July 5th, 2016
Reflecting on the Crescent Moon
A group of 15 or so of us have been gathering together at the Hurtado Centre to explore some of the guiding elements of Islam. Led by Fr Damian, we have traversed some vast topics – the Qur’an, the prophet Muhammad, even some Islamic philosophy. With many kinds of study, the expectation is that introduction will clarify and make plain the previously unknown. Yet it strikes me that my perception of Islam is all the more mysterious for having been introduced to it by the course. I haven’t moved from ignorance to enlightenment, in fact, the reverse movement is a more apt description: for in some ways I held an unarticulated but probably quite clear sense of what ‘Islam’ meant at the outset, a sense that has now been complicated and mystified. The sessions were punctuated by questions asked, as what ‘Islam’ came to mean broadened and deepened, became more mysterious, became something less straightforward, less easily grasped and controlled. I am still thinking about the mysterious transposing of words within Islam: into visual arrangements that make for beautiful works of art, or into mesmerising sung chants.
But coming to see Islam as a more complicated and complex entity is not to relegate it to a ‘foreign’ category I can distance myself from. In fact, in coming to see it as a deeper and richer and harder thing to understand, I am drawn to engage with those who practise it more seriously. Perhaps this is because in complicating something, in revealing its inner tensions, and seeing that belief is difficult, complex, worked out, the want to see more of the personal resources of faith which support belief springs easily. It is as if an outline has been drawn which invites the question of what fills it – how do my neighbours enact these beliefs and ideas in their lived lives, such that the loose and slippery outline is the shape it is? Perhaps the want to hear from my Muslim neighbours is because the thing I thought of as ‘Islam’ has been shown to be far less predictable and facile – and, so, far harder to maintain is my sense of Muslims being ‘over there’ doing and thinking as I expect. Such a desire to encounter those who give Islam its life today comes at a good time – I write this in the month of Ramadan, in which there has been no shortage of invitations extended to our church to join those at the local mosque to share Iftar together.
There is a long tradition in Christian theology of connecting knowledge with love – and I notice now as I reflect on the course that there is at least the potential for observing something parallel going on: a kind of knowing that dismantled my simple assumptions leads me now to want to meet and hear from my Muslim neighbours – to relate to them and listen to them, perhaps the basis at some later stage for love.