muhammad Jafar Habib and the RSO, disbanded in 1998) with an aim to defining a homeland within Myanmar. The community represents today the “largest Muslim community in Burma” (Andrew Selth 2003). The Rohingya appears to have defined itself in the 1950s but that does not rule out a clear historical record of the community in Myanmar that goes back much further. Three issues are linked: the legal status of the group, the humanitarian crisis and human rights’ violations. The Buddhist Rakhine community have, for the last 30 years contested the legitimacy of the group and it is not immediately clear from the modern debate whether there is a culturally distinct muslim identity but the same debate also confirms the view that the Buddhist majority is the aggressor and the Muslim minority the victim.

“A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire” by Francis Buchanan 1799

History is about perception and, in this case, there are 3 competing historical narratives, from Arakan, Burma and the Rohingya.

The documented history of the Rohingya -“the people that call themselves Rohingya” as David Steinberg (OUP) in 2009 classifies them- begins with an 18th Century reference which is worth examining. That single instance seems to establish both the existence of the community in Myanmar as well as its own claims to a unique and geographical identity. The 18th Century source, admittedly Colonial, specifically deals with the dialect employed by the Rohingya. In the text, Hamilton says that this is one of the dialects of the Burma empire “spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.”

Claims to earlier communities from 8th Century

There is an argument that the Rohingya community today is the remnant of a much older Bengali settlement that might even predate the arrival of the Buddhist communities. DGE Hall writes, “The Burmese do not seem to have settled in Arakan until possibly as late as 10~ century AD. Hence earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over a population similar to that of Bengal. All the capitals known to history have been in the north near Akyab.”(M.S. Coilis and San Shwe Bu, “Arakan’s Place in the Civilization of the Bay,” Journal of the Burrma Research Society, 50th Anniversary’ Publication, No. 2, Rangoon, 1960, p.486. Hall, D.G.E., A History of South East Asia. (London: Macmillan, 1958) pp328, 389.) and there is a record of Muslim trading in the area  going back to the reign of King Mahatyaing Chandra (780-810). Shipwrecked muslim sailors are said to have settled in villages in Arakan by decree of the Arakanese king. (Sir Arthur P. Phayre, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XII, Part I, 1844, p.36. SLORC Government, Thathana Yong War Hmn Zay Poh. Rangoon, 1997, pp. 65-70. M.A. Rahim, Social & Cultural History of Bengal, Vol. I, Karachi, 1963, p.37. U Kyi, B.A. (History Distinction), Myanmar Jazawin Thi Hmet Bweya Apyapya, pp 156-157. The Glass Palace Choronicle, Vol. 2, p. 186.) Ceratinly, tehre is evidence of a large number of captives taken back to Arakan after the rebellion in Chittagong in 1246. As Bengal became Muslim in 1203, it is reasonable to assume that these captives were predominantly Muslim.

The kings of Arakan acquired Muslim titles from their association with Bengal. A stone inscription from 1442 speaks of Muslim kings of Arakan. It is certainly not clear that these were Muslim kings as is sometimes claimed.

19th Century observations of a distinct Muslim group in Rakhine

A protestant missionary, JC Fink who omits the term Rohingya but can hardly be describing another community says, “They were not Mughs converted to the Mahomedan faith, but bona fide Musulmans whose ancestors had been imported into the province from Bengal… Many still retain the language and habits of their forefathers;”

In 1834-1844, another Missionary, Cormstock records “within a few years past, many BengaleeMusselmans have immigrated to Arakan, to get higher wages and better living, than they could procure in Chittagong” (Notes on Arakan) and Charles Paton estimates the size of the Rohiongya population in Rakhine to have been about 1/3 of the total population. The Reverend Comstock puts it at a more moderate 10%. By 1869, when a more reliable census was conducted, it appears to be 5% rising to 30% in 1912. In James Baxter’s report on Indian Immigration in 1941, he estimates that 1/5 of the Rakhine population was of Indian origin. Much changed the following year when Burma was invaded by the Japanese.

