Quicunque Vult, or, A teenage journey to Islam

(reproduced courtesy of www.lastprophet.info)
© Abdal-Hakim Murad [October 2008]

In Urging

a me to

former repent, (Sünbülzâde Vehbî)

church, the erasure

my of old

heart but

is remembered

a mihrâb, sins.

This memoir is offered, at the persistent request of some Turkish friends, by a monotheist whose formative life was shaped by Anglican Christianity, but who has made his home in Islam. Like the kilisâ-camii metaphor in the old Ottoman poetry, which describes a church which has been made into a mosque, such a man is architecturally distinctive, but a symbol of undeserved improvement: he is the mühtedî, the object of guidance, at once a spiritual migrant and a symbol that Islam, battered by despisers on all sides, is still Refuge of the World ( ‘âlem-penâh). Richard Bulliet flatteringly believes that the vigour of Islam has always been secured by the mühtedîs, who bring the energy and the sometimes annoying zeal of the proselyte ‘on the edge’ into the formalised traditional world of inherited religion.[1] Perhaps, he implies, such newcomers are like the desert dwellers who, in Ibn Khaldun’s view of things, periodically invade the sedate, bourgeois citadels to establish a new, often rather puritanical, reconnection with God. The reality, of course, is that the man whose qibla-niche lies cattycorners, at an angle to the larger temple, typically takes more than he gives. Particularly under modern conditions, the refugee into Islam, who crawls gratefully onto the lifeboat, brings rather little to those who are already aboard. In earlier ages, when the likes of Ibrâhîm Müteferrika, Ali Ufki, and Abdullâh al-Tarjumân joined the Muslim world (and should we not go back further still, to Salmân and Suhayb?), rival cultures were sacred cultures, and the Islamic neophytes had been trained in great civilisations whose purpose was the service of one or several Gods. Today, what riches, what energies can the Western mühtedî truly bring? For we are sons and daughters of Mammon, nurtured by an increasingly absolutist liberal capitalism to be

that deadly modern type, the consumer, who wants to be flattered for his discriminating taste but whose taste amounts to nothing more than liking what will get him flattered, taking refuge in brand-names and high-end merchandise, much as the snob does in high-end people. A whole society looms where no one is or even wants any more to be ‘who one is’ - another Nietzschean nightmare.[2]

Wild talk of a new Islamic hermeneutic hatching in the Muslim communities of the West has been with us for some years, with sadly insufficient justification. It is not clear how religiously fertile the Occident can be, when its crops grow in soil that has been so long polluted. The ancient trope of ex Oriente lux is perhaps more true than ever. For one British Muslim poet of the last age:


of In

years the years in gloom, in true! with sank, Have Know ye, Light of Westward – and glow

hath of doth in the pure, its – faith Allah the and in of

the its the tears, Orient Allah, beauty, darkened, of

sun Eastern West its

rose, hues, close dews. morning, The One, adorning, its sun. morning,

Thousands It Even


so, Faith,


Earth, And



Faith’s knoweth Orient, the

best! returning



Pure Islamic beams, over the West.[3]

our ‘Abendland’ has made itself infertile. Mid-twentieth century pessimism in the face of science-based totalitarianism seemed paradoxically abated by the collapse of Marx’s deterministic optimism (the idea that natural selection has a moral outcome). president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The natural environment offers only one theatre in which our technology threatens us with the very cleverness developed to protect us. Like others in his day. and the results have been disastrous. since the Enlightenment. and for a short while there was a sense that the original dream of the Enlightenment might be realised after all. and nothing more. which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian Gods. technical competence. thy our prayers. His most famous hymn recalls the Hebraizing mood of his time. pilgrimage Our before vows. Pessimistically. O thy who hast all our fathers led: God people through of Bethel.1751). a walk-on part in this gripping drama. already sensed in the popular culture of the 1970s.From my middle teenage years. and indeed in terms of all of the accomplishments which once defined human flourishing. offers this assessment: ‘I think the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilisation on Earth will survive to the end of the present century. Islam’s ‘grand refusal’ of the puerilization project is the great fact of our age. the power of whose chains stems from their ubiquity. prayer. some Scots forebears allegedly fought against Julius Caesar. a preacher and hymnwriter who rejected the Anglican church in favour of a radical Nonconformism.[5] And in our new. turbo-charged yet doubt-ridden millennium. This was the modernity which. sexuality. But themühtedî communities have so far played at best a marginal role. Weber was sure that human happiness and fulfilment must be increasingly restricted in the machine-age. prayer. as Max Weber acknowledged. poetry and theatre reflect this persistent unease. and invisibility. trapped by the very rhetoric of choice and freedom in a technologically-enabled totalitarian reality. seemed to be trapped in a ‘shell as hard as steel’. I recall living in a deep alienation from the modern condition. in the 1960s. has allowed us to view ‘the Other’ increasingly as an object good only for manipulation. and art which exists for any sake other than itself. whose logic seeks to reconstitute the human subject as a consumer and producer. according to family lore. ask the mühtedî whose story is Western to bring gifts? Spiritually. then. spoke of One-Dimensional Man. now is one for itself. Why. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. were always troublemakers. throne we of now present grace: . a terrible alienation from which no mere political solution can release us. Herbert Marcuse. neighbourhood and community are as inappropriate to those caught in the steel shell as are contemplation. has taken to be the basis of personal fulfilment. Family. On my father’s side. art and the meaning of nature. My ancestors.[4] The very principle of individuation which the West. has simply underlined the aimlessness of the West’s hi-tech pleasuredrome. having turned against the sources of its own flowering for the sake of an individualistic project whose consequences have turned out to be a trivialisation so extreme that we fear to consider its destination. still this by are earthly whose hand fed. and another was executed by Robert the Bruce. However the decay of the Eastern Bloc. and the stubborn persistence of Muslims in respecting historic human normalcy in areas such as gender. is an unmistakeable sign of God’s ongoing favour.’[6]Serious art. with a restless desire to be free of its brilliant mediocrity. Two sainted maiden aunts in my mother’s family were proud of their descent from Philip Doddridge (d. where the iron of natural limitations had been replaced by steel bonds of our own making. who can deny that we live under the shadow of hazards more numerous and imponderable than those which worried Benjamin? Martin Rees. he took the Reformation demand for a return to the beliefs of the first Christians to entail a serious reaction against received orthodoxy. As Walter Benjamin concluded: Mankind.

