Islam – my own experiences of encounters with Muslims

I have been involved with interfaith dialogue for a number of years. I was Interfaith advisor to the East Midlands Synod of the United Reformed Church for several years, and still maintain close contact with the Nottingham Interfaith Council.

I met Yasmin at a meeting to discover faiths in the Nottingham area. I was invited to present Christianity. Yasmin was there with two other ladies. For the occasion, they were wearing traditional Muslim dress, although without the face covering. Normally, all three of them wear Western clothes. I kept up the conversation with Yasmin by email after the meeting. She came to my house to meet me to discuss how we might work together.

She belongs to a non religious Muslim family. Like many Christians, church/mosque is there for hatches, matches and dispatches and little else. Yasmin wanted to learn more. She started going to her local mosque for Friday prayers. One day, she received a revelation from God. What a Christian would describe as a ‘conversion experience’. She was moved to go into local schools with the other two ladies to talk about Islam, and the fact that the majority of Muslims in the UK are moderate, and loathe what the extremists are doing.

Sadly, Yasmin suffered some serious chronic illness, and had to give up most of the work she had been doing. She is frequently in my thoughts and prayers, but she has made no further contact with me.

The other encounter I had was during an evening arranged by the Nottingham Interfaith Council. It is called ‘The Listening experience.’ It takes place every year, and allows us to tell our faith story to someone of another faith, and for them to tell us about their own faith journey.

It was there that I met a young Muslim woman. She was twenty at that time, and was a post graduate science student at a London university. Her story began when she was fourteen. Her school was not a Muslim school, but had a large number of Muslim students. A prayer corner was curtained off in an area of the main hall. Three Muslim lads went there every day for the mid-day prayer time. She decided to join them. She had not been brought up in a particularly religious family, but found something in that prayer time that moved her. Some non-Muslim lads came along to poke fun at them, and two of them stopped bothering when they found that the Muslim kids took no notice. One lad became interested. He told them that he was an atheist, but would they mind if he came to the prayer time every day, as he was finding it interesting. He started asking one of the Muslim lads questions. It reached the point when the Muslim lad found the questions too deep and challenging for him, and offered to take him to the mosque and introduce him to the Imam. The young lad liked what he heard, and asked if he could go along every Friday. Subsequently, he discovered that ther is a God, and he began to enjoy a relationship with God. He has now converted and has all the enthusiasm that we expect from a convert.

Malcolm, a friend of mine, wrote the following about his experience on the ‘Listening Experience.’
“I asked to meet a young Muslim for my second meeting, and this was arranged. He was 19 with a small beard, easy to talk to, and an ideal representative of the Muslim faith. Both his parents have always been Muslims. He said he was more religious as a young boy, but now still prayed five times a day. He said he has always played a part in various community work. Today he is involved in youth work including football and cricket as well as taking classes. He feels that a wrong impression of Muslims prevails today due to extremism. I pointed out that Christians have had our own problems in Northern Ireland, and we were by no means perfect. Just as Muslims left the problems to Christians to sort out, we expect Muslims to sort out their extremism today.
He does not approve of Muslims wearing veils, but feels the French are wrong having a law against it. He does approve of the wearing of head scarves. He considers we should follow their customs in their country, and Muslims should do the same in our country..
He has an interest in politics twice having been invited to speak at meetings in the House of Commons”.

I have also found a great deal of commonality between the Christian mystics, and Muslim mystics of the Sufi tradition. A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Neil Douglas-Klotz. The talk he gave was on his latest book “The Genesis Mediations.” He regard the creation story as a starting point in our shared journey as Christians Jews and Muslims. We can meet together in meditation on these passages. This concept excited me, and reminded me of my own work on the same subject. You might see my essay on “The Divinity of Humankind” at: http://www.barrydrake.webspace.virginmedia.com/minister/divinity.html It includes the following about Mother Julian of Norwich:
“There were, however a number of significant writings from Christian mystics. One in particular, Mother Julian of Norwich, offers us a striking picture of humankind. In chapter 51 of her revelations of divine love[83], she offers a vision of a Lord, and a servant. The Lord asks the servant to go on an errand for him, and the servant eagerly runs to do the Lord’s will, but falls into a ditch and can no longer move. Mother Julian sees this as ‘all of humankind’ – in her explanation of the vision, she says:
“The Lord that sat stately in rest and in peace, I understood that He is God. The Servant that stood afore the Lord, I understood that it was shewed for Adam: that is to say, one man was shewed, that time, and his falling, to make it thereby understood how God beholdeth All-Man and his falling. For in the sight of God all man is one man, and one man is all man.”
There is great similarity between this mystical picture, and the picture of the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel, restored to his former glory.
She goes on to say later in the same chapter:
“When Adam fell, God’s Son fell: because of the rightful oneing which had been made in heaven, God’s Son might not [be disparted] from Adam. (For by Adam I understand All-Man.)”
Mother Julian, it seems sees all of humankind from God’s viewpoint, not as individuals, but as a composite ‘Son of Man’, who waits to be restored (healed) in God’s own good time.
It seems at this point in time, that Christian theologians are producing an increasingly higher Christology in which humankind is lowly and does not share in the divinity which they ascribe to Jesus, while mystics – Mother Julian among others – are seeing a different picture of the divinity of humankind.

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Author: Barry Drake

Retired URC minister. Very involved in Colwick Village and its affairs. In retirement, I have the privilege of being a visiting preacher at a number of churches, and I act as a tutor on groups aimed at deepening spirituality. See: http://www.barrydrake.webspace.virginmedia.com/ Some of my writings are at: http://www.barrydrake.webspace.virginmedia.com/minister/index.html

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