It seems that a report published in The Scotsman, and reprinted on the same day in the Hindustan Standard in 1949 established the current attitude in Myanmar to the Rohingya. It reads:

“the great majority of Arakan Moslems are said to be really Pakistanis from Chittagong, even if they have been settled here for a generation. Of the 130,000 Moslems here, 80,000 are still Pakistani citizens.”

While a number of authors have confidently asserted like Andrew Selth, that “most Rohingyas arrived with the British colonialists in the 19th and 20th Centuries” (Burma’s Muslims:Terrorists or terrorised?”), there seems little further evidence to confirm this claim. Until the 1990s, in Myanmar, the same group that is identified in the 18th Century and is possibly enlarged by Colonial movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries is routinely been referred to by non-muslims in Burma/Myanmar as “Bengalis” or, during the Colonial time, as “Chittagonians”. In modern Burma, there are a range of often derogatory terms used to describe any Muslims, from “kalar” and “mus” and “Bengali”. To further confuse the issue, it is indisputable that a number of migrations from Bangladesh have swelled the Rohingyan numbers considerably, after 1971 and then again in the early 1990s.

Human Rights watch 1993 refers to “Burmese refugees from Arakan”; an account in 1995 by Martin Smith notes a distinction between

“those who have traditionally described themselves as ‘Arakanese Muslims’ as a religious group within the Arakanese people- and those Muslim nationalists, largely concentrated in the north, who prefer to call themselves ‘Rohingyas’.” (The muslim Rohingyas of Burma 1995)

In contrast, it is also well-documented that the Rohingya are not recognised as such in Burma/Myranmar. So, “the muslim Rohingya in Arakan State are not recognised as an ethnic group by the SPDC but rather are labelled as ‘illegal immigrants'” (Mikael Gravers 2007). Indeed, recent reports from Al Jezeera suggest that if Rohingya are prepared to accept that they are immigrants and have not lived for generations in the State, then they might stand a chance of getting residence permits. I fear this is simply a ruse to get Rohingya to confirm their status as aliens and to abandon their claims to a homeland.

A number of Burmese writers beginning with KhinMaung Saw have written a good deal to establish that there is not a reliable record of the term “Rohingya” in use before 1950. Indeed, the name itself is missing from the 1951 “charter of the Constitutional Demands of the Arakani Muslims”. But this is by no means a secure way to establish or deny an identity. Even the fact that there have been official acknowledgments of Rohingya rights at various times over the last 70 years should be enough to guarantee those rights today. More than that, a group and individuals confirming residence in the country for so many years should not be denied rights.

 

Recommendation

About a month ago, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson visited Myanmar, following up a visit by David Cameron in 2012. Although the military retain control over key ministries, and new laws about foreign relatives prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from taking up her rightful position as President, but even as Foreign Secretary, she is the effective leader of the country. There remains a significant exodus from Rakhine, with 66000 fleeing to Bangladesh because of a military crackdown since October. 65000 are registered as living in camps. There are stories emerging of brutality, arson, rape, murder and infanticide. This is unacceptable. But while condemning the violence, we must also condemn the “delisting” of the Rohingya and demand that they are given proper recognition. It is their lack of citizenship and questions about their identity that has encouraged such brutality. What is clear from even a quick review of the history of the Rohingya is that they have had rights to citizenship in the past and there are no reasons for the current Myanmar government to refuse these same rights today. Rather than silence or petulance about who interviews her, Aung San Suu Kyi should be giving proper leadership on this issue. She needs to ensure that ships offering humanitarian help are routinely supported, that a political solution is found, and that proper education and representation is provided to the Rohingya peoples and their Buddhist neighbours. This is an opportunity to empower the State of Rakhine as much as it is a demand that Myanmar observe international norms and demonstrate that prejudice and discrimination have no place in modern democracy.

