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Friday, February 24, 2017
Text: Address of Imam at icon dedication
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¬†Sheikh Muhammad Yusuf chairman of the council of University Imams gave the following address at the dedication of teh new icons of Our Lady and St Joseph at St Joseph's Church in Bunhill Row, on Friday. In the Name of the One God, the Compassionate, the Merciful The Roman orator Cicero wrote, 'You might as well take the sun out of the sky as friendship from life, for the immortal gods have given us nothing better or more delightful'. And it is in that spirit of friendship therefore, that it is my honour today, as a member of the Muslim community, to offer a traditional tahiya, a hand of greeting to our Christian sisters and brothers, on this blessed occasion of veneration of our beloved Mother Maryam al-'Adhra the Blessed Virgin Mary. May the Almighty bless her, and honour her, and raise her up to Himself in everlasting glory, and may the Merciful One send down His lovingkindness upon us all, that we may be increased daily in our love for one another. In the very words of the Quran itself, 'And you will find the nearest among men in love to the believers are those who say, "We are Christians", for there are priests and holy men among them, and they are not proud.' (Quran 5:82) This day we celebrate the Mother of Love, and in so doing, call to mind the words of Christ himself, 'That you love one another as I have loved you' (John 13:35), sentiments echoed in the very famous and very oft-quoted saying of the Prophet Muhammad that, 'Of the seven who inhabit Paradise are two men who love one another in the way of God, steadfast and constant whether together or apart'. In Arabic ukhuwa, in the New Testament Greek agape ≠ brotherly, maternal, familial, sacrificial love. Friendship is indeed an ornament of the human experience, a gem infixed alongside those other great loves ≠ of parent and offspring, of partners in marriage ≠ human loves forever encircled and sanctified by the greater love of God for his people. And no mightier and more sacrificial love is there than the maternal bond of Mary our Mother with us, reflecting in its luminescence the awesome love of God for his children: 'And remember when the angels said: "O Mary! Verily, God has chosen you, purified you, and raised you above the women of the world.' (Quran 3:42) Consecrated was she to the service of God's love from her very birth, for as her mother spoke of Mary: 'O my Lord, I have vowed to you, what is in my womb to be dedicated to Your service. So accept this vow from me. Verily, you are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing' (Quran 3:35) And do take heed at this point. Because as the Christian writer C S Lewis correctly observed, the biblical ≠ and indeed Quranic ≠ understanding of true love and is vastly deeper and vastly more far-reaching than modern Western fabricated conceptions of love and friendship ≠ as mere good company and bonhomie, or as romance, or as sex. For by contrast, in both the Quran and the Hebrew Bible, the same Arabic and Hebrew word used exclusively to define true love, is qurban ≠ sacrifice; literally the blood sacrificial animal on the temple altar, with the clear and unequivocal definition of true love as the totally selfless self-giving of everything you have to those you love and, most importantly of all, this must ≠ this must ≠ include willingness to give up your own life. This life sacrifice criterion of love is famously given expression in the words of Jesus in John's Gospel, 'Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.' (John 15:13). So whatever counterfeit constructs of love forged by men in centuries since, in the eyes of God, this life sacrifice criterion is the only true definition of love that exists and has ever existed. There is no other, and nothing less will do. So at this Feast of St Joseph, as we celebrate the gift of sacrificial love, we rightly honour the true, god-breathed love of the Mother whose heart was pierced by the suffering of her son Jesus. In its chapter entitled Maryam, the Quran narrates how in pain she bore the Messiah that he may be: 'A sign to Mankind and a Mercy from Us, and such it is a matter decreed by God' (Quran 19:21) Islamic Tradition narrates how, 'A man came to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and said, "Who is the one most deserving of the beauty of my care?" Said the Prophet, "Your mother". "And after that?" said the man. Said the Prophet, "Your mother". "And after that?" said the man. Said the Prophet, "Your mother". "And after that?" said the man. Said the Prophet, "Your father"'. This Feast of St Joseph, in honouring the Mother of Love, let us reflect in our lives also the true and god-breathed love of the biblical David and Jonathan, of Ruth and Naomi, of the Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr, and all those manifold bonds of affection and fellowship that infuse an enrich the lives of every one of us. And do note how very different each of the parties were in every single one of the historical friendships mentioned. But this 'unifying principle', against all divisions of tribe or social status, is the gift of true monotheism to the human condition ≠ the elimination of multiple, warring, rival, tribal deities, of Baal of the Moabites, of Moloch of the Ammonites, of 'my tribe versus your tribe', backed up and reinforced with 'my god versus your god'. In place of this multiplicity of hate, the fatherhood of the One Lord and God of us all, and the shared familiality ≠ the familiality ≠ of every single one of us as his children ≠ regardless of race, or creed, or gender, or nation. So let the bigots and the extremists in my community, hear the words of Islamic Scripture, 'O Mankind, we created you from a single pair, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might come to know and understand one another. Truly the noblest among you in the sight of God is the one who is most god-fearing.' (Quran 49:13) Would that such words were heard today among Islamic extremists in the Middle East, or indeed among other fundamentalists of other faiths. I say again, let the bigots in every community hear the clear teaching of the Quran, 'Verily those who believe and those who follow the Jewish faith and the Christians and the Sabians, whomsoever believes in God and in the Last Day, and works righteousness, their reward is with their Lord, and there shall be no fear upon them, nor ever shall they grieve.' (Quran 2:62). On this Holy Feast of the Mother of Love, let all of us in the family of Abraham together, celebrate our god-blessed diversity of colour, creed and nation, and consecrate ourselves to the call of the Jewish Shema that, 'You love the Lord your God ≠ who is One ≠ with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength' (Deuteronomy 6:4). And likewise, let us, children of One Father, brothers and sisters, dedicate ourselves to the spirit of the Christian Gospel, 'AgaphseiV ton plhsion to, 'Love your neighboursou 'wV seauton as yourself' (Matthew 22:39). And finally, let us hear also God's glorious exhortation in the Islamic Quran, 'And hold fast all of you to the rope of God and be not divided among yourselves, and remember with gratitude God's favour upon you, for you were enemies, and he joined your hearts in love, so that by his grace, you became brethren.' (Quran 3:103) In times such as these, such a wisdom is one we do well to heed.
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