Islamic Clerics Issue Statement in Support of Patrick Sookhdeo

From a lengthy statement posted to this blog (and elsewhere) by the Christian Muslim Council:

We write as the Muslim Chair and Muslim Council members of the Christian Muslim Council (also known as “La Ikraha” – “No Compulsion”), a charity working to promote joint Muslim and Christian co-operation to defend religious freedom and challenge the heinous persecution of Christian, Muslim and other faith minorities in different parts of the world.

In this regard, we view with deep concern the adverse references to our respected colleague, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo in the article [by Ben White], “Why has Patrick Sookhdeo (of all people) been advising Britain’s armed forces?”. Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, is International Director of the Barnabas Fund, a Christian charity committed to promoting the cause of persecuted Muslims and Christians everywhere in the world, deriving its mandate from the biblical principle that all Christians are brothers and sisters, that there is no Jew or Greek, no black or white, no rich or poor, but all are one in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-31). Dr Sookhdeo has placed himself in positions of considerable personal risk to protect Muslim friends who are often dissident voices speaking out against Islamist extremism and violence.

The Barnabas Fund’s stated aim is commendable: we all know that historic Christian coummunities in Islamic-majority countries seldom enjoy full equality, and in some cases face severe dangers, while the situation for converts from Islam is intolerable (I discussed the situation in Pakistan here).

However, that does not change the fact that some of Sookhdeo’s statements and actions need to be challenged: I’ve documented how he has misrepresented other people’s writings to scaremonger and vilify, while Ben White’s article notes Sookhdeo’s active association with virulent anti-Islam groups and individuals. The fact that he also has friendly association with some Islamic scholars through the Christian Muslim Council perhaps means that he cannot be reduced to these faults – but those faults are nevertheless still there, and raise serious questions over his advisory role to the military.

Somewhat oddly, the statement goes on to make an implied attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury:

 …Just as strongly, we applaud Dr Sookdheo’s clear critique of the racism and chauvinism of the wealthy Western church – in particular some in the “Interfaith Industry” of Lambeth Palace and the Church of England hierarchy – whose neglect of non-white and non-wealthy persecuted Christian minorities, and obstruction of Dr Sookhdeo’s efforts to challenge this institutional racism shows an astonishing abandonment of Christian brotherhood for political self-interest.

…[P]rinciples of truth-speaking… have been severely damaged by the behaviour of some parts of the Western Church for whom truth has become relative, the authority of Scripture diluted, and the character of the Christianity that of a racially white, European liberalism. The nature of conversation by this Eurocentric, liberal Christianity with Muslims and other faiths is shaped by an “Interfaith Industry” which has a deeply politically correct and colonialist character.

It’s not made clear exactly what they’re getting at here, although in the context of current debates, a nexus of complaints about “relativism”, “diluting the Bible”, and “colonialism” are more often than not aimed at Christians who are willing to accommodate homosexuality within the religion.

In contrast to the supposedly institutionally-racist “Interfaith Industry”, the Christian Muslim Council commends its own alternative interfaith events:

In the wake therefore of various, previous failed high level initiatives around Christian persecution in Muslim-majority countries, Dr Sookhdeo and the Barnabas Fund have successfully been able to build a unique partnership with leading Islamic scholars who will address intensively in partnership with Christian clergy, questions around Islamic apostasy laws and religious violence. These we together have configured as a series of three international conferences beginning in Cairo and concluding in Washington, DC. At these conferences will be released the result of many months of research and frank dialogue, in two statements, one Muslim and one Christian, in which Islamic scholars will assert the end to all violence or persecution of any person who leaves one religion for another religion.

These “leading Islamic scholars” are the statement’s authors:

Sheikh Professor Mohamed Elsharkawy, Chair

Sheikh Professor Abdallah Mohamed

Sheikh Dr Shukri Abdelmageed Daba

Sheikh Dr Gamalaldin Ahmed

CHRISTIAN MUSLIM COUNCIL (“La Ikraha” – “No Compulsion”)

For press queries, please contact: +44 7017 021530

Several of these names, and the contact details, are associated with the Al-Azhar Institute for Dialogue, based in east London; this is the “the official branch of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif in the United Kingdom”.

The statement is perhaps a partially-updated version of a statement issued by Islamic clerics in support of Sookhdeo in April, after he and the Barnabas Fund featured in a problematic report from Hope Not Hate entitled “The ‘Counter-Jihad’ Movement” (HnH subsequently scrubbed its references to Sookhdeo and his organisation). That would explain why it refers to conferences that have already taken place in the future tense; the Christian Muslim Council website announces that:

The high level conference of senior Islamic scholars to discuss issues relating to religious violence and religious freedom took place in Cairo, Egypt from 22 to 28 March 2012, and was led by Sheikh Professor Mohamed Elsharkawy and Sheikh Professor Abdallah Mohamed, Head of the Faculty of Comparative Religion at the University.

…From 21 to 22 May 2012, the Christian Muslim Council of scholars, will hold an international conference on religious violence and religious freedom in Washington, DC, at which the findings of the conference of Muslim scholars on religious violence led by Sheikh Professor Mohamed Elsharkawy will be developed at the highest level together with the international Council of Christian clergy and scholars led by Dr Patrick Sookdheo, with the support of experts and dignitaries.

According to a blurb at the same site:

Since 2008, the Christian Muslim Council (formerly Catholic Islamic Conference) has pioneered the regular monthly practice of interfaith lectio divina or praying through the sacred scriptures of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. 

…Among our key collaborating partners are the Imams and Rabbis Council of the United Kingdom and Scriptural Reasoning, as well as the Interfaith Alliance UK.

The “Imams and Rabbis Council” also has a second website, branded as “Children of Abraham”. There is also a very basic website in the name of “La Ikraha”; it has links both to the Barnabas Fund and to an organisation called Abraham House, billed as “London’s unique interfaith space”.