Some other references

Aye, Sumon and Aung Ye Maung Maung. “Myanmar Arrests Hundreds After Mandalay Violence.” Voice of America, July 7, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-arrests-hundreds-after-mandalay-violence/1952483.html.

VOA News. “Myanmar Police Break Up Buddhist Mob.” Voice of America, July 2, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-police-break-up-buddhist-mob/1949083.html.

Reuters. “Myanmar Buddhists Threaten to Kill Muslims.” Voice of America, July 4, 2014, News/Asia. http://www.voanews.com/content/myanmar-buddhists-threaten-to-kill-muslims/1950712.html.

http://www.dvb.no/analysis/the-r-word-and-its-ramifications-burma-myanmar-rohingya/43271

The fact that a colonial power does not acknowledge the identity of a particular group or calls it something else should not be the basis on which the same group is treated in post-colonial times. Nor indeed has it always been in Myanmar. While local prejudice may have been on-going, it is only relatively recently that this has been compounded by National “delisting” and institutionalised Islamophobia.

 the designation “Rohingya” was completely unknown to the British who administered Arakan from 1826 to 1948. It is not to be found in any of the eight censuses compiled between 1872 and 1941. Nor does it appear in any gazetteers, reports or other official documents, nor yet in private reminiscences and correspondence. This total absence of any British record has readily been acknowledged by the Muslim politician U Kyaw Min, who was only released from prison in January 2012 and has a brilliant pedigree as a fighter for freedom and democracy, a former member of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament during the dark days of the military regime, and currently chairman of the Democracy and Human Rights Party.

But U Kyaw Min went on to say: “Then what about some present-day Rakhine state ethnic peoples: Mramagyi and Dai-net who are also not found in British censuses?” The implication is that the British did not really know what was going on…” DEREK TONKIN 17th Aug 2014

Richard Hering (TV Journalist who has worked with indiginous people- “Plunder for Profit: the UK and Brazilian mahogany trade”) writes:

Colonial records can be a dubious source for establishing the history of an ethnic group, for all kinds of reasons. For instance, the favouring of one cooperative group over another may result in the mis-characterisation of the latter for political reasons, as happened in Kenya. The Belgian empire in Rwanda classified two inter-related and -married groups as Hutu or Tutsi based on their appearance, again for reasons of control, with genocidal consequences later. Often names are simply misunderstood or mis-translated, for instance the group known as the Kayapo in the eastern Amazon do not call themselves that name – it’s actually a rude name given them by other groups (“those who look like monkeys”). Also many indigenous peoples have in recent decades started to use again older names so as to revive or preserve their identity, or have taken an ancient name which does not have a strict continuous lineage, nor even necessarily an unimpeachable historical source, in order to argue for their rights as a people.

It is important also to see also this rebuttal of Tonkin: http://www.newmandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Rebuttal-to-Tonkin-long.pdf

The ethnogenesis of the Rohingya which I have tried to sketch out in this article does not make it a more “artificial” or “invented” ethnicity than any other, but it does not fit easily in the all too narrow concept of “national races” as is currently understood in Burma: ethnic groups which were already formed as we know them now in pre-colonial times. Others, perhaps the Kachin or the Chin, would also fail the test, because the test itself stems from a misunderstanding of ethnicity and group formation, but it is the political context that has determined that the Rohingya, and the Rohingya alone, should fail it. Their mere existence as a people is a serious challenge to the weak mainstream historical narrative imposed by the military regime.

https://islamicommentary.org/2013/10/matthew-walton-a-primer-on-the-roots-of-buddhistmuslim-conflict-in-myanmar-and-a-way-forward/

Jesus or ‘Isa?

Jesus is mentioned in the Koran 154 times in 19 stories, more than the Prophet himself. Mary or Miriam, his mother, dedicated to God from childhood and serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, is actually mentioned more in the Koran than in the Bible -she is spoken of 100 times. Of course, the Muslim narrative differs from the Christian while both maintain their sometimes conflicting  accounts are wholly correct.

