Reading Calvin in a mosque

The horrific attacks on Charlie Hebdo workers provoked worldwide demonstrations in support of free speech followed by equally heated worldwide Muslim demonstrations calling for limits to free speech. In a Vancouver Sun interview, the leader of the B.C. Muslim Association reportedly called for protection of religion by law against freedom of speech attacks. On freedom of speech issues there are no moderate Muslims. They all want limits imposed and enforced by law. Until the Christian Reformed Church synod of 1910, the Belgic Confession also called on the power of the sword to destroy false worship and promote the kingdom. Today, we deem that unbiblical. Muslim expectations that government protect and promote religion run counter to western thinking and are deeply troubling. 

Soon after, I attended my first Journey Into Islam at the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre in Richmond, B.C., an annual event to introduce Islam to non-Muslims. Attendance was over 200, with about one-third non-Muslim, mostly Christians. It started at 5:30, after a personal welcome, a name tag and shoe removal, we watched the daily Maghreb, or sunset prayer – men and boys on the main floor, women looking on from above. Then a traditional Muslim meal was served at each round table with a mixture of Muslim and non-Muslim men or women.

Before eating, a boy read a chapter from the Quran; a girl read the English translation. The keynote speaker, a woman and university professor, maintained that love in public life means justice for all. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dooyeweerd, too, would agree. Next, the imam presented Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, not to be judged by what terrorists do in its name. Then, a poem recitation recounted an event from Mohammed’s life, showcasing the prophet’s tolerance.

After dinner we viewed displays of various Muslim charities and information tables about the place of women in Islam; fasting and prayer; Islamic teachings; media misconceptions and so on. The information booths were hosted by young, well-educated professionals of both sexes, passionate to share their beliefs. The Quran booth displayed prominent texts, such as, “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” begging the question, “Why then seek legal protection against freedom of speech?” Much discussion ensued but no meeting of minds.

‘Beyond our knowing’?
Guided tours gave small groups a chance to view the premises, including a huge aerial photo of the Khaba shrine in Mecca with thousands of pilgrims, both Sunni and Shia. “How can Sunni and Shia be brothers in Mecca but kill each other in Iraq?” someone asked.

The tour guide responded humbly, “Yes, sadly it is true. I do not understand how they can do that.” Richmond B.C. also has Sunni and Shia mosques; their members get along fine. Later, I recalled Christian brothers also killed each other – the US Civil War, Northern Ireland and both WW’s; a reminder that the splinters of others loom larger than our own beams. At 10:00 p.m. we left for home to reflect. What stood out? Their sensitivity, taking pains to explain why the men and women would eat at separate ends of the room; their friendliness; how much they value education and learning and their passion for what they believe. They feel under attack, misunderstood and want to explain their faith.

Soon after, I read Calvin’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer (Institutes Bk. III, xx). Calvin considers whom is included in the “our” of Our Father. He remarks that Jesus teaching us to pray Our Father implies some kinship with all people, because “our” includes everyone. I could not believe this from Calvin and looked again. Yes, Calvin says that Our Father in the Lord’s Prayer denotes that God is father to all people. To ensure we get it, Calvin writes regarding those outside the true religion, “For what God has determined concerning them is beyond our knowing except that it is no less godly than humane to wish and hope the best for them.”

If I link to all people every time I pray Our Father, I should have more generous thoughts about Muslims. Habitually, when I pray Our Father, I connect to my wife Jayne, the children, family, friends and my congregation, perhaps, but I do not consciously connect to Muslims. My image of Muslims needs correction, no less than my image of Calvin.

  • Nick is an occasional contributor, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly and long-time CC supporter. He lives in Richmond, B.C.

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