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Bateel Skycraper

 

Faithful Friends

Faithful Friends

Issue 59 August 2009

Faith can be a catalyst to interact with each other and the wider society. Andrew Smith and Ibrahim Mogra share a friendship founded on mutual respect and acceptance, despite their dogmatic differences.

 

Andrew

I first met Ibrahim properly at the launch of the Christian Muslim Forum in 2006, although I’d bumped into him at a variety of conferences over the years. Also he pops up in our bathroom at home every now and then – on the radio I hasten to add! Occasionally when I’m shaving I’ll hear Ibrahim being interviewed on some programme or other.

We are still getting to know each other, but our relationship has grown through our work on the Forum. Being involved in an interfaith project is a great way to get to know people from different faiths and backgrounds. Whenever people hear that I’m off to a meeting of the Christian Muslim Forum, they often assume that it’s a really dry and boring meeting. Although we discuss some really important issues, there’s actually a lot of laughter and fun at the meetings.

Ibrahim and I are both passionate about our faiths and share a commitment to building long lasting relationships between people of different faiths. One of the challenges and joys of the Forum has been the chance to explore our similarities and differences. We also disagree on some fundamental things about our faiths. Coming to the point where we can discuss our differences, sometimes agreeing to disagree but remaining friends is really important.

Our friendship is still growing. I’m probably quite a lot louder than Ibrahim, but he is definitely more stylish. Ibrahim and I live in different towns so mainly we meet up at various meetings and conferences, so it takes time to get to know one another. Our strong commitment to our faiths definitely makes a big difference to our friendship. Knowing that someone understands your commitment and desire to follow God faithfully gives you a bond that isn’t always there with someone of no faith.

At the Christian Muslim Forum we’ve recently been working on some guidelines for Ethical Witness. These are guidelines for both Muslims and Christians who are engaging in da’wah or evangelism. At the forum we recognised that many Christians and Muslims want to share their faith with others, and we were concerned to help them do this ethically. Drawing up these guidelines together forced us to discuss some difficult issues around areas such as freedom of religion, rights to do evangelism, how we might tell children or young people what we believe and so on. Whilst the discussions were quite heavy, and involved about 20 members of the Forum, they were never unpleasant or critical. We all had to learn when to compromise and when to stand firm and say ‘No’.

There are many things I admire about Ibrahim, including his quiet ability to be both generous towards other people’s points of view, yet stand firm in what he believes. Oh, and I also admire his turbans!

Outside of the Forum my day job is with the Christian charity Scripture Union. For the past few years I’ve been running a project called Youth Encounter. This exists to help Christian young people live out their faith amongst their Muslim friends and to bring Muslim and Christian teenagers together. We’ve run a number of events where Muslim and Christian teenagers have had a chance to meet, build friendships and discover the things that they have in common but also the things that they disagree on. We always challenge them to learn how to express their differences peacefully. Over the years we’ve been bowling, camping, and canoeing, made works of art and had lots of meals together. Eating is always a popular activity with teenagers.

One of the things I really enjoy about this work is the energy and sense of fun teenagers bring. Sometimes at Christian Muslim dialogue meetings it can get a bit dry and heavy. Teenagers are often willing to discuss some really important issues but there’s always plenty of laughter and messing about as well. It worries me sometimes that when people of different faiths get together it all seems a bit dull. I’m sure that God wants us to enjoy the company of people he has created.
Dr Andrew Smith is Director of Youth Encounter for Scripture Union and Christian Youth Specialist on the Christian Muslim Forum.

 

Ibrahim

I first met Andrew at the launch of the Christian Muslim Forum but I’m sure I’ve laid eyes on him before at other events. I feel that because when he speaks, boy can he speak! I thought he was going to be a tough one to handle on the Forum. He seemed to be wearing his evangelical ID on his sleeve and I knew this was going to be a very interesting but challenging relationship. Little did I realise the difficulties he was going through to engage at this level. He has shown a lot of courage in doing so.

I know Andrew leads a very busy life and so I have deliberately not taken up any of his valuable free time that he may have to socialise with him. We also live in different parts of the country and so it is not possible to meet up without having to actually organise our diaries. But just getting to know him at the Forum is really great. He has a fantastic sense of humour and always makes us laugh.

We have many things in common: we both believe in our respective faiths as strongly as the other. We both drive a hard bargain. We both want to enhance mutual respect between the people of our two great faiths. We both have a passion for working with young people. We both go out of our way to dispel misconceptions about each other’s faiths.

However, underlying all our common traits ultimately I’m a Muslim and he’s a Christian! So we have huge differences. In discussions I tend to be very politically correct and I am soft spoken most of the time. By contrast Andrew is very passionate and loud (in a nice way!) but always respectful when he speaks. I am hopeless at writing and administration but Andrew is brilliant at both. He always meets deadlines and I usually miss mine. He is miles ahead as he has already brought together Christian and Muslim youth on several occasions where they have learned, prayed and played together.  I hope to learn some good practice from him to better myself.

Being with Andrew is always interesting. His great sense of humour always succeeds in making most occasions and exchanges funny and memorable. I haven’t had the chance to share some of my jokes with him yet though.

Knowing that we respect and accept each other as we are without wanting to fundamentally change each other or our faith provides a solid foundation for our friendship. We are not “afraid” of one another. We are not unnecessarily worried about “hidden agendas”. We vigorously fight for and defend our respective corners. We give and take and compromise for the common good and when we cannot agree we agree to disagree and leave the room as friends.

Over the years I suppose the fundamental challenge has been to agree that we will not attempt to convert each other! Off-loading some of the prejudices I’ve held about Christians has also been a challenge which has been quite easy to overcome due to the reciprocal efforts from the Christian side. But my biggest challenge will always be to faithfully represent, to the best of my ability, the diverse Muslim opinions in all our deliberations.

I admire Andrew’s discipline in his work, his sense of humour, his commitment to working with the forum and most of all the transition he has made coming from an evangelical tradition to where he is now challenging anti-Muslim prejudice wherever he finds it. One day, I’ll try to get him to put on one of my turbans – after all, Prophet Jesus wore one!
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra is Chair of the Interfaith Relations Committee of the MCB and President of the Christian Muslim Forum.
 

 




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