Why Christians should be the first to stand alongside Muslim brothers and sisters

 

abdullah-al-mulla-at-inter-faith-weekGrowing up in North Wales did not introduce me to a plethora of different faiths and nationalities. Three times a year, though, my family travelled down to the big smoke – Cardiff – to visit my grandparents. While we were there, we’d travel into the city centre, and there we would see people of different races and nationalities, women wearing hijab, and men in long flowing gowns. It all fascinated small-town Trystan and I remember asking my mum whether these people who looked so different from me were Christian. She told me that some of them were, but some were of other faiths, and she added, “but whether they’re Christian or not, God loves them and he wants us to love everyone, whatever their background, whatever their race, whatever their faith”. “But mum,” I retorted, “didn’t Jesus say that no one comes to God, except through him?” To my surprise, my mum answered, “no, Trystan, he didn’t say that”. Before I could rush to my bookcase to show her John 14:6 in my children’s Bible, she explained – “Jesus did not say that no one comes to God except through him, Jesus said no one comes to the Father except through him”.

By seeing God as our “father”, we Christians hold that we are brought into a particular type of relationship with God – a relationship of trust, of forgiveness, of unconditional love. This is a relationship that reflects a human relationship between father and a daughter or son. This personal relationship is one of the amazing things that I, as a Christian, believe makes my faith unique. Jesus came to show us how to attain that relationship, because that relationship reflects who and what God really is – a God of love, a God of forgiveness, a God of compassion.

img_2255We Christians believe that Jesus offers us that unique relationship, but the consequence of that belief is not that other faiths should be disparaged or dismissed – quite the opposite. Our belief doesn’t mean that we Christians own God and that we should box him up as our special property. It doesn’t mean that those of other faiths, and even those of no faith, don’t connect and engage with God. It doesn’t even mean that people of other faiths don’t have their own relationship with God. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love, laugh with, learn from, and stand up for people of other faiths. This is perhaps something of what Desmond Tutu meant when he said: “God is not a Christian”.

Part of my ministry involves journeying with people who are themselves called to Christian ministry. In my first meeting with a candidate, I ask them who has helped them on their Christian journey – who, down the years, have helped them to connect with God, to see God in different places. Sometimes they mention friends, sometimes family members, sometimes someone in church. When I ask myself that same question there are so many people that come to mind – my mum and dad, my old school chaplain, a lecturer at university, a close friend of mine in my first job, a number of Christian writers whose books I have read but I have never met, and my wife Sandra.

img_0658But I would also add another name to that list. And that is the name of a man called Sameh Otri.  Sameh is now a lecturer in the Middle East, but he was, a few years ack, my fellow chaplain in Cardiff University. Sameh is a humble person, a deeply spiritual person, a compassionate person, an inspirational person. But what makes him different from many of the people on my list is that Sameh is a Syrian Muslim – he was the Muslim chaplain to the University. Yet I learnt so much about God, about faith, about prayer, about love, through Sameh.

img_1927I remember meeting up with Sameh for coffee one spring morning, for example. As we sat down in a Cardiff café that serves just the best cakes, Sameh said to me “oh no! I just remembered, it’s Lent for you, so you must be fasting and can’t eat anything!” I explained to him that actually, for Christians, fasting during Lent was very different to fasting during Ramadan, and that Christians usually give up something specific, like chocolate or cakes. “Ah I understand now”, he said as he chose a big slice of cake, “so what did you give up?” “Oh no”, I quickly replied, “what I meant was that other Christians give up something during Lent, but I haven’t given up anything and so can eat as much cake as I want!” This led to a lengthy conversation on why fasting is important, why self-discipline and self-control are helpful, and how fasting can bring us closer to God. I must admit, and not for the first time with Sameh, I went away with my faith challenged and, in some little way, changed.

img_1899Sameh taught me so much during my time as chaplain and it would be nice to think that he is now chatting to friends in his local mosque in Buraydah, telling them that he also learnt something about God through me. Our call is to both teach others and learn from others, whoever they are. It would be good if all of us could open our eyes, our ears, and our minds to allow people of other faiths to teach us something about God and about our faith. In the gospels, there are gentiles who are learning about God through Christ and his disciples, but it is clear that Jesus wanted his followers to also learn something about God and faith through them – “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith”, he said to his disciples about a centurion (Luke 7:9). We live in a world that’s increasingly obsessed with differences, and with trying to encourage us to fear and distrust those who are different from us and those who have different views from us. But that’s not how Jesus worked. He didn’t want to make people the same as him so he could engage with them. He simply reached out to all people, and encouraged his followers both to love others and to learn from others, whoever they are, however different they may be to them.

