Muslim prayers inside London Church causes controversy

A gesture of interfaith tolerance drew the ire of several clergy after it allowed Muslims to observe Friday prayers inside a London church.

St John’s Waterloo held the event with the Inclusive Mosque Initiative. Reverend Giles Goddard is accused of breaching canonical law, which states ‘while ministers have considerable liturgical freedom under Canon B 5, they are charged to ensure such services are ‘neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter’.

Rev Goddard rejected any notion of a breach of canonical law because it was not officially a Church of England event. In an interview, Rev Goddard placed the imperative on interfaith unity: “I certainly want to continue to work to develop strong and meaningful interfaith dialogue, to work to celebrate the things that bring us together instead of hearing so much about the things that divide us,” he said.

Dr Amina Wadud, a female professor and expert on Islam, led the main worship after the traditional call to prayer. As the event closed, Rev Goddard read part of Psalm 139, telling the congregation: “This is from the Hebrew scripture … we all share these great traditions, so let us celebrate our shared traditions, by giving thanks to the God that we love, Allah.”

The event was also open to all faiths and none, it offered a chance to bridge gaps and find commonality in a deep and altruistic love of God.

Yet, for the conservative Anglican mainstream blog, Rev Richard Syms criticised in blog, one of his many criticisms included that ‘inclusive Mosques and multi faith services are not the actions of prophets but of poodles of the secular liberal establishment’.

Other conservative clergy criticised the decision in light of Christian persecution in the Middle East. But as Hisham Melham noted:

“At the turn of the twentieth century the Christians accounted for 20 to 25 percent of the population of the Middle East. Today they are barely 2 percent. Their numbers have been declining steadily because of low birth rates, and emigration for economic reasons; but many have been forced to leave because of violence and wars, and as a result of overt discrimination, and persecution.”

Is it also offensive to ‘equate the Christian God with Allah?’ In a podcast discussing the role of Jesus in Islam, one of Britain’s most foremost scholars, Tim Winter (Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad) stated:

“The word Muslim simply means someone doing Islam, which ultimately in the Arabic language just means somebody who submits to God. So to call Jesus a Muslim, is not to say, for an Arabic speaker, who is also a Christian particularly offensive. Every religious person who believes in God seeks to submit to God.”

Rev Stephen Kuhrt, Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden, said: “I am appalled by Islamophobia and when people whip up an anti-Muslim frenzy but the vicar of St John’s Waterloo has done something that is completely illegal, which is to allow an Islamic service to be held in his church and then he has participated as well.”

Yet, there is a deeper tension sitting below the headlines, between liberal and Christian voices, after all, some already drew ire at St John’s Waterloo because it holds “thanksgiving” services for same-sex civil partnerships and marriages.

Muslim prayers inside a church should act as a point of education, not tension.