A Humble Petition for the Qu’ran in Churches*
[An open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury]
To the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Lord Archbishop Doctor Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, the undersigned offer obedient greeting.
Your Grace will perhaps wonder, Most Reverend Lord, what this unusual action of writing a letter to yourself means, and not without reason. For nature has ordained that the unexpected should create not only wonder, but at times even a feeling of dumbfoundedness. Yet, we would have you to be entirely free and undisturbed in regard to this matter which we are laying before you. For we do not come to your Grace in regard to anything very troublesome, but to find help. For we are so sure that you are both a most pious lord and a most loving father that there is nothing we do not promise ourselves from you. And this fact itself shows, for we should never have ventured to write to your Grace unless we had had thorough confidence in it. We desire, therefore, humbly to beg you to listen to what we are going to disclose a little later, to hear it graciously, and to take it in good part. This is demanded both by the matter itself which drives us to this appeal and by the office which you fill as Archbishop of Canturbury.
The matter itself, to come to it at last, is this: Your Most Reverend Lordship knows how for a long time the heavenly teachings which God, the creator of all things, willed to have made plain unto the poor race of men by one no way inferior to himself, by his Son, in all things his equal, have, not without the utmost loss to the cause of salvation, been lying hidden through the ignorance, not to say evil intentions, of certain persons, and how rudely, when he had determined to recall and renew those teachings in our day by a sort of second revelation, certain persons attack or defend them. Therefore, Most Reverend and Right Honourable Lord Archbishop, we beseech you by our Lord Jesus Christ, not to join those who aim at putting under a bushel, nay, at extinguishing, the light that came into the world to illumine all men, and who call evil good and good evil, turning sweet into bitter and light into darkness, but rather to join those who have this one desire, that the whole concourse of Christians return to their head, which is Christ, and form one body in him, and having received the spirit of God, recognise the blessings bestowed upon them by God.
Yet, despite the great progress made in the past centuries, it is clear that some have taken things too far. Some have elevated the Bible to a God in itself. Forgetting that the Bible is mostly the response of past generations to God, they have treated the scriptures as if they were breathed out by God himself! Thankfully, in recent times, there has been a departure from this most foul idolatry and a return to a more balanced and man-centred theology. This being the case, and as it seems to be now well accepted within the Anglican Communion, we hope for no more than our concept of scriptures to be expanded in accordance with this realism. We must stop scriptural exclusivism and move away from the “the response of man to God in my book is right because I like the guys who wrote it” school of theology!
Now, let it not be denied that since the death and resurrection of our Lord most notable events have taken place, not least of which being the rise of the Islamic teachings comprised in the book known as the Qu’ran. Whilst we understand that some have been led away from what the Bible says by these teachings, others have benefited from reading them whilst remaining within the Christian faith. We note with interest the compatibility of professing them both has even been observed by Anglican clergy. The marked proliferation of the text shows the great demand that the soul has to read it, for our hearts keenly desire it. It gives clear instruction on the living of a life, clear traditions and rites to be observed, and a picture of the Trinity which is much simpler than the Biblical doctrine. So, on what basis can this text be withheld and suppressed any longer? On what basis may we continue to rule against it, given that it is but words and forms the implication of which depends so much upon personal interpretation?
The body of Christians today under your charge then are the subject of the most cruel persecution, the most inequitable suppression, the most illiberal dictatorial censorship. Despite gathering together for religious purposes on regular occasions, this text (which is undeniably religious in nature and held in very high esteem by many of the most learned men of our day) is not permitted as reading matter. Despite the commentary it offers upon the Bible, the novel interpretations of Biblical events, and the importance of all mankind uniting around a common understanding, our Churches stubbornly refuse to give place to the Qu’ran.
