Welcoming Muslims into church


There’s currently a bit of a fuss going on in London because a vicar invited a group to have Muslim prayers inside his church.

This is a fuss blown out of all proportion. What the Rev Giles Goddard, the vicar of St John’s Waterloo has done is unremarkable and the trouble seems to be coming from those who are also troubled by his offering to affirm gay couples, as much as anything to do with the Muslims.

It seems important to state that I’ve offered Muslims the opportunity to hold worship in St Mary’s.

A couple of years ago one of the local mosques was being refurbished and they needed somewhere to meet for Friday prayers for six weeks. A group from the mosque committee came to me to ask whether there was any possibility of them using St Mary’s Cathedral.

I met with them and did indeed offer our space to them.

In the end, they didn’t take up the offer as they were worried that we didn’t have enough floorspace for them. (Not the first time I’ve cursed the immovable pews).

The things worth noting here are these:

  • Every Christian I spoke to about this wanted it to go ahead as part of the basic hospitality that we think is part of our faith.
  • Every Muslim I spoke to at the time spoke to me about precedents from history when Christians had been offered sanctuary in mosques and protection from Muslim communities whilst they worshipped there.
  • There was never controversy over this at all.

Related to this is the fact that I’ve twice asked Islamic Scholars (one Shia and one Sunni) to give a reading from the Qur’an during our carol service here in St Mary’s. Being surrounded by members of different Islamic communities in this part of Glasgow, the diverse congregation gathered to celebrate Christ’s birth in St Mary’s seemed both delighted and entranced to discover that members of another faith held the birth of of Jesus to Mary in the highest honour. Again, on each occasion when this happened there was delight and joy all around and not the slightest hint of controversy. The most recent occasion involved a sung recitation from the Qur’an and then a translation.  The sound still rings in my ears when I see local Muslims in the street.

It is worth noting in passing that the Islamic group that Giles Goddard invited into St John’s was unusual in that it welcomes men and women to pray together – something a lot of good Anglicans might be inclined to say was a good idea.

And another thing. I’ve heard on the grapevine that a mixed group of young people, Muslim and Christian was present in Liverpool Cathedral one year on Ash Wednesday when Justin Welby was the Dean. To some surprise, the Muslim young people came forward to receive the ashes on their foreheads along with everyone else.

I believe that the quick thinking Dean (now the Archbishop of Canterbury) said something like: “May the God of Abraham which is both my God and yours bless you and keep you safe this day” and firmly put the ash on all their heads. Such things are the everyday stuff of ministry. Entirely uncontroversial and a delight and a parable of the way things should be, to all involved.

Anyone wanting to throw stones at Giles Goddard over this might find that they bounce off and hit the Archbishop of Canterbury instead.

And those who want to stir up trouble between faiths, motivated by latent homophobia, should look deep into their souls before they next try to look the God of love in the eye.