For several weeks now, there has been a flurry of fear spreading through our area of Glodwick. Our area is predominantly South Asian and is home to a significant number of Muslim people. The largest mosque in the borough of Oldham lies a few hundred yards behind our church building. The worry concerns some nasty, vindictive and downright horrible letters doing the rounds with the title ‘Punish a Muslims day’. I had one Bangladeshi gentleman produce a copy of the letter at our English Class to ask me whether he had any cause to worry about it. It seems the letters have been circulating around the South Asian community and has, understandably, caused very real concern.
In truth, I suspect very little will actually happen today. I am reasonably sure these letters are intended to spread fear with very little behind them to back up their intimidation tactics. I imagine, in an effort to be safe rather than sorry, the local police will step up patrols around predominantly Asian areas such as ours, even if just to reassure the local population. But they have already achieved their aim of spreading fear and that makes me incredibly sad indeed.
The letters themselves are staggering in their sheer stupidity. For a start, the letters state:
They have hurt you, they have made your loved ones suffer. They have caused you pain and heartache. What are you going to do about it? Are you a ‘sheep’ like the vast majority of the population? Sheep follow orders and are easily led, they are allowing the white nations of Europe and North America to become over run by those who would like nothing more than to do us harm and turn our democracies into Sharia led police states. Only you can help turn this thing around, only you have the power. Do not be a sheep!
Two things bear saying about this. First, most Muslims haven’t done anything to do those things. I am in regular contact with lots of Muslims and never have any of them caused me any such ‘pain and heartache’ nor have they made my ‘loved ones suffer’. It is palpable nonsense. Second, there is a line, stated with no irony whatsoever, ‘sheep follow orders and are easily led’. This ignores the blatantly obvious fact that the letter itself is ordering people to engage in this idiocy. Apparently, to not be a sheep that takes orders, one must follow the order to punish a Muslim. It is one of the most asinine things I have ever read.
The other signpost to the unsurpassable thickness of anybody choosing to take part is that it is obvious Muslims per se will not be targeted so much as those would-be attackers deem to look like Muslims. My guess is that the white Albanian Muslims who come to our English Classes – who look much the same as white British Christians – will be fine. By contrast, the Iranian Christians in membership with our church might find themselves on the receiving end of some of this nonsense (such as anything actually happens at all) because they are non-white and Middle Eastern looking, which idiots equate with being a Muslim. Any fool determined to join in will be engaged in an overtly racist effort under the guise of hateful Islamophobia. Whilst I think both those terms are bandied around far too readily these days, there is no denying that is precisely what this is.
As for me and my church, we will continue to make it as clear as we possibly can that Muslims – along with anybody else from Muslim-majority countries – are welcome in the town as well as in our church. We will continue to welcome the many Muslim people we serve each week in our English Classes and enjoy our regular monthly meetings with our Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims friends from the Khadija Centre.
We have never made any bones about disagreeing with much Islamic theology and will continue to robustly debate our differing views, just as our Muslim friends have always been clear on their disagreements with us and willing to debate in exactly the same way. But we do not see such robust disagreement as an impediment to extending a sincere welcome to Muslim people nor actively pursuing friendship together. It remains our joy and privilege to continue meeting with Muslim people in Glodwick, being given the opportunity to share our faith with them and learn about Islam in return, all whilst having strong enough friendships that we can disagree, even strongly, with one another.
Whilst not all Christian denominations have always defended the freedom of religion for all – particularly those in the ascendancy – it is a mainstay of both the Independent Evangelical and Particular Baptist stables to which I belong. The dissenting tradition has long advocated freedom of belief, even for those with whom we deeply disagree, because it is the right upon which all others rest. Though we may deeply disagree with many of the beliefs of our Muslim friends, we nevertheless advocate for their right to hold them. What is more, we insist it is possible to love those with whom we deeply disagree and affirm our sincere love for our Muslim friends. Further, we believe in more than just fine words but show such love and friendship in various ways that we hope makes clear our care and support of the local Muslim people in Glodwick. No such letter or campaign will stop us seeking to do so.
I want to make as clear as I possibly can that we condemn these threatening letters and believe it is entirely wrong to demonise any one group of people this way. We welcome Muslim people in Oldham and are pleased to welcome them in our church. I would call upon others to not only similarly condemn these letters but to actively show your love and care toward Muslims people who, today, will no doubt (and understandably) feel afraid. If you have Muslim neighbours or friends, show them you love them and that these letters are the rantings of a sad and pitiable few.