What’s love got to do

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At Hayfield Masala, Stepney Green, East London, 12 March 2012
 
When Julie Siddiqui (Executive Director, ISB) asked me to speak on ‘love’ she asked me for a title. I thought of a few but the most interesting was suggested by Tina Turner in the 1980s. I’m not a big Tina Turner fan but I must admit that she’s made a big impact, especially with her song, but don’t worry, I’m not going to sing:
 
What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a second hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken
 
She’s saying that love is risky, which it is of course, it also makes me wonder – how many hearts, and other things, have Christians and Muslims broken over the last two thousand years or so? [pause] Too many I’m sure, but this is a time for celebration and looking forward to better things.
 
I think it’s great that this year’s Islam Awareness Week is on the theme of ‘love’ and I know that if people were more aware of Islam that there would be more love. Ignorance, and human interest in bad news, breeds fear and prejudice, with knowledge comes recognition, even love. I think of my own sons, most of their lives have coincided with my own journey of exploration as I have met and formed friendships, as well as worked with Muslims. If you were to ask them they would say something like ‘Muslims are cool’, they are aware of 9/11 and other non-Islamic atrocities, but these do not define Islam for them, I wish this was true of other Christian friends and relatives. For my sons, Muslims are people of friendship, hospitality, and good food (I think the last one was predictable).
 
But is ‘love’ what we, Christians and Muslims, are known for? Perhaps we all wish our reputation was more like that of the Quakers and the Buddhists? [pause] ‘Oh, those Christians and Muslims, at each other’s throats again!’ Or as one of my friends says, ‘what makes you think Christians and Muslims are up for dialogue and conflict resolution after 1400 years, they’re much better at being enemies?’ He married into a Christian-Muslim family …
 
Maybe our religions have been sidetracked, or worse, from time to time, and for many of us here, who are motivated by love, we have difficulty understanding how people would see Christians and Muslims, Christianity and Islam, Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad and think anything other than love is on the agenda. Except to say that it’s crucial to keep power out of the equation. 
 
These are issues that ‘Make Bradford British’ worked on, and yes, like most people, I failed the Citizenship Test! There was a lot of suspicion and uneasiness at the beginning. But the participants went on a journey of transformation together, and the outcome was love – just look at Damon and Rashid and Audrey and Sabiyya hugging each other towards the end of the programme as they encountered each other in faith and humanity, surprised by each other and themselves.
 
And from the local to the global … at the (unintended) prompting of the Pope, who quoted a medieval statement of hate about Islam in a famous speech 5 years ago, 138 global Muslim thinkers wrote a ‘love letter’ to Christians worldwide. That may sound terribly trivialising if you know what I’m referring to, but this is what they wrote:
 
we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us on the basis of what is common to us, which is also what is most essential to our faith and practice: the Two Commandments of love … Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill (A Common Word)
 
They even respond to Tina: ‘Love of God in Islam is thus part of complete and total devotion to God; it is not a mere fleeting, partial emotion.’
 
It was so good to see this letter at the time, it broke new ground, although it was based on the famous 1400 year old Qur’anic verse – ‘let us come to a common word, or understanding’ (Surah 3.64). I think this reminds us that if we want to understand about love then our founders can show us the way. I expect most people, whether they are Christians or not, are familiar with Jesus Christ’s words – ‘love God … and your neighbour as yourself’ and the Prophet Muhammad said something very similar. As a Methodist and one-time trainer of preachers I have to fight the urge to preach! Jesus is actually reminding us to love ourselves first, that may take some learning but is vital. Psychotherapists remind their clients of this using the words of the aeroplane warning sign – ‘affix your own oxygen mask first’. Our good intentions can be destructive, even self-destructive, if we are not looking after ourselves first. When we do we can have proper concern for others and love them as God intended. If we don’t love others it is self-destructive – bad karma - though we may not always realise it. Unfortunately we can see what happens when we stop loving our neighbours, it happened in Bosnia not so long ago …
 
Jesus said to his first followers: ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ John 13:34-35
 
Some Christians say to me – Why do you spend so much time with Muslims? Is it because you’re keen to water down your own religion and want others to do so? I always reply – No, it’s because I am a Christian that I want to reach out in love to Muslim sisters and brothers, to be a good neighbour. 
 
It’s ironic I guess that I live in an area where there aren’t any Muslim neighbours [this prompted a few tongue in cheek offers from the audience to move into the neighbourhood!]. But thinking, like a good Methodist, of the example of John Wesley, who said ‘the world is my parish’, then I am committed to my Muslim neighbours in Stepney Green, Luton, Leicester, Birmingham, Bradford, etc. So England, if not the world.
 
Islam Awareness Week is a great opportunity for people to see Islam as a loving religion which is not against Christians or anyone else. And also for the Christian Muslim Forum to work in partnership with the ISB to show how love is the answer if we remember to ask the right question.
 
The evening also gave me the opportunity, in the East End of London, to invite people to our next Near Neighbours event for Christians and Muslims in London on 21/22 May. Please get in touch via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are interested in attending, or book online. And of course, for the evening, we were neighbours of different faiths and background enjoying an evening of good food, good conversation and good entertainment with each other.
 
Julian Bond
Director
Christian Muslim Forum
 
Read Remona Aly's blog about the evening here. Remona Aly is a freelance journalist and blogger, and Campaigns Director of Exploring Islam Foundation
 
Pictures from the evening here
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