We are aware that there is an argument amongst some fundamentalist parts of the Anglican Communion that claim the Qu’ran is not the work of God; however we as men are not able to rule on that as the Bible says nothing about the Qu’ran and indeed the Bible says “judge not”. Even if it is not the work of God, it must be allowed that we permit many works which are not of God to be read and used in our Churches, including hymnals, prayer books and notice sheets. On what basis can we allow ‘Jerusalem’ to be sung – which is neither the work of God nor resplendent with the name of Jesus – but not the Qu’ran, which at least some believe to be of God and does contain the name of Jesus in many places?
The time for silence has passed, the time for speech is now. We can remain silent no longer in the face of this narrow-minded traditionalism. How can we, with one breath, declare the Creation narrative as a fiction created to explain complex matters to ignorant man, and then refuse place to the Qu’ran because some think it less than historically accurate? Let’s face it, modern Anglican theology will tolerate the denial of the substitutionary atonement, practicing of prayer for the dead in purgatory, pilgrimages to visit statues of dead Christians (and often non-Christians!), the parading around of baked goods as if they were God himself, and all manner of other concepts both Ancient and Modern. Why do we still cling to the sixteenth century concept of Religious Isolationism? If we can accept priests who think they are ‘of the order of Aaron’ and who try to break the body of God and offer up sacrifices on an altar, what is wrong with accepting the deeply edifying and morally instructive contents of the Qu’ran?
We further realise that some believe the Qu’ran to be contrary to the Christian faith. Those who allege such misunderstand our design entirely, for we hope it to be read not to be believed, but to be heard. What in Christianity is there that forbids a man’s ears from hearing words which are read? We are confident in the inherent goodness of man, and his ability to discern and choose what is right and good. In one God, in one faith, in one baptism we shall certainly be made one, for these are one. Do you not see that we can give place for the Qu’ran in this structure? A man will still acknowledge one God, one faith (for who can hold two simultaneously?), and one baptism. What more can we ask, and indeed what more should we ask? Let us drop all pretense, and embrace that which our brothers and sisters in Abraham have long recognised as an important text.
This is our humble proposal; it has long been the practice for the Old Testament texts to be read in Churches, and yet nobody really knows what they mean. They talk about stuff which has no relationship or direct application to our lives today. Who cares about the furnishings of an ancient tent, or the names of the sons of Levi? Rather, this has been time usually wasted in empty listening. A review of the New Testament shows that the important stuff from the Old Testament is generally mentioned there anyway, and so we think it no loss to discard the Old Testament. What merit is there in hearing tired stories of long dead people in an alien culture? This time now freed can be used for reading the Qu’ran, something much more educational and informative to the congregations. Many will never have heard from the Qu’ran before, and so this will be new and breathtaking – indeed it could well lead to a great increase in Church membership and collection plate revenues! Lest our proposal seems too extreme, let the Old Testament stories be retained in Sunday Schools, for that is where they are most useful anyway. We would not wish to deprive children of fun stories of brave men or big battles.
Further, through reading of the Qu’ran, we will be able to increase in the degree to which we understand our neighbours of the Islamic faith, and may even have the opportunity to make them Church members. As many worship on Friday afternoons, they may relish the chance to come to a Sunday morning service at which the Qu’ran is read and where they can pray in a devotional atmosphere. Needless to say, even these persons will increase the collections.
If, however, you cannot possibly be persuaded to grant it, we beseech you at least not to forbid it. We think you are brave enough to do right without fear of those who can even slay the body. And in fact you will have to refrain at least from interfering. For there is a report that most of the ecclesiastics have already departed from the heretical idea of the Bible being the inerrant word of God, and are already leading their congregations into a much more understanding and modern theology, more in agreement with how we suppose God wished us to understand him in our present culture. Accordingly, scorn our petition not as of little account; for if in our quest for a more complete religion we cast out the most important resource of the Qu’ran, all will suffer and we will be needlessly disunited from our brothers in Abraham.
The Most High God long preserve your Grace in prosperity and in the knowledge of God! We pray with all humility that you will take all we have said in a spirit of justice and kindness.
Your Most Reverend and Right Honourable Lord Archbishop Doctor’s most obedient servants;
*With apologies to Huldreich Zwingli, who unlike this letter, was entirely serious