That was the whole glory of the Judaism which Jesus upheld. The Father sends the Son.1842). that. Until my grandfather’s time. In his time that was still a momentous decision. One Infinite Father. it subverts in effect.’[8] In the parables. from its difficulty. Faced with England’s desertion of its own identity. taught me to consider carefully the Jewishness of the early Christian church. swearing off alcohol for life. His was a now unimaginable England of temperance hotels. as a schoolboy aged perhaps nine. But where does this statement appear? From the many passages which treat of God. I recalled how. I had sat in services at an Anglican church in Hampstead. converse with each other. like the Son. and how guilty I felt! The message was. and unintentionally helped me rediscover the Nonconformist legacy. An honest reading of the Old Testament slowly forced us to see that the Trinitarian God we daily worshipped was something new. Son. to discover and revive the beliefs of the earliest Christians. It is a great excellence of the doctrine of God's unity. . and is not himself sent. This was reinforced indirectly by my sister. clearly. nor is he conscious. deserted Sunday high-streets. possessed of different […] perceptions. To us. we have three intelligent agents. Were the Anglicans. We challenge our opponents to [point out] one passage in the New Testament. a voice would whisper. we ask for one. have been laid down with great clearness […] and stated with all possible precision. in which my family worshipped. until. where the word God means three persons. that when our opponents would insert it into their creeds they are compelled to leave the Bible. as the hymnal confirmed. not to accept this heroic deed! Later. How small. This doctrine. who wished to take the Reformation back beyond the manipulations of Athanasius and the political bishops of the fourth century. […] So entirely do the Scriptures abstain from stating the Trinity. am I the last surviving upholder of the family tradition? Booth weaned me from official credal Christianity. To the Blair generation. and one only. in which we are told.O of their succeeding race. in middle age. Certainly for me. Here. and to invent forms of words altogether unsanctioned by Scriptural phraseology. were it true. Willie Booth. who was attending a school founded by the Unitarian minister William Channing (d. there has always been a pleasing irony in the fact that the small church on Chapelfield Gardens in Norwich. one only. with immense fair-mindedness. They perform different parts in man's redemption [… none] doing the work of the other. that this suffering was the consequence of my own sinfulness. will. drawn from its practical influence. But was there a God who could forgive directly? Later I was to discover the words of Ruqaiyyah Maqsood: ‘God does not need a sacrifice in order to forgive anyone. be the God My school chaplain. and if these things do not imply three minds. had been Jewish. that it offers to us ONE OBJECT of supreme homage. Jesus. that he is a threefold being. According to this doctrine. The gruesome image was oppressing me into faith. even the Father. My grandfather was the last. We […] protest against the irrational and unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity. whose influence remained strong in the school’s ethos and worship. How ungrateful I would be. and no kissing before putting on an engagement ring. I was able to call this kind of religion ‘blackmail’. must. They love each other. We prayed as worried Anglicans. Each of these persons.[7] Channing also speaks passionately against the injustice implied in the Blood Atonement. there are three infinite and equal persons. then. possessing supreme divinity. This resonated with me also. God is loving enough to forgive directly. God of Israel. This was the way he thought: we believe […] that there is one God. but Nonconformity was in my blood. and importance. the men of the family had ‘taken the pledge’. of taking flesh. as to the Apostle and the [original] Christians. and Holy Ghost. truly. by dividing and distracting the mind in its communion with God. too. as described by theologians. adoration. we are at a loss to know how three minds are to be formed. We object to the doctrine of the Trinity. We regard it as unfavorable to devotion. singularity. Channing was a hero of true Dissent. and perceptions. as a frank and turbulent teenager. the ‘succeeding race’ to Israel’s God? Booth. has his own particular consciousness. and love. We have further objections to this doctrine. called the Father. accepted our cynical challenge to this notion. the unity of God. and delight in each other's society. there is one God. and I grew up with fresh family memories of strict Sabbaths when children might only play games involving the Bible. Yet the mühtedi knows that there is a paradox here. The Son is mediator and not the Father. gazing at an enormous and bleeding Christ. performing different acts. married and attended Sunday School in my grandparents’ time. it sounds like a far foreign place. […] to whom we may refer all good. and sustaining different relations. The split-second of turning from Christianity to Islam is the realisation of the truth of the parable of the Prodigal Son. he found that occasional social drinking might be good for business. When I visit to pray. may one ask whether an English move to Islam is a farewell to one’s heritage – or its unlooked-for revival. has been converted into a mosque.

