"We Must Love One Another or Die"
All I Have Is a Voice
by Marcus Braybrooke
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
–From “September 1, 1939”
These words of the poet W.H Auden, written at the beginning of World War II, keep coming back to haunt me. They have encouraged me to start writing to the press. Those of us in the interfaith movement, now more than ever, need like Auden to affirm that “We must love one another or die.”
The row over reading verses of the Qur’an in a Cathedral in Scotland has, I gather, reached across the Atlantic. Certainly the Cathedral has had a lot of abusive online messages from the U.S.A.
During an Epiphany service at the Cathedral, a Muslim law student was invited to read the Qur’anic account of the birth of Jesus, which also says, as Muslims believe, that Jesus was a prophet but not divine. The Provost of the Cathedral said that the event reflected “deepening friendship locally which has led to greater awareness of the things we hold in common and to dialogue about the ways in which we differ.”
Strong criticism of the event was voiced by Rev. Dr. Ashenden, a chaplain to the Queen (although he has subsequently resigned the position) in a letter to The Times, to which I wrote this reply, which was published.
It is well known that the Qur’an rejects the divinity of Jesus, but it needs to be better known that the Qur’an gives many honourable titles to Jesus. He is regarded with reverence by many Muslims, who add “May God bless Him” whenever they mention his name. Professor S. Vahiduddin, a former head of the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies in New Delhi, wrote, “Christ reflects in every act God’s beauty: He is the embodiment of that tender aspect of the divine which Qur’an calls ‘Mercy.’”
In making friends with people of other faiths, I have found it more helpful, while respecting our differences, to start with what we share. I was glad two years ago to be invited to a Muslim celebration of Christmas.
Persecution of Christians has been condemned by a large number of Muslim leaders. In 2015, for example, more than 500 Muslim students, who belong to the NGO Bargad, held a protest march and have taken positive steps to protect Christians from abuse.
When I lectured at the Muslim College in Ealing, I asked if I might give the students copies of the Bible. The suggestion was warmly welcomed and the College offered to pay for them.
Two weeks before, The Mail on Sunday (January 8, 2017) had a story by Ian Birrell about the bravery of Lamiya Haji Bashar. Lamiya is a member of the Yazidi faith, who grew up in a Yazidi village near Kocho in northern Iraq. When ISIS took over the village, residents were told to convert or die. All the men and boys were slaughtered in the streets. Unmarried women and teenagers were forced to become sex slaves – their sufferings were horrific. The older women were shot dead.
Lamiya made repeated efforts to escape. Brought before a sharia court, she was told by the judge that either they had to kill her or cut off a foot to stop her escaping. Lamiya replied: “If you cut off one foot, then I will escape on the other.” Eventually, although she was injured, she did escape when there was an explosion. Ian Birrell also highlighted the persecution and suffering of so many Yazidis.
It seemed worth underlining the Ian Birrell’s message, so I wrote:
Thank you Mail on Sunday and Ian Birrell for telling us about the amazing courage of Lamiya Haji Bashar, a Yazidi woman held captive by Islamic State, and highlighting the dangerous threat to the Yazidi community. The persecution of minorities in too many places needs to be loudly condemned by people of all faiths.
A few days later we learned how many minorities are endangered. Open Doors' recent World Watch estimates that last year 1,207 Christians were killed for their faith and Christians are at risk in 38 countries – more than ever before. (Church Times January 13, 2017).
As people of faith we should speak out in defence of all persecuted minorities, not just members of our own religion. Prince Charles is not the only person to remind us of the failure of so many people in the 1930s to speak out against Nazism. We need to remember, as Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “The Nazis did not come to power with guns and tanks, it all began with words.”
We need also to remember, as Auden wrote at the end of his “September 1, 1939” ...
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
We need lots of flashing lights!