In Islam, Jesus is the messenger of God and his servant, as is Mohammad. He is a sign (ayat) and a mercy from God.  Jesus’ principle message to both religions is one of truth- do not do one thing and be another, do not pretend to be religious with a great show of reverence when you are not inside. Honest humanity is exactly like honest architecture: when Pugin rages against the Georgian theatrics of Bath, he is saying the same thing: the facade should honestly reflect what is going on inside.

For Islam, Jesus/’Isa is “the son of Mary” (I count 22 times and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran), as he is also described in Mark 6:3: οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς Μαρίας, ἀδελφὸς δὲ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωσῆ καὶ Ἰούδα καὶ Σίμωνος; καὶ οὐκ εἰσὶν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ αὐτοῦ ὧδε πρὸς ἡμᾶς; καὶ ἐσκανδαλίζοντο ἐν αὐτῷ. Of course, in Mark’s account, while it can be understood to be a reference to the Virgin birth, it might also suggest the locals were suspicious of Jesus’ true paternity, and the Talmud elaborates on this elsewhere. ‘Isa is also called the “word of God” Kalimat Minhu and “the spirit of God”. ‘Isa is an icon and an example of humility and poverty, owning nothing and giving up the world, an important message to a society dominated by consumption and obsessed with wealth. ‘Isa had three things- a robe, a bowl and a comb. He subsequently gave away the comb and the bowl- what do I need these for when others could use them?

‘Isa is the prophet of the end times, returning as the Messiah (Al Masih): this was foretold by the angels. He is described as Messiah 11 times in the Koran.

إِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلآئِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُبَشِّرُكِ بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنْهُ اسْمُهُ الْمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَجِيهًا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ وَمِنَ الْمُقَرَّبِينَ

Differences and the Nativity

(Al Emran 45) The Koranic story differs from the Christian story in the absence of a stable, a manger and Joseph, but so much of the Christian infancy narrative is fairly loose, with contradictions between Matthew and Luke, a complete lack of any infancy narrative in John and Mark and some very picturesque details added from the Protoevangelium of James, (later reworked in Armenian and Syriac) to form the christmas crib scene popularised by St Francis of Assisi in 1223 and painted by everyone from Giotto onwards. The ox and the ass are also in icons of the nativity, together with a midwife who arrives a bit too late, but helps to bathe the baby. There is also the legend of Aphroditianus and the “Revelation of the magi” where the various visitors see the Christ-child in different forms, as a throned king, a warrior and a martyr. In the Revelation, there are 12 magi, one of whom comes from Shir or China. In the Arabic Infancy narrative, the magi take back with them the swaddling cloths which have mystical powers akin to the shroud of Turin and now on display in either Dubrovnik Cathedral or as the “Windel Jesu” in Aachen Cathedral. One tradition in the late middle ages sees the swaddling clothes made from Joseph’s underpants, rather coyly represented in a 1400 painting, now in Antwerp, by Joseph Malouel as a stocking.

nativity-museum-mayer-van-den-bergh

The site of the nativity is celebrated in the ruins of the church of the Kathisma of the theotokos, about 3 miles outside Bethlehem. This follows exactly the narrative of the Protoevangelium of James where even before the Holy family get to Bethlehem, Mary asks to get off the donkey and Joseph locates a cave in the middle of the desert. In the centre of the church is a rock where Mary rests before giving birth.

While celebrating the Virgin-birth, Islam does not say that this also means Jesus is divine. this is where the two traditions start to divide and indeed where the controversy arose a few weeks’ ago in Glasgow. Again, while calling Jesus “Word of God” Islam is not attributing Divinity to him.