when one’s heart and habits deny them? The one who ‘pushes away the orphan’. we let go of the ‘fetish’ of the Cross. Who told us of His presence and beauty more than of evil and of sin? It was. changed his world forever. wholly and uncomplicatedly human. punctuated by occasional flashes of pure light. and the purity of her ego-less diction. I came across Matthew Fox. that ‘shy bride’. of religious or profane subjects. a Hayward Gallery exhibition unveiled the arts of Islam. love of the poor. Reading Rodinson. astonishing even where it was apparently mundane. The Prophet. the Koran. all recall the fact of a benign creation and a merciful God. ‘calls religion a lie. is the virtue of al-‘afw ma‘a al-qudra : to forgive when in a position to punish. it denotes the repayment of a debt. Much of the Bible comprised stories whose purpose seemed ambiguous or even absent. Religious searching always seems driven by a consciousness of sin and alienation.[9] It is the virtue of Nelson Mandela. Total sincerity. tessellations and vegetal curlicues of Muslim decoration. Fox urges that in the light of our moral rejection of the ungenerous idea of ‘full repayment’ for sin. and stood out as an eccentric. in the Koran’s idiom). I found myself thinking about forgiveness. or (the copy with which I began) Zafrullah Khan. Even after joining. The world is woven from the true signs of God. who forgave his tormentors despite being in power. which breathed the presence of a loving God. And yet the drama and heroism of the story shone through. Evening classes in Arabic.’ Who has the courage to repeat such a line? While facing God. What was its secret? What was the formal message of this art. who reappear. Rodinson was committed to reducing and explaining away the figure he portrayed. as I attempted. In fact. which is ‘profoundly linear’. in distinction to the Cross. who wrathfully judges and consigns people to hell. too. I also learnt. whose entire work at the Judgement will be to intercede for sinners. is a model of true forgiveness by a God who does not calculate. followed. everyone smiles. the religion of God’s forgiveness and mercy? As I came to see it in my teenage years. trying to find God between his lines. The letter killeth – the spirit giveth life. yet the sheer magnificent suspense of this story. thus showing Islam as. The mosaics and the arabesques I had seen were clearly submissive to the mysterious writing above: but the art historians hardly bothered to translate it. to found an influential Centre for Creation Spirituality. Which forgiveness is higher. On this stage of my wandering. without the comfortable defence of a pew? Why is God so absolute? A lonely search through the shelves of Foyles yielded few guides in that still insular age. as we contemplate our long record of disobedience. a Catholic priest and theologian who had left the church in protest at its doctrines of blood atonement and the ‘fallenness’ of creation. and that God is smiling! Such were my discoveries. No less than medieval monks. presenting them to God. I found the text ‘hot’.[11] That symbol. How can one recite such words. at the Renaissance). What humanity urgently needs. the Koran meant Rodwell. the Koran. was itself a revelation. To this. The calligraphy.[10] or the Muhammad of the Hadiths. At the outset. in 1976. would take years to unveil herself. who has no power in his hands. I looked for an equivalent to the penitential moods of Christianity. and also cyclical. the arabesques. I was a lone schoolboy in a class of pensioners. perhaps the greatest of modern moral icons. I thought. which seems to diminish God’s providence with its symbolic insistence that over the hundreds of thousands of years of human existence. Not one religious painting in the National Gallery offers a smile (unlike the pagan gods. monotheism. In that still insular age. rather than sexual anxiety. might resemble the Crescent. of course. who imposes no meanspirited ‘economy of salvation’ worthy only of accountants and bookkeepers. But in Ottoman miniatures. full salvation has . Rodinson shut out the supernatural. commonly learned before the rest. and some suras too challenging to recite often. she seemed to dazzle me with her unworldly strangeness. at the highest moment of his political life. I discovered. while living as a prayerful pauper. and worse was to follow. when his ancient enemies were in his hands and he forgave them? This. crudely but intensely. are absolute in their demands. He emphasised joy rather than guilt. the Cross is not a symbol of forgiveness at all: on the orthodox view. Maxime Rodinson’s paperback Life of Mohammed gave the view of a confident French Communist. which is open. I was obliged to ask: the forgiveness of one crucified. there is to be a coda at the end of time. Sura 107 declares. finally. so successfully concealed from young people in my culture. apparently amid much relief. to compare the aesthetic spirit of the two worlds. Sir Zafrullah’s sectarian leanings veiled the text grievously: Surat Yasin began ‘O Perfect Leader’. and gratitude for the body. who gives bi-ghayri hisâb (‘without reckoning’. the Koran was giving me the light alone. or the forgiveness shown by the Blessed Prophet at the Conquest of Mecca. as the infinity of Original Sin is atoned for by the infinite sacrifice of God’s own temporary death. in favour of the more open symbol of the empty tomb. at London’s Morley College. denial of the self.When. and stressed class and economics. The early Meccan sequences. Who is the more merciful: the Pantocrator-Jesus of the Book of Revelation.

