In The Name of God, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful
A renowned Sufi sage of twentieth century India once distinguished between two types of believer. One is happy to do just about enough to fulfil the rights of God while the other derives pleasure and profound joy in serving his Creator. In serving God’s creation, we aim to serve God. It was this desire that melted away any anxiety I may have had in a sea of overwhelming warmth and hospitality when I spent time at Cuddesdon. This visit was intended to be an opportunity for me to experience and observe Christian theological training in action as part of my broader research into the training of Muslim scholars in Britain. It turned out to be much more than that.
Aside from our philosophical and theological discussions, we all shared a bruised concern for what is happening to the world around us and how, as people of faith, we have a vital role to play in modern Britain. Muslims and Christians may have differences but this should not blind us from the far greater common ground we share. The proof of this, if any were needed, was that we were able to forge deep and meaningful friendships in such a short period of time, which no doubt will last a lifetime. Every one I met left me convinced and inspired as to the need to work tirelessly to impart what Islam is about. Islam, I believe has much to offer and our task is to continue contributing and engaging with wider society. As the late Stephen Covey wrote, “what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do.”
The training at the college and the lectures, though wonderfully enlightening, exposed to me my lack of knowledge of Christianity. I am sure I am not alone in this, and I am equally sure that there are as many people who know very little about my faith. Therefore, it is only with the coming together of Christian colleges and British darul ulooms (Muslim institutes of higher learning) that compassion and understanding can find root. Of course, this requires a certain degree of boldness – the need to leave the safety of the shore. I am reminded of the Persian poet and spiritual thinker, Rumi, who in his own words says, “Do not be satisfied with the stories that come before you. Unfold your own myth.” After my time at Cuddesdon, I can only hope that this will be the beginning of another chapter between our faiths.
Haroon Ebrahim Sidat