In both Islam and Orthodoxy, choosing to do what is right, Mary is seen as the perfect model of what our life can be. In this, Orthodoxy avoids the pitfalls of Augustinian original sin and therefore of the “Immaculate conception” and shares with Islam in presenting Mary as a role-model not only for women but for everyone. She is a symbol of purity, obedience and dignity. In Islam, Mary is alone, giving birth to ‘Isa under a date-tree in the desert and as in the biblical narrative, she suffers gossip because of the scandal of giving birth without an identifiable father.

Miracles

There are miracles attributed to ‘Isa that do not appear in the canonical Gospels, but they are certainly found in the Apocryphal texts, that he talked from his cradle, that he brought clay birds to life, cured the blind, lepers and that he raised the dead- in the case of the Koran, one of the sons of Noah. One of the big debates that tends to pop up is completely mistaken- that the miracles point to Jesus’ divinity. In fact, throughout the New Testament, Jesus routinely attributes the miraculous to God- as indeed the early teaching in Acts 2:22 attests: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you…”

Crucifixion

Where things really start to get complex is in the death of Jesus. For the Christian, this takes place on a cross at the age of 33. For the Muslim, it takes place in serenity surrounded by angels at the age of 120. The Koran even acknowledges the Christian claim (4: 157) and explains that this was a deception. Some accounts talk about a replacement for Christ, a rescue operation that leads Judas to be arrested and killed rather than Jesus.

In this, Islam is paralleled by the 3rd Century Gospel of Basilides and the Apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas:

“God, who had decreed the issue, reserved Judas for the cross, in order that he might suffer that horrible death to which he had sold another. He did not suffer Judas to die under the scourges, notwithstanding that the soldiers scourged him so grievously that his body rained blood.

“So they led him to Mount Calvary, where they used to hang malefactors, and there they crucified him naked, for the greater ignominy. Judas truly did nothing else but cry out: God, why have you forsaken me, seeing the malefactor has escaped and I die unjustly? Truly I say that the voice, the face, and the person of Judas were so like to Jesus, that his disciples and believers entirely believed that he was Jesus; wherefore some departed from the doctrine of Jesus, believing that Jesus had been a false prophet, and that by the art of magic he had done the miracles which he did: for Jesus had said that he should not die till near the end of the world; for that at that time he should be taken away from the world.”

But the Gospel of Barnabas was probably a 16th century forgery.

The crucifixion story is not very reliable

Pauline Theology (beginning in 1 Cor 15) is dominated by the crucifixion, so the Islamic account appears to challenge the core belief in Christianity. I was listening to someone talking about the crucifixion event the other day, however, and was astonished by his claim that the account of the crucifixion is one of the most accurate testimonies to an actual execution in the ancient world. Well, yes and no. What the New Testament account does is to spin the story with enough graphic detail that the vital legal questions remain unasked and unanswered. It seems to me that it is not at all clear why Jesus merited a death sentence under Roman law at all. There is a hint that the apostles were armed in the Garden of Gethsemane and if Jerusalem were under lock-down, then maybe a case can be made against them, but not really against Jesus. There is no evidence that he was armed. Beyond that, while there might just be a case for the Jewish authorities to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy, again there is no good reason in the narrative why that does not happen and why instead Jesus is handed over to the Roman authorities.

Despite this, and perhaps most importantly in a defence of the historical reliability of the Gospel testimony, it is improbable that the crucifixion event would ever have been invented. Why would any group want to glorify a sadistic and shameful execution especially when the incarnation narrative, which was already emerging, provided quiet sufficient evidence of an intervention in history by God?

If we move to the Reformation and the emphasis placed by the reformers on the Atonement, then the crucifixion swings even more mightily centre-stage. More than that, the ever-present image of Jesus as a shepherd merges into an image of Jesus both as Paschal lamb and as scapegoat – one event, the crucifixion combining the festivals of both Passover and Yom Kippur.

The Gnostics

Just as there have been Christians who have questioned the Virgin Birth (the Bishop of York, for instance in the not-so-distant past), so too, quite demonstrably, there have been Christians throughout history who have questioned the reality of the crucifixion or the centrality of that event. It is not such a shocking claim.