overcoming an allergy to ‘Semitism’. and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians could hardly be published during his lifetime. the liberation theologians. were prepared to set ancient misunderstandings aside and acknowledge the integrity of Judaism (and now. with the Life of Mahomet.[12] Certainly for my own spiritual journey.[15] It is not surprising. For Garaudy. when still a student. with its established church and insistence on religious conformity. True freedom lay beyond. for instance. Sometimes I believe that there is significance in the fact that I was baptised by Father Jack Putterill (1892-1980). as he later acknowledged. who challenged great empires instead of meekly submitting to them. a doctrine which true religion. were less impressive than the new icons of a truly socially responsible human being drawn by Bonhoeffer and. solace of pacifists and ineffectual dreamers. hailed by the socialist Bernard Shaw as ‘a princely genius’. could not tolerate internal diversity.been made available only once. India and Islam. who actively championed their cause and adopted their way of life. Once. being coterminous with the frontiers of the Church (extra ecclesiam nulla salus ). the martyred pastor of Berlin. unlike traditional China. who insisted that true religion is not pacifist or apolitical. but could not name a single German bishop who was remembered for rebelling against the Reich. that the first explicit appreciation of the Prophet in the English language was by a Puritan who saw the Ottoman system as more open to diversity. Such. many great advocates of freedom who were also in love with God seem to have been attracted to Islam. and who therefore broke with Stalinism and entered the free. went to his grave without knowing the Prophet whose Lord was Lord of the Poor. ‘More than once!’ was what he passionately believed. None of my discoveries was at all original. In fact. more slowly. At the age of sixteen I heard my history teacher.’ and no-one replies. but it had to be promote itself.[13] Putterill. Coupled with my religious agitations. like a river bursting through a mountain range. And I myself. whether that cage be capitalist or Marxist. proved a source of real encouragement. like Putterill and Shaw. Goethe’s fragmentary Mahomets Gesang is a hymn to the radical freedom and purity which. is anyone there. But he explained to me that his idea of a loving God made the whole notion of a single once-and-for-all salvation seem monstrous. without the telephone called ‘Christ’ into which people constantly shout. every morning. to my knowledge. This was Henry Stubbe (1632-1676). non-hierarchical space of Islam. Here. preaching and witnessing alone are tragically inadequate. often heard of the martyred Stauffenberg’s attempt to kill Hitler. Goethe believed. but indicated a subterranean philo-Islamism that is deeper than images of an islamophobic Britain will admit. than the England of his day. growing up when memories of the war were still all around me. inspired by Islamic angelology: Muhammad was immediate. of course.[17] . and therefore incorporate a willingness to challenge those who degrade God’s earth and His servants. should be a real liberation for society as well as for the spirit. then. That Prophet. more especially. ‘Hallo. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. and was clearly a historical shift of immense importance. Seeing the cross on the altar. a devout. Islam brought from its desert origins. the old images of Christ.[16] Several Muslims have pointed to some of these possible precursors for British Islam in Unitarianism and allied forms of Dissent. is a neglected passage in Rilke. but must be a revolutionary challenge to the rich and the autocratic. best known of all radical priests in his day. Faced with radical evil. I visited an Anglican church with a Turkish friend. Islam). he spontaneously exclaimed: ‘No!’ In my ignorance I assumed that he was expressing a prejudice. and also to religious sincerity. heaping praises on the Ottomans as authors of the most tolerant and religiously-diverse society in Europe before modern times. insisting on the divine love and mercy. this helped me to see that the growing acknowledgement of Judaism and (slowly) Islam by European theologians has had much to do with the sense that Latin Christian thought historically produced societies and intellectual systems characterised by a massive exclusivism. which in its heart yearns not for faint chanting in distant oratories. seemed to engender a world which. was the motivation which drove Roger Garaudy. but a willingness to engage in a virile way with the real issues of poverty and injustice. should surely regard as tragically inadequate. Liberation from the cage. The growing number of theologians who. bourgeois consumer culture. he breaks through to the One God with whom you can talk so wonderfully. whose book An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism. whose Duino Elegies were. secularity could only produce freedom within the confines of the ‘cage of steel’. The radical division of humanity into saved and unsaved. was so horrified by his hierarchy’s insistence on Luther’s doctrine of non-intervention in politics that he issued his famous call for a ‘Christianity without religion’. celibate Catholic. It seemed to reflect some deep sea-changes in the way Christians perceived virtue.[14] turns out to be a spiritual type close to the urgent but hidden needs of a comfortable. whose Communism was of the empathetic kind.

