Finding God in our society
Today has been a very interesting day. I’ve not had the chance to blog much this week between preparing a Communion service with my fellow students for next Thursday and preparing a sermon for this Sunday (whilst also trying to keep up with studies)… but I couldn’t let today pass by without comment!
Today, Cambridge University and Ridley Hall respectively were hosts to lectures by Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. Dr Gomaa is, by all accounts, one of the foremost Islamic scholars in the world and a man of great influence and power across the Middle East.
He gave a lecture at the university at lunchtime today and then participated in a further lecture here at Ridley Hall later on. At the University lecture, he repudiated Islamic extremism and terrorism as not being the true way of Islam. He spoke so strongly as to say such extremists are not Muslims at all. I am hoping and hunting around for the text of his lecture online so that I don’t do him a dis-service in how I report what he said but thus far I’ve not found it.
One thing that really struck me in his address was his call for the current tensions and debate to include a theological element. I hope I am not misrepresenting him but I understood him to have said that governments, economists, commentators, the media have no hope of truly understanding what is going on unless they are prepared to take on board the fact that many of the protagonists look at the world through theological eyes. If God is not part of the discussion, they have no hope of understanding. Already, their search for peace is disadvantaged.
For me, it resonated strongly with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s words last week. Returning from China and arriving into the storm of the Jack Straw-veil debate, the Archbishop warned that when people try to talk about whether the UK should become a truly ‘secular society’ where religion and talk of God is totally excised from the structures of power and public debate, they may not know what they are truly asking. He writes:
‘This [i.e. the UK] is a â€œsecularâ€ system in the sense that it does not impose legal and civil disabilities on any one religious body; but it is not secular in the sense of giving some kind of privilege to a non-religious or anti-religious set of commitments or policies. Moving towards the latter would change our political culture more radically than we imagine.’
I hope that their words reach those who truly need to listen. For those in politics and other spheres of influence where they would much rather religion was part of the discussion at all, tough luck – God is not someone of whom you can be so easily rid.