In an interview with Premier Christian Radio, Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini, founder of Scripture Reasoning and Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Leo Beck Rabbinical College, has said that the ‘church hierarchy’ in the UK is to blame for Christian persecution around the world because it ‘simply doesn’t care’ and only offers a ‘whimper’ in response to incidents:
The one thing we Muslims can absolutely rely upon is that whereas the tiniest thing kicks off in Gaza or the West Bank and there are protests in Muslim cities all the way from Jakarta to Timbuktu, in the case of persecuted Christian minorities—horrendous machete attacks take place in Nigeria, Christians in Iraq are burned out of their houses, Christians in Pakistan are stoned or attacked on the slightest pretext, Christians in Palestine suffer under Israeli occupation—in all cases what we will hear is just a whimper.
He calls upon the church to be a voice for justice for persecuted minorities, which he claims would speak ‘into the heart of the Muslim community’:
If you Christians allied yourselves with this imperative of justice, became a church which is a church of the tax collector, of the persecuted Christian of the prostitute, of the marginalised, of the slave, instead of becoming a church that has allied itself with the structures of power...
He singles out the Church of England for particular criticism: ‘It responds to issues of justice and truth like Pontius Pilate: “what is truth?” ’. His admonition continues:
...if you truly wish to convince me as a Muslim ...that you care about more than your chocolaty-box parish churches—care more about persecuted Christian minorities than you do about your village picnics and your CU barbecues—then I want you to go out there and take control of this issue and sack those Christian leaders of yours, make those Christian leaders of yours repent and resign for the extent to which they have degraded the importance of precious interreligious engagement and speaking with truth and justice to the level of Anglican politics.
His most stinging rebuke is the one that probably rings truest:
The two fundamental, cardinal sins that persecuted Christian minorities have committed for this powerful, white, establishment church in this country is not being white and not being wealthy. ...they’re poor and they don’t matter. And we can rely on that in the Muslim community. We can rely on the fact that to the great majority of people, this issue is not sufficiently important. They may grieve about it, they may pray about it, but they’re certainly not going to upset their powerful self-interest as a result of this.
He nonetheless acknowledges fault on the part of Muslims who persecute Christians:
Whenever there are difficulties in any environment, we look for a scapegoat. The reality is that, on the ground, if I can’t get my kids into a better school, if the electricity keeps cutting out, if my Government is repressive and I don’t have a vote, then we as Muslims resign ourselves from taking responsibility for this and externalise the problem and say that it’s all the crusader-Zionist conspiracy.
Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of the Barnabas Fund, responded: ‘What the Sheikh is actually saying is this, that if you’re going to try and convince me as a Muslim to be a Christian, then you have got to be concerned about your own faith community and you’ve got to start thinking religiously, not to be motivated by secularist ideals and that is what most church leaders don’t realise. ...So what the Sheikh is saying is that ‘ “your religion is really a very secular religion, [in] which you have no real concern for your own, so if you don’t bother with your own, why are you trying to convince me to join your merry band?” ’
He accepts that the Church has to recognise her primary allegiance to Christ and her responsibility to care for the flock. She has got to see herself as a part of the persecuted church: ‘not just empathise, but to be totally identified with her, which means firstly, she has to work for the welfare of that Church, even above her own, and to be willing to face disgrace and shame, animosity from everyone, as she stands up for the weak, the deprived and the despised of her own faith community.’
Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester placidly pointed out that the persecution of Christians is not being perpetrated by church leaders:
...the hierarchy in this country is not doing those things—praise the Lord! It may be that people—church leaders—are not speaking out as strongly against this persecution as they should. And in that sense, we should heed the words of Imam Al-Hussaini: that we should be speaking out more strongly for our fellow Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world.
In relation to the Imam’s claims about racism, he admits that:
Both of those things are true: they’re not white and they’re not wealthy, because most Christians in the world are like that now. ...What churches here need to learn is that these people are their brothers and sisters...we’re all one in Christ Jesus and if one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. ...He is onto something when he says we should be loud and clear about the persecution of Christians.
He knows, however, that there are other causes to address:
I talk to Muslim leaders all the time about these issues and sometimes they say things that are very good; sometimes they will say in public “people have the right to believe whatever they like”. I welcome that, but then that has to work out in practice and in the leadership that they give to their people.
Sheikh Dr Al-Hussaini must be aware that most persecution of Christians is perpetrated by Muslims. He must also be aware of the Qur’anic texts that encourage mistreatment of ‘infidels’, including subjugation and slaughter. Can he not prevail upon his Muslim brothers to stop the persecution of Christians around the world? Can he not, as a Muslim scholar, issue a fatwa (ruling) to allow converts to live in peace and safety—to live without fear of being harassed and killed? Can he not ask prominent Muslim leaders to sign up to basic freedoms in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the Proposed Charter of Muslim Understanding?
**Christians are being urged to take part in the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church on 8th November, an initiative by the World Evangelical Alliance. It’s a day to unite and pray for Christians who face violence and death because of their faith, specifically Christians in the Indian state of Orissa.**
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