cannot exist properly in the orthodox Jesus. was a paradox which an increasing number of educated people seemed to find oppressively difficult. a Methodist minister whose study of the historical Jesus. including forgetfulness. to see him as one of us. sleeping. now back ‘at his Father’s right hand’. In 1977 I was fascinated by the controversy when a group of theologians and Biblical experts published a book called The Myth of God Incarnate. faced with the possibility of punishment. I would advance an argument. unsurprisingly. take this cup from me!’ Yet the orthodox theologian utterly confounds the pathos of this moment. The Trinitarian obstacle was gone.Certainly I was receiving no answer to my phone calls. Stubbe himself had been part of a pro-Unitarian trend. still then sometimes interested in theology. Some responded with despair. The quest for information also continued. they were asking whether ultimate reality should not be ultimately simple. and the capacity to make mistakes. experiencing fear. he prayed: ‘Father. I found that the questions I was asking were none of them new. were further examples of men who had publicly rejected Trinitarian theology. and ended in Buddhism. I sought it in my heritage. in whom God and man are together. or perhaps to God the ‘Father’. and. and lack of full knowledge of past and future. But this metaphysical question also began to open Christian theology up in a fresh and insistently Unitarian direction. He is hence neither recognisably human (and hence a fairly accessible figure). getting headaches. but where was his Jewishness? Did it have no meaning at all? The wider culture. and He would show me an answer.’[24] Despite the outward drama. nor is he straightforwardly God (difficult. and that.’ proclaimed the poster.[20] Trinitarianism. Isaac Newton. in one recent book. as I played chess with Him. I concluded. I visited the Unitarian chapel at Rosslyn Hill. but coherent). And as months and years went by. unlike us in any respect. learning languages.[23] The Gospels. he knew everything. In Nonconformist England. John Hick. a theologian has the courage to write: ‘The traditional view of Jesus Christ actually demeans both his accomplishments and his heroism by attributing . ‘alternative spiritualities. and. laughing. One of the lessons I drew from the book was that the orthodox creeds had removed Jesus from any possibility of real human understanding or empathy on our part. had taken him far from his earlier born-again Evangelicalism. Daily I would choose a Person of the Trinity to address. was reporting on these tensions. being puzzled.[19] John Locke. In the seventies. It was not difficult to sympathise with the editor. was precisely to say that he was inhuman. but exists as some third entity utterly strange to us. Hence. in passages which as a child I had found immensely powerful. and Charles Dickens. I could not help but recognise the ‘conscious’ nature of the Absolute.[18] and the greatest English poet. But to address the wandering Messiah. not the Religion About Jesus. the doctrine of the Trinity had come under sustained criticism. He certainly showed me His existence. of course.’ In gently liberating me from the Greek web of the Trinity. ‘The Religion of Jesus. being exhausted. also burdened me with impossible conundrums. Milton. which.[22] I remember reading the text during a balmy summer on the Norfolk coast.’ or agnosticism. which love one another. in Hampstead. with all our bodily and mental functions: eating and excreting. a large crop of new writing revived the old Dissenting challenge to the Trinitarian position. and whose openness to other religions. dying. The ‘person’ of the Holy Ghost was the most alien of all. is now known to have been a closet Unitarian.[21] Side by side with this came the growing awareness that a full admiration of Jesus is only possible when he is regarded as exclusively human. and when I did this there was certainly an awareness that He was watching and waiting. All events acquired a religious meaning. more than in any other European context. As Geoffrey Turner complains: It is not easy. Surveys indicated that a growing number of clergy held ‘heretical’ views on the Triune God. in one’s devotions. as I entered what the Sufis call the ‘hidden game. but the newer theologians were pointing out that those limitations which constitute our humanity. dramatically told that the Devil tempted him. It seemed much more natural to pray only to ‘God’. Like Channing. Classical church doctrines held that he was entirely human as well as entirely divine. drawing angry but agonised hostility from defenders of the fifth-century creeds. insisting that ‘Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. which posits three centres of consciousness within one God.

provoking division and rancour. entering an English church. a process fraught with extreme difficulty. The consequences for Islam have been particularly interesting. How would the charismatic wandering rabbi of Galilee have voted. one of the greatest gifts has been Islam’s miraculous steadiness. as Saudi influence grows.[27] B. irreplaceable gift. or other sects that do not accept the Trinity.to him ‘intrinsic deity’ that essentially eliminates the possibility of either authentic temptation or failure. the Muslim liturgy is an astounding. and the religious hunger of the human heart will be answered by the Crescent. which often has a better sense of the dignity and beauty of ritual.’[32] Whatever political disasters may have overtaken some Muslim lands. one cannot know what will be presented. The Anglican liturgy. Disputes over which prayer-book to use are now common. and continue to practice a naive faith. attracting the attention of the invariablypolite but curious Egyptians who worshipped there. I visited Cairo in the spring of 1979.[31] Yet not everyone is protected by such ignorance. by those questers for the historical Jesus who doubt that he would have accepted the abstruse metaphysical conundrums of the Athanasian Creed. Professor Burton Mack. it is the ‘banquet of God’. Sometimes this has resulted in further expansion for the Unitarian church. had he found himself at the Council of Chalcedon? Other blessings deserve to be recounted. not the Cross. and others in the celebrated ‘Jesus Seminar’. A. and hearing his courteous reflections which. has been ‘updated’ by men manifestly unworthy of the task. One afternoon I was sitting against a pillar in the mosque of Imam alShafi’i.[30] Most ordinary churchgoers are not informed of the conclusions of the bible-scholars and the theologians. they would have scattered from round about you.D. Ehrman’s book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture[28] is one of the more recent scholarly demonstrations of the fragile obscurity of the methods by which the Gospels in particular were handed down. It may be said that no other religion practices as its founder did. and hard of heart. no other religion is so liturgically united both geographically and to its sainted past. I recall the verse addressed to the Blessed Prophet: ‘Had you been harsh. Muslims have always been distressed by the casualness of the methods by which the biblical texts were transmitted to the Bible’s eventual compilers. are they all so courteous to guests? Are they adorned still by that absolute Abrahamic virtue? In Cairo’s mosques I saw more than architecture. too. often leaving congregations with shallow performances in the place of ancient beauty. One of these thinkers. but still nominally Anglican. Wilson. as Pope Benedict has acknowledged: ‘One shudders at the lacklustre face of the post-conciliar liturgy as it has become. without compromising Islam. I saw religion in its classical majesty. it is that they do not neglect the immense gift of worshipping in congregation in the mosques. . If I have one recommendation for Turkish readers. Today. I encounter Anglicans who privately deny the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. once based on Cranmer’s fine Book of Common Prayer. the ‘christological idolatries’ of the traditional view have been frankly acknowledged. Already in love with Islam. into which one can submerge and be annihilated as one seeks for God. one experiences not a hankering after banality.[26] From Hick’s collection I learnt that these undercurrents were being facilitated not only by the awareness that Jesus is made alien and God made more complex by the traditional ideas.[29] The debates rage on. and agree wholeheartedly with my understanding of Jesus’ self-belief. there has been a crisis since the forced abandonment of the Tridentine Latin Mass at the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Sometimes one receives the distinct impression that the committees have placed ‘relevance’ above considerations of beauty and truth. I spent two weeks photographing and sketching in the mosques.’ (3:159) Today. in 1999 the Daily Express published a series of articles predicting the leading trends which would be visible in the new millennium. in particular. but a ritual inherited from a great age of faith. a Rock of Ages. but over the course of the last century it was clear that the traditional picture was regarded as untenable by a steadily-growing number of researchers. In a mosque.’ Looking back to that afternoon. For me. the best-selling biographer of Jesus. For us refugees. if not entirely supplied. Even in Catholicism. have sought to reconstruct the original unitarian teachings of Jesus. such as the Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses. reminded me of God’s mercy and His respect for the ‘People of the Book. in those mosques. Certainly. or one is simply bored with its hankering after banality and its lack of artistic standards.N. but also by the braver spirits of biblical criticism. wrote as follows: Islam is a moral and intellectual acknowledgement of the lordship of God without the encumbrance of Christian mythological baggage […] That is why Christianity will decline in the next millennium. Often. the core doctrines and practices are miraculously intact.’[25] In JewishChristian dialogue. my own migration towards Islam was facilitated. telling a young man of my troubles with the Trinity and the Incarnation. as the hadith describes the Holy Koran and its reverent reception in the midst of our worship.

