Summary: I had the privilege last Friday night of being back amongst my friends at the Imam Husain Islamic Centre where we met to grieve the death of the father of my dear friend, Sheikh Mansour Leghaei.
I had the privilege last Friday night of being back amongst my friends at the Imam Husain Islamic Centre where we met to grieve the death of the father of my dear friend, Sheikh Mansour Leghaei.
And it was good to be back amongst those lovely people, and it was good to a part of the live Skype linkup with Mansour back in Esfahan (in Iran) and it was to once again enjoy the experience of being kissed by an enormous number of bearded men (an experience that [sadly] I just don’t get anywhere else).
And I was reminded very clearly, while I was there, of one particularly endearing thing that one of the members of that community had said to me on a previous visit. It wasn’t Sheikh Mansour who said it to me or any of his family members but one of the elders there – a retired professor from Newcastle University.
This man had been looking after me on one of the previous times that I’d been there and we had been talking very warmly and candidly, when said to me, “You know, before I was a Muslim, I was a Christian!” And I was taken aback and said, “Really?” He said, “Yes, and before I was a Christian, I was a Jew”.
Then I understood, of course, that he didn’t mean that he’d actually been a convert from Christianity, but that rather he was expressing our common spiritual heritage.
And of course I could not share his perspective – that Islam fulfils the Christian hope, just as we believe the New Testament Gospel fulfils all the hopes and dreams of the Old, but I appreciated that this elder in the Islamic community was basically just expressing his closeness to me, and I found that touching.
And I’ve thought of that man and his message to me often because I think the whole world needs to hear what he has to say!
I do sincerely believe that if we could somehow get rid of all the dirty politics, we’d find that the common heritage of the three Abrahamic religions is so great – at least in terms of basic ethics and values – that we really have no ideological basis for enmity, let alone for any ‘clash of civilisations’!
‘Before I was a Muslim I was a Christian, and before I was a Christian I was a Jew’ – it was an impressive thing to say, but it was also a statement that required a response, I felt – a response that I wasn’t able to give at the time, but I’ve thought of one since – a good response – and I got it from the story of Noah!
One thing that always comes to mind for me when I think of Noah and the Flood is an old Peanuts cartoon, featuring Linus and Lucy sitting at home, looking out of the window, and it’s raining!
Lucy says to Linus, “I can’t believe how long it’s been raining for! Perhaps it will just keep raining until everything is flooded and we are all drowned?” Linus replies, “No, in Genesis chapter 9 God tells Noah that He will never again allow a flood to take over the whole earth”. Lucy says, “Wow! Thanks”. Linus pauses and says, “Good theology is a beautiful thing!”
Good theology is a beautiful thing, and it’s the theology of Genesis 9 and the flood story that has interested me, as I think it’s a story with a very important message.
The Noah story is a tale of pain and passion – the pain caused by humanity on the one hand, through their violent and reckless behaviour, and the passion of God, who is grieved by His creation and seems to be ready to throw up his hands!
If you’re familiar with this part of the Bible you know that the Noah story is a component part in a series of similar stories that span the first eleven chapters of Genesis – starting out with the very beginning of creation – where things just seem to go from bad to worse.
First there is Adam and Eve and the incident with the snake. Next thing, there’s a murder in Adam and Eve’s immediate family, and things just seem to degenerate from there until, by the time of Noah, we’re told that “every inclination of the human heart was only evil all the time”. (Genesis 6:5)
And I appreciate that that’s a very black and white way of looking at the world, but if you look at what’s going on in the world today, you could be forgiven, I think, for coming to exactly the same conclusion!
And it makes you angry! I find myself getting angry about things all the time! I’ve been getting angry this week about Syria, though not so much over what’s going on in the country itself, but over the way it’s being reported out here!