Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Here We Go Again

Church of the "Hagia Sophia" in Istanbul

Just after the Boston bombing suspects were identified as being "Muslim," a local Imam was asked to comment. "Here we go again," was his immediate response. He was, of course, referring to what he feared would be a new backlash against Muslims in this country,  and renewed suspicion about Islam in general - as was the case after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As I see it, anyone who kills or maims, destroys or condemns in the name of God is always deviating from the core beliefs of any of the mainline religions - Islam included. 

Certainly there are Muslim terrorists who invoke the name of Allah as they commit heinous deeds. But, over the ages, the name of Christ has been invoked in very similar ways - wars have been waged, people have been tortured, cultures have been destroyed, abortion clinics bombed, violent hate speech of condemnation has filled the pulpits of churches - and all in the name of Christ, who preached a Gospel of compassion and condemned no one. 

Over my many years as a priest I have had ample opportunity to interact with Imams and with a multitude of faithful Muslim people. We have prayed together, worked in ministry together, shared meals of fellowship together.  I have been comfortable in mosques and they have been comfortable in churches because we all share common core beliefs.  We believe in one God who is "merciful and compassionate." We also believe that all of us are called to treat our fellow human beings with dignity and respect, and we are all called to work for the common good of all others - friends, family, strangers, even enemies.

A few years back we visited Istanbul. In today's post I have included a picture of the Church of the "Hagia Sophia/Holy Wisdom."  When you first approach this "church," it is somewhat jarring because you can't really tell if it is a church or a mosque.  The center structure with the great Byzantine dome looks very church-like,  and yet is flanked by four minarets.

The fact is that this building has been both a church and a mosque,  and it is now a museum. It was built in the fourth century to be the central "cathedral" of the Christian Byzantine empire,  and it served as the pivotal focus of Eastern Christianity for 1000 years. It then was converted into an Ottoman Mosque and served as a mosque until recent times.

Interestingly enough, even when the structure became a mosque, it's distinctly Christian elements were never destroyed. Rather the iconography of Islam was simply added to the existing structure. 

Inside the "church" you will find beautiful mosaics of Christ and the apostles along with large panels of Arabic calligraphy - a great testimony to two diverse religious traditions standing side by side, seeking the truth together.

Yesterday I came across a wonderful Sufi prayer from the Islamic tradition. It seemed appropriate to post it today:
O You, whose light clears away all clouds,
dispel the mist of illusion from the hearts of the nations, 
and lift their lives by your grace.
Pour on them your limitless love,
Your ever shining light, Your everlasting love,
Your heavenly joy and Your perfect peace.

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