Everyday religion

Image Unsplash

Image Unsplash

Everyday religion

People seek for methods of learning to love God. They hope to arrive at it by I know not how many different practices; they take much trouble to remain in the presence of God in a quantity of ways. Is it not much shorter and more direct to do everything for the love of God, to make use of all the labours of one’s state in life to show Him that love, and to maintain His presence within us by this communion of our hearts with His? There is no finesse about it; one has only to do it generously and simply.
— Brother Lawrence, Practising the Presence of God

We hear many statistics about the decline of Christianity in the West. There is even a dedicated Wikipedia entry called, ‘Decline of Christianity.’ It seems to be an assumption even within the Church that makes us shake our heads and question the state of the world.

What are these statistics based on? They generally use census data or depend on surveys that ask about membership of official organisations, or about attendance of formal events. Yet, sociologists of religion have realised that this cannot be the full picture of religious life.

Now the study of religion has shifted beyond the old dualism of ‘official’ and ‘folk’ religion that suggested a life of faith is lived either in orthodox beliefs and practices or popular expressions of visits to shrines, pilgrimage, ritual healing and stories of miracles. As if we couldn’t do both. See for instance the growth in pilgrimage.

Currently sociology of religion is studied as ‘Lived Religion.’ It pays attention to wherever and however we find people invoking the sacred. This can be on the sports field, at the work desk, in the washing of a patient’s hands or the telephone conversation with a hurting friend, or, as with Brother Lawrence, when we’re peeling potatoes.

Our daily activities are motivated and shaped by our culture, beliefs and the authority we subscribe to, which in turn is shaped by a religious heritage. All of these factors combine to shape our intentions when we engage with our neighbour. Is it out of guilt or love, honour or shame, fear or power? The question therefore is to see what paradigms of thought underlie Lived Religion.

The WhenWomenSpeak network brings together thinking and practice that help us question our assumptions, not only about the beliefs and practices of others, but also to see how the Bible addresses these paradigms, and sometimes help us understand our own motivations in a new light. At a recent workshop in Bristol, we started exploring paradigms of honour and shame, rites of passage and purity to hear from each other how these frameworks help shape deeper connection to our neighbour.

Try this for yourself. Read Matthew 15 and see which parts are shaped by ideas about purity and which have to do with honour and shame. How does Jesus display his divinity in an everyday activity?

Georgina is a member of the Network Circle team and as a Regional Facilitator, supports groups in the West region.

The Easter conundrum


The Easter conundrum

In this blog from Georgina, she poses the question, 'How can we talk about Easter with our Muslim friends?' The death and resurrection of Christ are crucial to our faith and our understanding of who God is, yet our Muslim friends reject it. How do we deal with this conundrum?

How can we talk about Easter with our Muslim friends?

Our Bible testifies to the crucifixion which is a historical event that even non-Christian historians agree on. The Quran denies the crucifixion in Surah 4:157.

Avoid my holy text against yours

You can use this as a starting point but if the conversation does not move on you are in danger of an impasse, pitting ‘my holy text against your holy text.’

There are many other elements to ‘Easter’ (i prefer ‘Passover’) beside the crucifixion: the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the trial before Pontius Pilate, the testimony of the centurion, RESURRECTION etc.


Look for similarities of meaning

I suggest that it is more fruitful to find similarities of meaning, rather than similar texts, symbols or characters. Ask yourself what is the meaning of the crucifixion?


The significance of Jesus' death

I focused on the moment of Jesus’ death when the curtain to the Holy of Holies tore – God removed the barrier between Him and his people. We now have direct access to God, i.e. the heavens opened. Jesus is ‘the ladder’ between us and the open heaven – John 1:50-51: “you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”


What can you find in the Qur'an?

Islamic Comparison: Night of Power, a night when heaven is open to all the Muslim’s prayers IF they get it right: the exact night somewhere in the last 10 days of Ramadhan, with the right prayers, with the right intentions and expectations. 

Similarity between crucifixion and Night of Power: heavens are open


Explore meaningful differences

Difference: In Christianity God has made atonement for us (the ‘effort’ is from God down to us) and the heavens are permanently open, I can pray to God anywhere, anytime, He promised that He hears. In Islam, the Muslim must put in all the effort, the heavens are only open at a specific, non-descript time and the Muslim must follow many prescriptions on which many Islamic interpreters differ, to try and ‘catch’ the open heaven (must try and build ‘the ladder’ between them and God).

Because my friend invited me

This blog was initially published on 31 March 2017, and subsequently edited with an update on 7 September 2017.

Because my friend invited me

I was visiting with a family of Syrian refugees who had come to the UK on the government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme from refugee camps in the Middle East.

They were one of the first refugee families in our area, helping those who came after them to settle. In the process, they’ve become central figures in the resettled community.

