Narrowing the gap between 'us' and 'them'

By Dr Musharraf Hussain

When I travel on the London underground I am amused by the announcement ‘Mind the Gap’, it makes me smile as I believe that there is someone here who cares about my safety and well-being. It also makes me cautious and makes me alert to the possible impending danger. Yet today in our fast moving consumer society there is a yawning gap between ‘me and you’, ‘husband and wife’, ‘people and the government’,’ employees and the employer’, ‘us and them’,’ Muslims and Christians’. Who is there to tell us mind the Gap? That is why I believe that this event is a great opportunity to get to know the others so as to narrow the ‘us and them’ notion.

Prince of peace, mercy for the world is how Christians describe Jesus and Muslims the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them). Both claim to be followers of Abraham, the man who would not dine without a guest, they all teach love of God and to be good to your neighbour. However, despite sharing these fundamental values followers of both faiths seem to be at a loggerhead, in conflict and in clash.
Therefore I beckon Christians and Muslims to rethink their relationships, since our world is threatened by militant atheism and aggressive materialism, in fact it is on the verge of destroying humanity, how can we stand aloof and watch this spectacle of destruction, we constitute more than half of the entire humanity. The world needs our peace so it too can have peace. I can present many arguments that clearly reveal several points of convergence amongst us:

  • We both believe in One Almighty God
  • We both submit to the Divine will and surrender before him

With so much in common, why can we not work together? How can we narrow the ‘us and them gap’? If 22 countries of the Europe Union can work together despite having so many cultural, political and social differences only for their economic betterment, why can’t the Abrahamic faiths not work together? It is an age-old problem of ignorance, stereotypes and unwillingness to go beyond our preconceived notions of each other and possibly failure to recognise our commonalities. I urge my Christians friends and fellow Muslims to seek a deeper level of fellowship and understanding amongst ourselves so they can be the true advocates of peace in a global village, which is on the verge of severe conflict. As we get to know one another better we will build trust and move beyond accusations and isolated circles and begin to take constructive actions together. This requires a constant and thoughtful dialogue with the aim of:

  • Understanding each other and affirming our great moral and spiritual values we hold in common
  • Build relationships that can encourage critical self evaluation
  • Recognise that our histories have in many ways shaped our negative attitudes towards one another and we must not let our histories restrain our present and future relationships
  • Explore the opportunities to work together to build a morally and spiritually healthy society around us

Babies babble, they make noises, which are un-intelligent. However, when baby Jesus speaks it makes a lot of sense, not only does it make sense, it is full of pearls of wisdom. Here is a conversation the glorious Quran narrates about Jesus (peace be upon him) as he vehemently defends the purity and chastity of his mother ‘he said I am a servant of God, he has granted me the Gospels, made me a Messenger, made me blessed where ever I may be. He commanded me to pray, to give charity as long as I live, to cherish my mother. He did not make me domineering or graceless. Peace was on me the day I was born, peace will be on me the day I die and peace on me the day I am raised to life’. (Maryam; 30-33)

This is a welcome occasion for me to practice and implement a striking verse of glorious Quran:

‘… You will find nearest in affection to (Muslims) are those who say,”‘We are Christians” since amongst them are priests and monks who are not arrogant. When they listen to that which was revealed to the Messenger, you will see their eyes fill with tears as they recognise its truth’ (Maida: 82).

What a positive message for the entire society and the whole of Britain. And how true was this prediction in later Islamic history when we see excellent relationships between Jews and Muslims and Christians and Muslims. The holy Quran praises the Christian Priests and Monks by describing their friendly character towards the Muslims, the Quran is encouraging Muslims to develop these virtues so that they too can build a harmonious relationships with others. As religious people it is imperative that we develop friendship which grows beyond just a dialogue.

I would like to commend the World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis (WCOP) for being courageous to organise this dinner to celebrate the coming of Christmas, they have shown maturity of Faith and revealed the depth of their insight into the needs of our time, a scary time of strife and struggle. I believe that such gatherings will encourage many more Muslims and Christians to boldly accept interfaith harmony as a part of our daily life.

For me interfaith work is not just a talking shop nor a place of mere dialogue but a means of developing human relations, characterised by lasting friendships, partnerships and networks based on trust that creates a truly caring society. Something that should be at the heart of all of us, an organisation that carries out this work very effectively is the Christian Muslim forum, an organisation that I had the privilege of serving as a president and later as a chairman, the aims of the forum are:

  • To weave a web of open, honest and committed personal relationships between leading Christians and Muslims.
  • To encourage shared reflections on the spiritual, ethical and practical values of the two traditions in order to offer resources for citizenship in our society.
  • To develop channels of communication to help Christians and Muslims together to respond to events which test our relationship.