The Prophet Abraham seems to be a good starting point for a dialogue between Islam and Christianity, and so this year’s interfaith event organised by the Islamic Centre of England, the Christian Muslim Forum and the Parish of St Augustine- Kilburn chose the character of Abraham and the concept of ‘prophecy’ as its main theme. This conference, entitled ‘Prophecy, Yesterday and Today’ took place on 6th February 2016 and was held both at St Augustine Church and the Islamic Centre of England in London. Speakers, who included Muslim Imams and Christian priests, shared their views about the concept of prophecy and highlighted commonality as well as differences between the two faiths regarding the role and figure of a prophet. Rev. Maggie Hindley gave a brief account of Abraham’s life according to the Holy Bible. She mentioned the story of Abraham’s exodus from Ur to Syria, then to Egypt, and finally his settlement in Palestine in a place know today as Al-Khalil or Hebron. She briefly mentioned the story of Isaac and Ishmael and the story of sacrifice according to the Christian and Jewish traditions. Shaikh Bahmanpour accordingly gave a brief account of Abraham’s life, or as he is known in Arabic, Ibrahim, according to the Holy Qur’an. He said the story in the Qur’an does not mention most of the names and places, but focuses on the lessons that can be learned from it. He mentioned several verses from the Qur’an about Ibrahim, in particular the ones related to the story of breaking the idols. Later Dr Damian Howard from Heythrop College, University of London took the podium and explained his views on the idea of prophecy with a focus on God’s covenant with Abraham. He said that God made his covenant to Abraham as the father of Israelites to make them victorious against their enemies as well as giving them land and prosperity. The question was how God would fulfil this promise? He said if you put yourself in the shoes of the Jews around the time of Jesus’ birth, you would have found yourself in misery and under the yoke of Roman rulers. Thus from their point of view, it is a question that how God would fulfil his promise and set them free from oppression. Dr Howard said that the birth of Jesus was the peak of this fulfilment. This time God himself came to the rescue of his people and brought hope to them. However many Jews did not recognise this blessing and opportunity to the extent that Jesus chose his disciples from a fringe society of Galilee. He continued by saying that the advent of Jesus fulfilled God’s covenant with Abraham and now all humankind and not just the Jews were included in God’s covenant as God’s children. In his address, Dr Shomali said that Ibrahim is a personality from whom one can always learn something new regardless of whether you are an expert in theology or not. He mentioned that after succeeding in many of God’s tests, Ibrahim was elevated to the position of ‘Imam’, meaning ‘leader’ of the believers. He also recited verses from the Quran about Ibrahim and mentioned stories from hadith about his faith, his humbleness and his hospitality. He emphasised of the role of reason in Ibrahim’s faith and the way he argued with the idol worshipers about God. Ibrahim however did not consider reason alone to be sufficient and prayed to God to reveal the kingdom of heaven to him. Finally in the morning session Rev Amos from St Augustine Parish Church led the audience in a tour around the church, showing them paintings of different Biblical stories and stressed the importance of visual art in Christian theology. In the afternoon session held in the Islamic Centre of England Sister Anjum Anwar she talked about her experiences as first a member and later as a trustee of the Christian Muslim Forum. She mentioned the story of thee prophets according to the Quran, namely Zachariah, John the Baptist and Jonas. She said that we could learn a lot from their stories and the way they, like us, made mistakes. The important lesson in her view is to recognise the mistakes and to repent. Shaikh Bahmanpour described Abraham as not only a patriarch but a prophet. He mentioned the different ways of receiving God’s message and argued that according to the Quran those who are close to God have the capacity of receiving his message. He made it clear that only in the case of prophets this message is ‘wahi’ or a divine and legislative revelation. Rev Amos expounded on the meaning of prophecy according to the Bible and explained that it is not necessarily the same as in Islam. In Christianity, prophets are not always infallible, not all have books of revelation. He mentioned that in prophethood it is important to sacrifice, just as Abraham did with Isaac. He said that through baptism everyone could become a prophet and spread the message of Jesus. Dr Chris Hewer said that a prophet is a person who speaks the truth in the face of oppressors and tyrants. According to him, prophecy is standing against oppression, thus we have many contemporary prophets as well. He called the prophets the conscience of humankind who speak the truth. He also touched upon the different meanings of prophet and prophecy in Islam and Christianity and the continuation of prophecy according to his view up until our time. Dr Shomali closed the conference by explaining the various views of Islamic schools of thought regarding the issue of prophets’ infallibility. The event concluded with a public Q&A session.
A full video of the event can be streamed from the Islamic Centre’s website:www.ic-el.com/en/multimedia
Originally Published on Issue 33, March 2016
Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years.
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