Islam is certainly not alone in denying that the crucifixion was real. The Gnostics had already done this. Here is the relevant paragraph from the Nag Hammadi scriptures-

It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was another upon Whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the wealth of the archons and the offspring of their error, of their empty glory. And I was laughing at their ignorance.

Modern literature

The idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion is brilliantly done in the Kazenzakis book, “The Last Temptation” and in the film – I remember the scene where St Paul confronts Jesus and says he invented Christ, “I don’t care whether you’re Jesus or not. The resurrected Jesus will save the world…I created the truth out of what people needed. If I have to crucify you to save the world then I’ll crucify you and if I have to resurrect you, then I’ll do that too, whether you like it or not…. My Jesus is much more important and more powerful.”

The same story of survival, incidentally, is also told in “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln) and its sequel, “The Messaianic legacy”, even “the Passover plot” by Hugh Schonfield (a Glasgow academic and one of the original Dead sea scrolls’ academics, slightly given to the sensational and less glamorous than Geza Vermes but who authored a very competent reworking of the gospels  “The Authentic New Testament”) -it lies behind the dreadful “Da Vinci Code” stuff. It is implicit in the Philip Pullman novella “The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ” which in turn, I think, is a fantasy based on the idea, already suggested by Leonardo’s twin Jesus painted in the Last supper, that Thomas, the twin (Didymus)  was the brother of Jesus and took his place on the cross, a theological version of the 2006 film “The Prestige” with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. I was asked to look at the Pullmann book a couple of years’ ago to see what could be done to turn it into a film. A tough call but in the end, Pullmann got cold feet and pulled out of the project.

after-persian-minature-armaggedon-by-tim

And finally there is  the AntiChrist, المسيح الدجّال Dajjal, the one-eyed opposite to everything ever preached by Jesus. This cyclopedic travesty of goodness will rule with brute force, atheism and deceit. Muslims and Christians agree that Jesus will descend and defeat the anti-Christ. What Islam does that Christianity does not is to provide specifics- ‘Isa returns in eastern Damascus to confront injustice, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels, and his hair dripping with oil. When he tosses his head, the beads of oil will fly off like pearls. He will destroy the cross and kill the pig. When the Dajjal sees ‘Isa, he will dissolve “like salt in water”.

The Koran in Church

I have been meaning to write something about the reading of Surah 19 in a Scottish Cathedral on 17th January. This led to the resignation of one of the Queen’s 33 Honorary chaplains, Gavin Ashenden, who wanted to conduct his own campaign against the Cathedral and against the priest who had arranged the event. For Gavin Ashenden, what happened was blasphemous.

A number of issues have been raised- that the priest who made the arrangements, the Cathedral Provost, Kelvin Holdsworth, is gay, that the Koran was read by a woman and a Shi’ite and so on. All largely irrelevant, and actually when all is considered, things to be grateful about rather than to condemn. So the real focus is the text of Surah 19, which the sensationalist press and the rev Ashenden, claimed “denies the divinity of Christ”. It does not. Here is a photograph of Madinah Javed reciting the Surah. At the bottiomof the blog is a video recorded in the Cathedral of her recitation. It is, in itself, rather beautiful.

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-09-36-00

This is what Rev Ashenden wrote to “The Times”:

“Quite apart from the wide distress (some would say blasphemy) caused by denigrating Jesus in Christian worship, apologies may be due to the Christians suffering dreadful persecution at the hands of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“To have the core of a faith for which they have suffered deeply treated so casually by senior Western clergy such as the Provost of Glasgow is unlikely to have a positive outcome.

“There are other and considerably better ways to build “bridges of understanding”.”

