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The Islamic Republic of Britain? A Personal Odyssey. PART ONE

Wednesday, 21 July 2010  | Julian Holdsworth

or at best a place where the competing ideologies of secular/liberal democracy, Islam and Christianity live in a state of constant suspicion and tribal war. While this may seem remote to our circumstances here in Australia, the questions of inclusivity, migration and democracy are very relevant and haunt us with every boatload of refugees or foiled terrorist plot.
I am an Aussie-Brit who became a citizen two years ago and have lived away from the UK as a missionary and pastor for 10 years. I returned to the place of my birth for the first time in 8 years during the New Year and discovered that the country of my birth was facing some multi-cultural challenges. Particularly, on the question of Islam and democracy. While, for most people, such a question is answered by information from the media or politicians or the opinion of a next-door neighbour, my observations are more personal and local...

My first stops were with my Muslim relatives...

My older sister converted to Islam many years ago and I have various nieces and nephews who, to varying degrees identify themselves as religiously and/or culturally Islamic. Did they feel that the UK was moving positively towards Islam? The short answer is that they feel like many other minorities – intimidated at times by the dominant cultural suspicions against their faith (headwear in French schools being just one European example) and yet hopeful that the Muslim influence on the way the country is run is increasing. Indeed, if current political trends continue, one of my Muslim nephews will very likely be a Member of Parliament at the next election and play his part in achieving these desires. His aspirations would seem to represent the moderate end of Islam and indeed his commitment to a multi-religious culture could be evidenced by his current activities - he has set up an organisation to foster inter-religious dialogue and tolerance. He has chosen to operate within the current political framework, seeing no contradiction between that and his faith.

On the question of the place of Islam in the UK, one relative postured that Prince Charles (the future head of state) may have already converted to Islam, but can’t admit it, others foresaw the likelihood of the sheer weight of numbers contributing to the Islamisization of the UK. Some commented on the futility of violence given that the Muslim birth rate would do in a hundred years what the terrorists are striving to do anyway. Many of these comments seemed to come from a wider sense of alienation within secular culture. This sense of powerlessness seems to create a hope that if “we can just get more power, things will be better”. I’ve observed Christians go through the same process...A few years ago, I was inundated with emails flying around Christian circles to vote for Guy Sebastian to win Australian Idol because of “the significant influence he will have for God in popular culture”. Muslims, like many Christians seem to want power and people in places of influence in order to effect change in the public sphere. They, like Christians, don’t like having to wait for the mustard seeds to grow; they want to make a big impact now.

What strikes me in talking with my Muslim relatives is how rarely they interact with their Christians neighbours (and vice-versa). Like most people, they aspire for an improved world and their views of this world are full of partial truths, half-formed opinions stated as facts and some genuine human goodness. They love their families and follow their faith falteringly (as do we all). They long to see their faith more central in public life (as do we all). So I would simply make an appeal to all evangelicals – don’t pigeon hole Muslims into any one media-defined category. They are not the enemy; they are people to whom we are to become neighbours – broken, flawed and not so different to us. They are people to befriend and value like any other human being, but so few of us do.

But is this all there is to say in talking with Muslims – humans, just trying to do good, motivated by a particular creed? Or are the cultural barriers and Islamic values incompatible with a liberal democracy?

My response and further reflections will appear in next month’s Engage.mail
Julian Holdsworth is a former Director for Serving In Mission, Victoria.


July 22, 2010, 3:53PM
You should obtain a copy of "Islam Religion or political system? Be informed. It is to your best interest."
website at: http://my.integritynet.com.au/kenmurjos

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