It was an unusual place to be. There were about eighty of us, mainly men but some women too. I was the only non-Muslim present. We were in a hall down a dingy back street used for Asian weddings and other social events by those unable to afford the high-status venues in Manchester. The gathering was in honour of a sort of Sufi revivalist preacher.
I had spotted the event on Facebook. I had heard about this man and wanted to hear him for myself. Most of those who attended belonged to his group. They sang their way through their standard liturgy in Arabic printed out in a beautifully presented book which supplied the text in Arabic along with a full English translation. The liturgy tells the story of the birth of Muhammad, embellished with legends and celebrations of his greatness. This was supplemented with hymns pronouncing blessings on Muhammad, who they styled as the mediating prophet.
Then the visitor delivered a thirty-five minute sermon. He spoke on Muhammad’s uniqueness, his perfection, how he was purer than any man that ever lived and possessed a personal knowledge of God greater than anyone else ever, that he alone was the means by which the immense mercy of God was available to those who put their faith in him. Yes, he was taking the attributes of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, and assigning them to Muhammad. It was depressing to listen to.
The speaker instructed his listeners that pronouncing blessings of Muhammad was the key to being blessed by God. He further instructed them that imitating every detail of Muhammad’s practice in worship must be their top priority. No other worship would ever be accepted by God.
How, I found myself thinking, could we ever talk about common ground with these people? But it was there. Here was an assembly seeking connection with God, knowing that they needed more than formal religion could supply. Here was a group of people convinced that God’s plan and purpose was that rather than depend on their own abilities to please God, that they should depend on a God-given mediator who could give them assurance of acceptance. What they were seeking exists and it is found in a different person, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). May the glories of the true Christ be declared and revealed to them.