Many local Mahabba members have helped them along the way with driving lessons, English lessons and furniture.

I’m trying to learn Arabic from them.

Last week, the husband and son were on their way out when the mum, my Arabic teacher, said I should practise my new vocabulary and ask them where they’re going.

The response was,

ila l-kanisa,

which means, 'to the church'.

To the church?

I asked surprised,

Why are you going to church?
Because my friend invited me,

was the simple response.

Dad picked up the keys and off they went, just like any other parent ferrying children to activities.

I was struck by the familiarity and simplicity of the scene – this Muslim boy is going to church because he had been invited.

So often we are hamstrung by questions about the proper way to introduce our Muslim friends to Christ:

What if I say the wrong thing? What if we serve the wrong food? What if…

Whoever this boy’s friend is, he gave me a valuable lesson that night.

Just do it!

And as it happens, a few month's later at the first Mahabba group meeting of the new academic year I heard an amazing development.

This boy had asked one of our other Christian friends, who knows the family, whether he can be a Muslim who follows Jesus.

So be encouraged - just do it and see what God does!


... we have recently planted another local Mahabba group in the UK - awesome news!

With your help, though, we would like to continue to sow, plant and support Mahabba groups.

Our work involves a small team of regional reps and central hub personnel investing in local coordinators and groups, as well as spreading the word.

To continue this vital mission to Muslims, we need to increase our regular monthly income.

Our initial target is to raise up 100 individual regular donors, giving an average of £10 to £15 per month.

Could you be one of the 100?

Islam in church: Some questions

Image: defenceimages,  Flickr

Image: defenceimages, Flickr


Islam in church, the sacred space and interfaith is a divisive topic. By opening up the discussion here, Mahabba Network is seeking to help Christians to pause, consider the facts and pray before commenting.
We trust that as you read you will weigh Scripture and invite the Holy Spirit to bring you discernment in the issues.
Mahabba seeks to make space for those who are more interfaith and ecumenical-minded as well as the evangelically-minded who want to see Muslims discipled to Jesus.
Mahabba’s vision is to see Jesus unveiled to Muslims, but we believe that dialogue and understanding of ‘the other’ are important on that journey.
The two are not mutually-exclusive, but it does mean that there is tension in holding both together.


What is church?

How do we think about church space, nevermind Islam in church: is it simply a building that homes us while we join together for communal worship, so that we may even meet in a school and call it ‘church’?
To what extent do our churches belong to the community as a whole – whether they’re Christians or not – so that they may visit and learn about our Christian history?
Is the church the house of God in the sense that we all may enter but only the sanctified may express themselves?


Qur’an and adhan in church

This January saw two events where Islamic presentations took place in a church space, causing uproar and raising some of these questions again.
First there was the Qur'an reading at an Epiphany service in Glasgow and then there was the adhan at Gloucester Cathedral.

[See below for more on the Qur'an reading in Glasgow from the Pfander Centre]

There has also been controversy surrounding Rev Giles Goddars and St John’s Waterloo where a progressive Muslim group was invited to use the St John’s space.


Fed up of religious people

On January 14, I visited the launch of an art exhibition at Gloucester Cathedral by a self-proclaimed atheist artist.
He had painted 37 huge portraits depicting people of different faiths, explaining that he had become intolerant of ‘religious people’ and this project was his way of connecting with people of different persuasions: Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Rastafarian, Wiccan and others, so that he may understand them better.


Fire-eating vicar and the pagan rock band

I don’t usually attend these kinds of events, but had a personal stake in this one. My friend, a Muslim, was the subject of one of the portraits.
The launch promised a variety of demonstrations by different religions, and of course, there was food.
The portraits were placed around the cloister walls and the launch events took place in the Chapter House, a side room off the cloister area.
I only stayed long enough to hear the Jewish Klezmer band, the Buddhist meditation and the Muslim call to prayer, adhan. I missed out on the fire-eating vicar and the pagan rock band.


Cathedral attracts criticism

Sadly, neither I nor my Muslim friend were surprised the next week when local papers reported that the cathedral had removed a video clip of the adhan from its Facebook page because it had attracted abuse.
The cathedral attracted further criticism and the issue then made the front pages, was reported on regional BBC TV news and went national.