“Who else has ever invited Charles de Foucauld, Margaret Thatcher, Philip Pullman and Nick Cave to the same party?” The Compassion Quest’s first month

I will post a “proper” blog-post very soon, but I just wanted to update you on The Compassion Quest. It’s been nearly 4 weeks since it was published, and sales for the book have, in the first month, already surpassed sales of my first book Winds of Change, published nearly 14 years ago now. Thanks for all your support! Reviews have been great, with 11 reviews on Amazon (nine giving 5 stars and two giving 4 stars), a number of very positive reviews in blogs (including from poet and author Gerard Kelly), and a very good review in Christianity magazine.

Here are some of the comments in the reviews, with links: (NB I have updated these to include also more recent reviews)

The Compassion Quest (SPCK 2013)

The Compassion Quest (SPCK 2013)

“Very readable book… [Hughes] writes with compelling passion and authority. 4 out of 5 stars” (Christianity magazine)

“Highly readable style… The writing is fast-paced but has real depth. Alongside the high-brow theologians and writers, Hughes’ text is peppered with film references, song lyrics and news stories from around the world.  Who else has ever invited Charles de Foucauld, Margaret Thatcher, Philip Pullman and Nick Cave to the same party? You won’t be bored. You will be challenged. Highly recommended.” (Gerard Kelly’s blog)

“This is a brilliant book by someone who knows what they’re talking about and knows how to communicate in a clear, contemporary way… This book will help you to see how life works in a different way, and I highly recommend it… 100 pages of wonderful writing, great content and many challenges that we all need to think about” (Dean Roberts’ award-winning blog)

“Some books baptise us with both tears and smiles. And make us stop, look, listen. And make us turn around” (Simon Marsh’s blog)

“In the week that has seen the Church lose the wonderful gift of the author Brennan Manning whose seminal text ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ has touched the lives of so many, it’s refreshing to read another voice that gets the true simplicity of the Gospel and can articulate it to a modern audience. 8 out of 10 stars” (Pete Ould’s An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy blog)

“A powerful and compelling vision of compassion and stewardship for all of creation… A challenging and engaging call to be Christ’s people of compassion… [Hughes’s] view of the Incarnation is stunning… An interesting and unique perspective on Christian compassion that bears careful scrutiny, and its overarching challenge is one the Church would do well to read” (Thomas Creedy’s blog)

“Brilliant and accessible theology for real people… Confident, humble wisdom grounded in good scholarship and expressed in beautiful, accessible prose. 5 out of 5 stars” (David Meldrum’s blog from South Africa)

“There is much food for thought in this book” (The Church Times)

“A worthwhile drawing together of spiritual wisdom from an impressively wide range of sources. The author presents a persuasive and often moving case for the interconnectivity of all things under God… None of the illustrations feels forced or clumsy and some of Hughes’s personal and family asides are genuinely charming” (The Church of Ireland Gazette)

“If someone were to ask me which two books, beside the Bible, they should read in order to assist their Christian journey, I would suggest The Shack by William Paul Young and The Compassion Quest by Trystan Owain Hughes. The Compassion Quest is, in my view, the ultimate manual on compassion” (Croeso)

“A deeply thoughtful and introspective book… accessible… reflective… It doesn’t feel like a work of popular theology, or a pious sermon, but an honest reflection on what it means to be Christian… The book made me stop and think, and it has forced me to reconsider the way I view myself and my relationships” (On Religion)

“The Compassion Quest is a beautiful book inviting us to humble awe, to find God and each other in the everyday and to rescue us from lazy, culturally skewed discipleship which has the powerful lording it over the powerless” (Dave Meldrum blog lists The Compassion Quest as one of his Books of the Year)

Compassion Quest launch

Article in Croeso newspaper about the launch of The Compassion Quest