Is it appropriate to read from the Koran during worship in a Christian church? This month, people close to America’s new head of state, and spiritual advisers to Britain’s long-standing one, have been forced to consider that question. It started on January 6th at an Episcopal cathedral in Glasgow when a Muslim student was invited to read from her faith’s sacred text, and duly chanted verses from the Sura or chapter devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The chapter has certain similarities with the Christian narrative and also some striking differences: it asserts that Jesus cannot be the son of God because the idea of God having progeny makes no sense.
Critics argued that the reading was supremely inappropriate at an important service marking the feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the appearance of the son of God to the world. Not all critics were polite. The cathedral’s provost, Kelvin Holdsworth, reported receiving a torrent of abusive emails, accusing him of betraying the faith; police said they were investigating a possible hate crime…The Koran reading was denounced by Michael Nazir Ali, a retired, Pakistani-born bishop of the Church of England, and prompted, at least indirectly, the resignation of one of Queen Elizabeth’s personal chaplains, Gavin Ashenden. He said he wanted to be freer to speak out against such blurring of the boundaries between faiths. Soon after stepping down he declared that the Church of England (historically the mother church of all Anglican churches, including the Scottish one) was “dying” demographically and financially.
To an American religious conservative, all that might sound a tale of limey soft-mindedness. But on the very day after Donald Trump’s inauguration (ushered in by five Christian clerics and a rabbi) he found himself attending an inter-faith prayer service at Washington National Cathedral, a bastion of the American Episcopal Church which like its Scottish counterpart is small, socially prestigious, liberal and ecumenical. An Islamic reading was on the program, and it was initially expected to consist of the Muslim call to prayer.
Before this event, controversy was more intra-Muslim than intra-Christian. The Sudanese-American imam who was invited to read, Mohamed Magid, had to defend himself from co-religionists who said he should not be welcoming a president who wants to stop Muslims entering the United States. In the end the affair was handled with slightly more delicacy than the Scottish service. The imam chose two of the most emollient verses from the Koran. These passages assert that human diversity and mutual esteem between nations, communities and genders are part of God’s plan. His reading ascribed to God the words: “We have created you male and female and made you nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.”… But Mr Ashenden, the ex-royal chaplain, predicts that arguments over the Koran’s use during sacred state occasions in the Western world are likely to grow louder. He says pressure is already building up for the inclusion of a Koran reading in the enthronement of the next British monarch, who will inherit the rank of “defender of the faith” and has said he wants to interpret the title broadly.
Source: The Economist