Constructive approaches to different faiths

Interfaith contact often causes debate or accusations of syncretism. But the Gloucester controversy differs from the Scottish furore in ways that might help us think about constructive approaches to different faiths:

  1. The Gloucester event did not take place in the usual Christian worship space but in an adjacent room which is also available for hire to the general public. In contrast, the Glasgow cathedral event had the Qur'an reading as part of the worship service
  2. The Muslim call to prayer was one religious expression among many, including Buddhists, Wiccans, Rastafaris and others so that people could learn, not only about similarities between faiths, but the fundamental differences between them
  3. The call to prayer was made in Arabic and translated afterwards in English so that everyone could understand what was being said

The event was not part of regular Christian worship, but an open educational or artistic event hosted on the cathedral grounds


Media-consuming public

Rather than revealing something about the state of Christendom in Britain, it says something about us as a media-consuming public when the Muslim call to prayer is singled out from a list of other religious expressions to make headlines.
I was certainly glad that I had a long established relationship with this same Muslim friend in Gloucester so that we could continue meeting the next Saturday, where we reflected on the comfort promised to us in Psalm 121.


A different perspective

Our friends at the Pfander Centre had an interesting perspective on the reading of the Qur'an in church.

Here are a few points, and do read their blog in full.

  • Christians should e encouraged to sit down with Muslims and study the Qur’an and the Bible together
  • If we believe the Bible to be God’s word, why is the Qur’an given the same status as the Bible, when it teaches the opposite of core Christian doctrine?
  • Ayahs 35-36, which were read out, are direct denouncements of Jesus' divinity and sonship, in a gathering where people were worshiping him as the unique Son of God

Your turn

Do you want to find out more about Islam and Muslims – request someone from Mahabba to come and speak at your church.

Name *

The author

Georgina is part of the Network Team and is involved with her local Mahabba prayer group. She also wrote all the entries for our recent Mini-Lovefast campaign during Eid al-Adha! (Find out more about who’s who in Mahabba.)



We welcome comments and discussion, but please read our Comments Policy before posting a reply in the comments section below.

London is not Paris

Image: hadock,  Flickr

Image: hadock, Flickr

London is not Paris

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks of 13 November 2015, western nations rallied around the French people in an outpouring of sympathy. The French tricolour was superimposed on Facebook images, projected onto state buildings in many countries and #prayforparis trended for a considerable amount of time. Together with these technological ways of expressing solidarity, several nations stepped up their military involvement in the Middle East and ISIS became the target of one and all.
The British parliament voted in favour of extending bombing campaigns into Syria with the argument that, “Paris could have been London.” All the historical differences and squabbles of the last couple of decades were forgotten; President Obama declared that France was America’s oldest ally despite the recent differences between France and the USA on the Iraq war.
ISIS does not discriminate against its western targets. There is a real and expressed threat facing Muslim and non-Muslim peoples alike from this terrorist band who seem to thrive on violence and destruction for its own sake. But simply calling London and Paris the same brushes over some fundamental differences in worldviews and approaches to religion in public life. Take for example the law in 2010 that banned wearing a headscarf in France to improve ‘living together.’
I was reminded of how we can differ on basic ideas that we take for granted in a recent seminar by Ravi Zacharias of RZIM ministries. Ravi was making the case that western ideas of freedom are ultimately based in biblical ideas but that freedom took different paths in western countries. He spoke of three enlightenments: the French, the English and the American.
Quoting from Gertrude Himmelfarb’s book, The Roads to Modernity (2004), Ravi listed eight things we associate with enlightenment: reason, rights, nature, liberty, equality, tolerance, science and progress. Out of this list, Reason usually tops the list for the French (and for modern secular society). The missing element from the list is Virtue which, for the British, was an essential part of enlightenment according to Himmelfarb. The British did not deny Reason but they gave it a lesser, contributory role to the qualities of compassion, kindness and sympathy, she says.
The most important difference between these two enlightenments is in the French rebellion against the church and the monarchy, summed up in the French philosopher, Denis Diderot’s wish to, “Strangle the last king with the last priest’s entrails.” As Ravi explained, the difference for both Britain and America was that religion was not the enemy. In Britain, social virtues were the driving force of political change. In America, the fight was for political freedom still based in upholding religious values, even though it was against monarchy.
The point here is not to emphasise differences between people, nor is it to have a sense of complacency about freedom of religious expression on the Atlantic side of the English Channel, or La Manche as it is called in French. Recent law suits and debates about religion in public life have shown that Anglo-American society is rethinking what it means to be secular. The aim of looking at the different expressions of enlightenment here is to think about our social values and which Light we are following in the world: To what extent does the light of the Word (Proverbs 6:23) and the Light of the world (John 8:12) form the foundation of our thinking? In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says definitively that we are a light to the world.
The question is, which en-Lightenment will we reflect to the world in the year ahead.


... we have recently reached a total of 40 local Mahabba prayer groups in the UK - awesome news!

With your help, though, we would like to continue to sow, plant and support Mahabba groups.

Our work involves a small team of regional reps and central hub personnel investing in local coordinators and groups, as well as spreading the word.

To continue this vital mission to Muslims, we need to increase our regular monthly income.

Our initial target is to raise up 100 individual regular donors, giving an average of £10 to £15 per month.

Could you be one of the 100?