I turned to the man beside me in a London mosque. Hitherto. too. I found. that God has placed Muslims in a privileged situation in such environments. Followers of Ishmael. now leaving the mosque. The Church’s various ‘myths of redemption.[37] The clarity and apostolic authority of our doctrines proves a no less precious advantage.’[33] The Trinitarian model. and I felt that I now had the reality of what I had once only claimed to have: a personal relationship with God. professor of divinity. in the namaz. There are meetings with remarkable men: the beauty and compassion of Sufism. and not difficult. including a love of theatre. seem to be drawn not from consultations with the Vatican’s established Islam experts. a furious and hate-filled polemic existed based on utterly erroneous information. without compromising that fellowship.to some in the Umma. or whom to approach. The beloved had lifted her Greek veil. and are perplexed when I usually warn them against joining the legions of believers now populating departments of politics or social science. And although I have protested against the tendency to place the mühtedis on a pedestal. All that I had enviously learnt.[36] There was much of ancient Rome in the Church’s priestcraft. an obstacle to worship. and unless truth be properly discerned and defended. By no means is that always the case. even from reputed mainline theologians. but as a doctrinal necessity. The complexities were stripped away by the ‘light words’ of the Witnessing. Geoffrey Lampe. a commonalty with others of one’s world who have been taken through the same gate. and the urgent but mistaken desire of many Muslims to engage in dialogue with purely secular thinkers and ideologies. gave me a sense of enormous humility and calm. we are primarily called to speak to the ‘People of the Book’. or ending the prayer said in a college room with a friend. enough. not knowing how to go in. as I turned away from the machine age to consider alternative voices. In fact The personal distinctions have no content. nothing else will come right. were hastening the secularisation of England. Years ago. usually with the realisation that one still knows little.’ he wrote. but it is not their consequence. The crisis of our age produces political and social disruptions. which are often based on errors already challenged in the Koran. he felt. ‘We need no mediator’. and saw that he was an old school-friend. yet to do this is impossible. to a visible degree. I concluded. little support from the New Testament writers. who struggle to understand the modern West in its imperial mode. Is any of this story of larger significance or helpfulness? Muslims often ask me what they should study. the son of an atheist Jewish MP. they have to be filled out with content.who knows? wisdom . wild opinions based on hearsay or long-dead scholarship. Alone. Theory becomes (attempted) practice. without partner. as there are many churchmen who are willing to lower the price of their goods in the hope of selling them to a trivial and lazy world. It also brought me closer to some debates that were raging in the Divinity School. had just published a detailed and iconoclastic account of the doctrine of the Trinity. for instance. The hypocrisy of my final months.[38] and it is still not unusual to hear. I now placed at the centre of my way of life. I have formed a cautious sense that as inhabitants of both worlds. on the whole. Six years after the Witnessing.God as Spirit. Despite appearances. ‘receive. should be reinterpreted to signify the three modes by which a non-Triune God operates. and in certain right-wing Christian circles even today. we may be a legitimate source of information and . It is helpful. Pope Benedict XVI’s various pronouncements on Islam. but on concerns shared. so long as they are understood to consist solely in the relations themselves. was thankfully swept away by the ceremony. I expected to find the heirs to the monotheist scriptures as the most serious prophetic dissidents of our time. gently to help the People of the Book confront their inherited misunderstandings about our faith. which God’s wisdom has kept simple. This was a systematic manifesto aiming to rescue Christian belief and worship from baffling doctrines which. and experience the accompanying fellowship as momentously important. Yet I take heart from conversations with other scripturalists. and the lessons learned from the tragic superficiality of Wahhabism. one’s sense of gratitude and humility increases. when I worshipped as a Unitarian but walked near and around mosques. and are therefore meaningless. by definition. In earlier centuries.‘Going up’ to Cambridge allowed me to attend Unitarian services on a regular basis. leaving church after Evensong had been a relief from ritual. are better-placed than Jews or Christians to benefit from the eirenic and mutually-affirming ethos which is informally demanded in such encounters. I find. As the Muslim years pass. and also. Religion is about truth. who revere the founders of the other monotheisms not just for reasons of conviviality or diplomacy. There is the fellowship with a true global community. If religion is to be Trinitarian. there was the ancient simplicity of surrendering the ego to Abraham’s God. was indeed ‘witnessing’ to God.[35] ‘Taking Shahada’. with right-wing activists and journalists such as . there is nothing in the ‘Son’ that is not also fully present and powerful in the ‘Father’.[34] he went on to say: God is.