There is nothing new in reading the Koran in a Scottish Cathedral. It has been done before, in front of the Moderator of the Church of scotland, in front of Archbishop Winning. And the passage chosen had been read before in Churches in Scotland on a number of occasions. It celebrates the belief in Islam in the Virgin birth, and is also just one instance when Mary is celebrated in the Koran. Mary, after all, is mentioned far more in the Koran than in the Christian Bible and Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the Koran.

In his blog, the Chaplain writes about “Kelvin Holdsworth’s lack of awareness, and his carelessness” which may well be cause for alarm and he also highlights the issue that caused him distress. Towards the end of the Surah are three verses which question the idea that God should have a son, the Christian claim, specifically 19.91 and 19.92:screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-09-50-36

In the reports circulating on Twitter, the chaplain insists that the Surah specifically denies the Divinity of Christ, which frankly is not the case. It is a passage that may be taken to defend such a denial, but the text itself does not do that. It deals with the lives of Zakariyya. Maryam, Jesus, Yahya (John), Abraham, Ishmael, and Enoch (Idris). It reproduces the Christian message of “glad tidings”, so it is a good companion piece to the New Testament, though it also adds “warnings”. There are warnings about who might intercede to God and as this passage traditionally was to have been recited to a neighbouring Christian King, Negus, it is likely that the passage implicitly challenges the orthodox belief in the intercession of the Theotokos, but it is implicit, not explicit and many anglicans absolutely reject this belief anyway. The only explicit statement that might worry a Christian congregation is the statement above that God should not be thought to have a son.

Reciting the Surah traditionally confers great blessings.

scribble

The variety of belief accepted in the Anglican communion today is remarkable. Indeed, it is only recently in 1984, that the Archbishop of York, Dr David Jenkins, denied the Virgin birth. This is a passage from the Koran that, in contrast, celebrates both parthenogenesis and the role of Mary in the Christian narrative!

I applaud the Provost, therefore, in promoting interfaith, and particularly during the service of Epiphany. This is the time when the magi visited Jesus- when people of different faiths and backgrounds came to the home of the infant child and brought him gifts. In the Orthodox tradition, it is also a celebration of the Baptism of Christ.

Following the Chaplain’s intervention (he was not at the service, and maybe the term “bullying” would be more appropriate), the Archbishop of Glasgow has apologised for any distress caused. I really cannot see that there was any reason at all to apologise. We need to promote ties with Islam, welcome strangers, rejoice in mutual kindness and celebrate what we hold in common if we are to challenge extremism.

The Provost is no stranger to controversy. Here he is discussing gay marriage on “Songs of Praise”:

Mr Versi’s revisions

I have written before about the work of Miqdaad Versi and I note that his actions are now reported to be more targeted and disciplined. He now also writes for the Guardian.

It is not that I want people to search for errors, but I would like journalists to be held to a standard of decency that sets the tone for any future or current debate. I went back and reread what I wrote earlier- mostly it was a groan about the gathering campaign of Mr Trump who tomorrow is inaugurated as 45th President of the US. Rather like Brexit, this is something we must now accept as reality. We cannot wring our hands and protest that we did not vote for this, want it, or indeed that we do not recognise the outcome. It is our job to make the best of a given result. That is the reality of politics.

More than that, the Trump Presidency has an impact well-beyond the borders of the US and he has a direct effect on many people therefore who were never given an opportunity to vote for him in the first place. The much-hyped concept of 51% voting for such and such is irrelevant actually. The only relevant fact is the reality we face, and we move forward in the knowledge that that is the reality we must address.

In contrast to the worried views of the “Spiked on line” people, and particularly the rather petulant Tom Slater (who thinks Versi is trying to “ring-fence Islam from criticism”), I think it is the quiet and careful actions of people like Mr Versi that will tone down the more extreme rhetoric that was used by Trump and his followers during the US election campaign. Let’s hope Trump’s more extreme remarks were the product of ignorance. Ignorance, as Plato says, can always lead to knowledge and knowledge is “the Good”.

