Letter to my Moslem friend

Dearest Pushpindar,
God is good!
We have not seen each other since we were teenagers, but in the Spirit we are always present to each other in affection and respect, and the internet allows us to speak. There is so much goodness of God to share.

You were the first follower of Islam whom I came to know personally. My family had no faith and I was brought up as an unbeliever. I knew as little about Islam as I knew about Christianity. It was Ramadan and you had spoken about fasting. You said that it helped you to focus; that it confronted you with the simplicity of prayer and the needs of others. Someone asked you why you were a Moslem and you answered, “For myself, I believe that we should follow the religion of our fathers; the religion into which we find ourselves born.” This troubled me, for my father according to the flesh was an atheist.
At the end of the discussion I asked you quietly - I was ashamed that I did not know - ”I am sorry, Peanuts (the name you preferred in those days!) but what do Moslems worship?” You answered witheringly “God!!! Of course!”
I owe you this Pushpindar, that when I set out to seek God for myself, I, too, started by fasting.

God led me to the Catholic Church. I love her because she is a place of awe and reverence where I can bow down and worship God. I am not talking of bricks and mortar, but of a people united in adoration of the Living God. I feel especially blest to have found a father whom I can revere, to teach me the faith of love. He is Benedict XVI. He prays that we may all find the love of the Living God and he seeks dialogue between peoples and civilisations. Dialogue is not the same as discussion. Discussion is a controversial exchange designed to lead to a single conclusion by the reasoned victory of one proposition over other propositions. But in a dialogue, two people lay before each other their beliefs and experiences, not in head on conflict but side by side in respect. They try to share what they have understood and not to defeat all other possible understandings.
The Emperor Manuel II asked Ibn Hazn a question: “What new thing has the Prophet brought?” In quoting this question my father has made it clear that he did not agree with the Emperor Manuel’s conclusion. It is a good question; for dialogue.

May I invite you, Pushpindar to come on a spiritual pilgrimage?
I would like to take you to a small island off the coast of Wales. It is called Ynys Enlli. Shall we travel there in the Spirit and gaze across the cold seas to the north of Ireland? You are looking out on Christian provinces divided by centuries of bitter warfare and you say to me, sadly, “What new thing has Christianity brought to this world?” I bow my head and answer, “God himself came to us in Jesus to show us the way of love. And our lives are still torn apart by greed, war and violence. Pride envy and the refusal to forgive still eat our hearts, though we have been fed on Christ’s Word and his Body.”

Then I will beg you to look at the land on which we stand. I will say, “This is called the Island of Saints. Many centuries ago a man who loved God lived here. All his life he had tried to be a hermit. Everywhere he went people loved him so much that they followed him round Cymru, till he came here, where the waters are so treacherous that to set out to it on a small boat is to risk death. And still people wanted to be near him. Even after his death, the memory of him was so beautiful that everyone wanted to be buried beside him. For many centuries a great house of God stood here, whose monastic family praised God day and night. Over the ages, hundreds of thousands of people dared these waters when they thought their time had come to go to God, so that they might be buried in the shade of St Dyfrig and his holy companions. The fathers of the monastery cared for the sick with such tenderness that many pilgrims decided not to die after all, but got well and went home.”

I would turn you round, then, and direct your eye towards an industrial city in the Midlands of England., and I would tell you of a servant of God called John. He studied the teachings of my Church and found them rational, true and good. But this was not enough for him; he wanted to see the holiness of Jesus in the people whom he deemed to have the right ideas. I will believe, he said, the Catholic Church’s claims when I see, today, barefoot friars walking through the brutal slums of our cities, feeding the hungry, and serving the poor and sick.
John turned round and found himself facing St Dominic Barberi in Birmingham, serving a people who, for the most part, suspected and despised him. John lived in a century in which more religious orders and lay institutes were founded to feed the hungry, nurse the seek, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned and empower the downtrodden by education, than in the eighteen centuries that had preceded it. But John Henry Newman’s eyes had been closed. When he allowed God to open them, he found he could indeed see.

Please share with us, we beg you, what new things Islam has brought to our world. Tell us your stories of holiness. You have answers. Do not hide them. Do not let yourself be manipulated. The Western press deliberately distorts the Pope’s word’s into inaccurate and incendiary headlines. These are picked up by the press in Islamic countries in an even more garbled form, and people for whom the Hellenization of Christianity (the topic of the talk at Regensburg) is a closed book, end up on the streets in a riot. Who benefits from this? Only those in the west who are seeking a justification for a war that everyone - and not just the former Cardinal Ratzinger who said so from the start - is beginning to see is a thoroughly unjust war.
Do not abet those who hate you, but, I beg you, answer those who love you. Ibn Hazn and the Emperor Manuel II were having a discussion, they had never heard of dialogue. The Emperor spoke brusquely; he answered his own question without giving his Persian friend a chance to reply. My father is not a brusque person, he is a man of noted delicacy. He has said that he does
not agree that the Prophet brought only inhuman and evil things. But unlike the Emperor, he is not so discourteous as to answer the question for you. Will you answer it?
May we pray together? Can we share this prayer, which is not without humour, found in a book about an imaginary civilisation? The public worship of this
Eutopia was divided between heartfelt song and silent adoration, it required the putting right of all wrongs between family members before it could start. It only had one prayer:

O God, I acknowledge you to be my creator, my guide and source of all good things. I thank you for all your blessings, especially for letting me live in the happiest possible society and allowing me to practise the truest religion. If I am wrong, and some other religion and culture would be better and more acceptable to you I beg in your goodness to reveal it to me, for I am ready to follow where you would lead. But if my culture is the best and my religion most true, then keep me faithful to them both and bring the rest of humanity to adopt the same way of life and faith - unless the present variety of creeds is part of your inscrutable design.
When you take me to you, let my death come easily. I do not presume to beg that it be soon or afar off, but if it is your will I would rather come to you soon though it were by a most painful death than be kept long from you, even by the happiest life on earth


This prayer was answered. St Thomas More was not kept long from his God and died at the hands of fellow Christians; praying.
Life is short. For all of us. Answer soon.
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To Pushpindar Murrypurry b circa 1954 and educated at Newarke Girls Grammar School, Leicester.