on an honest reading. who seek humbly to listen and to learn. Outwardly. But there are many others. formerly professor of Arabic at the Sorbonne. perhaps very numerous. too.’ History and Theory 40 (May 2001). there are immense grounds for optimism. absolute step than ever before. 1994).Oriana Fallaci. [2] Robert B. not removed. his immense erudition was very nearly matched by his spiritual acuteness and humility. I still treasure the memory of Vincent’s guidance and his quick. 244. author of some of the most enduring classics of Islamic studies in the West. and following a deep study of primal Islam and its spiritual consequences. Illuminations (repr. 8. [3] W. of God himself’. and those religious needs which were so central to the lives of our species for ninety-nine percent of our history have certainly only been suppressed.[41] Massignon’s leading pupil. the belief is based on the story of his conversion at the Üsküdar Mevlevi Lodge in Istanbul. ‘Christians too can recognise the Koran as the word not simply of a human being but. 1967). any more than the Roman emperors spoke to the new Christian believers multiplying in their inner cities. although he took the view that it was primarily a mission to the Jews. [4] Peter Baehr. Our Final Century (London: Heinemann. 153-69. Unusually for a Christian of his time. God’s good intentions.[44] Where Massignon found God in Sufism. Representing without doubt the high-point of Christian attempts to understand Islam. he thinks. [5] Walter Benjamin. apparently told him: ‘Inwardly. erudite humour.’[42] the problem. Many of them are seekers. ‘The Orient Sun of Islam. ‘Today. FOOTNOTES [1] Richard Bulliet. they find to be the case. 118. if you continue to wear your priest’s cassock you will serve Islam more successfully’. moderate Christians like himself must proclaim what. His example. Yet no-one should assume that our present task is an easy one. there is currently no great Christian theologian of Islam who can match the depth and wisdom of the French priest Louis Massignon. Many of them. and the miraculous preservation of the divine gift. 2005). who like Massignon is seeking to overcome ancient judgements and recognise the spiritual integrity of Islam and its founding texts. 328n. The last incumbent (post-nisin). Looking at the new mood of militant hostility to Islam.’[43] To deflate the current Christian triumphalist mood in Washington. London.’ he insists. Remzi Dede.. Islam: the view from the edge (New York.[40]Some persist in the belief that Massignon was privately a Muslim. Weber. driven ultimately by the greed of large corporations. the ‘silenced’ priest and reformist theologian Hans Küng. contemporary example has been Benedict’s great adversary. was himself an active theologian. Massignon (1883-1962). 2003). Islam is making progress. he recognised the authenticity of our Prophet’s mission from God. you are a Muslim. To the loss of the world. The Persistence of Subjectivity: On the Kantian aftermath (Cambridge. . but he himself took Massignon’s wisdom to its logical terminus. Ubeidullah Cunliffe. Monotheism is the most coherent form of the religious life. [6] Martin Rees. Two inspiring examples of Christians ‘troubled by Islam’ might witness to the importance of this project. Küng finds Him in ‘the suffering of the West’s victims’.’ The Crescent I (1893). Yet human nature has not changed. and accepted Islam. is America’s ‘aggressive imperialistic foreign policy. and the stahlhartes Gehäuse Metaphor in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. and Islam is its purest expression. Humanity is now being programmed from an early age by an insistent materialistic culture.2005). in principle.[39] He hardly condescends to listen to us. ‘The “Iron Cage” and the “Shell as Hard as Steel”: Parsons. he laments that ‘the crusader mentality is currently being revived. Vincent Monteil (d. as it always does. Given human need. would not be drawn on the story of his mentor’s conversion. Pippen. and to join Islam has become a more radical. too. has borne fruit. harbour the doubts about Christian doctrine which once precipitated my change. Another.