To his credit, Mr Trump has mellowed of late and is clearly seeking and taking advice. Like Mr Reagan, Trump shows all the signs of being a good delegator, something we over here need to learn. Maybe it is time for a big businessman to take on the establishment. I loved the Peter Brooke’s cartoon a few days ago in the Times that celebrated Trump while also recording the end of the Barnum and Bailey/Ringling brothers’ circus. In fact, I increasingly love Peter Brookes! His observation demands scrutiny and his drawing alone merits some study. He has been on a bit of a roll recently while Riddell, in the Observer, whose work I think is a natural successor to Tenniel, has been a bit “same-y”.

moleskin-versi-by-tim-may-and-trump

Mrs May and Sharia

I was quite irritated this evening to find an old hostile report by Nick Gutteridge in the Express re-peddled on the web about Mrs May’s general comments regarding Sharia law. Clearly, the Express was trying to stir up some sort of Islamaphobia and it is wrong.

It describes Sharia law as “drawn from the Koran and various fatwas”, and suggests about 100 such lawcourts are active in the UK today. The use of the word “fatwa”is designed to provoke fear, because for the readers of the Express, the word “fatwa” means only one thing. It is what happened to the man who wrote “the Satanic Verses” Salman Rushdie. And, I wonder how many readers of the Express have ever bothered to read “the Satanic Verses”?

The Express has a long history, founded by Pearson and passed to Beaverbrook during the 1st World war-  in the past was the paper of choice for many. Today, it lurks in the gutter with the Star and the Sun and, of course, is known to have supported the baser elements of UKIP. But when it was first launched in 1900, it was revolutionary in cutting advertising from its front pages. It was the news that was wanted and that’s what the Express provided. Bravo!

Lord Beaverbrook admittedly thought of it as little more than a broadsheet for promoting propaganda, often for the Government- so it enthusiastically embraced Appeasement in the run up to 1939.

Still, I am also very fond of Rupert Bear and Giles both of which were launched by the paper and Andrew Marr was a former columnist.

bestall.jpg

By the 1960s, it had taken on a slightly aggressive stance and the Duke of Edinburgh was apparently quoted calling it “a bloody awful newspaper. It is full of lies, scandal and imagination. It is a vicious paper”. It has done the same thing more recently, launching a crusade against East Europeans- “Britain is full and fed up. Today join your Daily Express Crusade to stop new flood of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants”. Horrible!

Anyway, this is how the Express quoted Theresa May,

“Many British people of different faiths follow religious codes and practices, and benefit a great deal from the guidance they offer.

“A number of women have reportedly been victims of what appear to be discriminatory decisions taken by Sharia councils, and that is a significant concern.

“There is only one rule of law in our country, which provides rights and security for every citizen.

“Professor Siddiqui, supported by a panel with a strong balance of academic, religious and legal expertise, will help us better understand whether and the extent to which Sharia law is being misused or exploited and make recommendations to the Government on how to address this.”

Now to Sharia law:

Feirstly, Sharia is derived from the Koran and the Hadiths. Not from Fatwas as the Express claims. There are a variety of schools of interpretation – Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Jarafi and Hanbali. It stretches from specific rules instituted by the Prophet to Urf, or customs which may well be in conflict with primary texts and open to debate. Urf is what we would regard as “common law”.

We already have a limited use of Sharia, as we have a limited use of catholic canon law in the UK, particularly with reference to divorce or annulment, but the religious ruling does not and cannot replace the civil act.

Theresa May is talking about the positive influence of Religion on the lives of many people in the UK and across the world. The express is whipping up Islamophobia by referring to the appalling treatment of women in certain societies- certainly not imposed by the Koran, but possibly covered by local customs, Urf. The Express should be  careful in what it says.

I think we should be positive about Sharia, while respecting its limited use within our society. Of course, we cannot allow people to abuse others under the excuse of following some interpretations of Sharia and I doubt most imams would advocate this.

Theresa May is right of course!