Sept 18.) [11] Matthew Fox. The proportion continues to grow. . 2002). For a more popular example of this large literature see Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting. [20] Or rejected it outright. The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound (Lanham: International Scholars Publications.’ (Journal of Theological StudiesXXIX (1978).23: ‘And when you forgave. Mascall: ‘One of the most surprising recent theological phenomena has been the recrudescence at a high professional academic level. the CDF.’ (Revelation 19:15. 60.Divine Truth or Human Tradition? A Reconsideration of the Roman Catholic-Protestant Doctrine of the Trinity in the Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures(Bloomington: AuthorHouse. The Trinity’s Weak Links Revealed (iUniverse. [22] John Hick (ed. Even today Sunday Schools may teach children the verse ‘For there are three that bear record in heaven. [9] See Ahmad Shawqi. Lawrence (ed). the Word.’ [10] ‘And a sharp sword with which to smite the nations proceeds from his mouth. a quarter of Anglican priests stated that they did not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. and St Paul. Jack Putterill. p. [23] Geoffrey Turner. See Daily Telegraph. Bartlett). Griech-Polelle. [24] Catechism of the Catholic Church . turbulent priest and rebel (Marlow. 1996). Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters 1926-1950 (London. Lang. 1988). p. Metzger. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London: United Bible Societies. [13] Fr. I. p. [18] For the background see Philip Dixon. 2006). See also E. for the weakness of the claim of a Biblical basis for the doctrine see Robert L.[7] William Ellery Channing (ed. 1977). In 2002. 542. pp.’ New Blackfriars 88/1017 (September 2007). so that the ignorant could not despise your clemency. Gwyn Griffiths. [12] For the myth of one bishop’s active opposition to Nazism see Beth A. ‘Nice and Hot Disputes’: the Doctrine of the Trinity in the seventeenth Century (London: T & T Clark. 474. Milton’s Arianism (Frankfurt am Main: P. especially in the more ancient English universities.96-135. 1939). 31 July 2002. George. [15] Islam is ‘a far more tolerant and peaceful faith than Christianity’ (Karen Armstrong. of the views commonly known as unitarianism and adoptionism. and he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of Almighty God. 1977). 275. it was as a man empowered.). Jack Putterill. Patrick Navas. The Myth of God Incarnate (London: SCM. for his collaboration with the Nazis see especially pp. 1979). [16] Reprint Lahore: Orientalia. Unitarian Christianity and other essays (New York: Liberal Arts Press. 2007). 2003). in The Guardian. [19] Michael Bauman. [8] Ruqaiyyah Maqsood. 111-7. and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one’ (1 John 5:7). the Father. ‘Jon Sobrino.305. 1987). 1957). 1998). and he will rule there with a rod of iron.L. Thaxted quest for social justice: the autobiography of Fr. Bruce M. 2006). It has been removed from many modern Bibles. [14] Dan H. Triads and Trinity (Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 2000). 716-718. Bishop Von Galen: German Catholicism and National Socialism (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2000). [21] For a recent example of this genre see J. Muhammad in Europe (Reading: Garnet. 1954.617. However almost all scholars now agree that this verse was inserted later into the Bible by Trinitarians. A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice (Minneapolis: Winston Press. 1971). [17] Quoted in Minou Reeves. The Mysteries of Jesus: a Muslim study of the origins and doctrines of the Christian church (Oxford: Sakina Books. al-Shawqiyyat (Cairo: Maktabat Misr.

[27] In Islamic terms.’ (p. One God and One Lord: Reconsidering a Cornerstone of the Christian Faith (Indianapolis: Christian Educational Services. ‘The Dying Mythology of Christ’. as paraphrased on the cover. [29] Burton Mack. At school prayers I had been anxious to sit beside. later to become a well-known actress. Aftab Ahmad Malik (ed. I recall my amusement on learning of John Betjeman’s careful positioning of himself in the Grosvenor Chapel in a place from which he could observe the beauty editor of Harper’s Bazaar: How elegantly In the choir she kneels she vapoury must at pause swings incense in the altar along veil. Jesus (London: Sinclair-Stevenson. The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco. Graeser. 16. Converts often remark on the unexpected benefits of gender separation in worship. obtained through ‘wijada’. See also Luke T.’ [32] Joseph Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori. Jews and Christians: the contemporary meeting (Bloomington.). [28] Oxford. 1986). 1960). 121.[25] Mark H. in The Expository Times.uk/ISLAM/ahm/AHM-Benedict.H. Journal of Biblical Literature 108/3 (1989). [38] Norman Daniel. God as Spirit (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Wilson. and this certainly applied to me.co. Daily Express 21/10/99. or behind. but not a person in a Trinitarian God. Such distractions in gender-mixed churches were the subject of many a joke. 153 for Christianity’s ‘christological idolatries’. [30] A.255: ‘Most congregations are kept in ignorance of the findings of biblical criticism. p.xv). song rail. He writes. see Mustafa Alıcı. Lampe.masud. With God on Our Side: Politics and Theology of the War on Terrorism (London: Amal. [31] Professor John Rogerson of Sheffield University. the young Imogen Stubbs. The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (San Francisco. Schoenhurst. Roy Eckhardt. 144. in favour of an image of Jesus who considered himself to be messiah. [26] A. [36] A further recollection. 365-386. 2000). explains how his research caused him to reject his formerly devout Anglican faith. [34] Lampe. 419-41. 1992). [33] G. 1993.N. prophet. 113/8. Lynn and John W. 226.htm .W. Müslüman-Hıristiyan Diyalogu (Istanbul: Iz Yayıncılık. ‘The New Testament’s Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic’. 1993). Johnson. John A. 2006). Wilson’s biography. Indiana University Press. 1985). Islam and the West (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. and pure monotheist. [35] Lampe. for instance: ‘The ultra-orthodox Christians – whether Catholic or Protestant – are so anxious to preserve their religious faith intact that they do not dare to confront the conclusions of the last two hundred years of New Testament scholarship. 2005). 1977). The angel When (‘Lenten Thoughts of a High Anglican’) [37] For a persuasive list of reasons for Muslim participation in dialogue. [39] www. the Gospels lack an isnad – they are ‘maqtu’.

while removing references to the trinity and the Blood Atonement from sermons. 520.masud. 453.[40] David Kerr. 1995). Massignon would thus have joined the ranks of the so-called ‘submarines’. 3rd edition. 2007). 54. [42] Hans Küng. www. in Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Wadi Haddad (eds. [43] Küng.uk | More by same Author . 311. Christian-Muslim Encounters (Gainesville.co. Ah Üsküdar (Istanbul. ‘He Walked in the Path of the Prophets: Towards a Christian Theological Recognition of the Prophethood of Muhammad’. The present author has encountered several examples of this interesting and ambivalent spiritual type. Islam: past. priests secretly converted to Islam. future (Oxford: Oneworld. which believes it appropriate to continue working as a priest. [41] Ahmed Yüksel Özemre. 426-446. Üsküdar. [44] Küng.). present. 2005).

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