Christmas is a time for reconciliation. Please read the Amman Message

We have recently much blether about the use of the web by terrorists, including for publicity and recruitment. We hear much less about its use to promote reconciliation and peace. In this context I do suggest readers visit the website of the Amman Message and then think about what it means to them.

It contains the nearest the Muslim world has to a definition of contemporary Islam, as opposed to the odd collections of 19th and 20th Century make-believe peddled by Islamic State, Al Qaeda and others who have “lost their way” and compete in their use of social media to recruit disaffected teenagers and malcontents to join them.

The process that led to the Amman Message was as though the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Moderator of the General Asembly of the Church of Scotland and the other leaders of the main Protestant Communities had come together to define Christianity as a similarly tolerant and compassionate faith, in the face of threats from those calling for a violent crusade against not only heretics and non-believers but also those who disagreed with their selective and idiosyncratic interpretation of the Gospels, including the supposed Revelation of St John.

If you think about the way the Catholic Church and Church of England operate or Article viii of the constitution of the Church of Scotland, let alone the way that other protestant communities are organised, you will realise how difficult such a coming together would be for Christians. It was equally hard and unusal for the Muslim World. Which is why the “Message” should be much better known and publicised – so that laymen, not just scholars for whom it was produced, can understand its implications.

Those who came together to produce the Amman Message should be viewed as the thought leaders of the Muslim World: leading teachers and scholars from all the mainstream Sunni and Shia religious and law schools. It is not a “simple” collection of Prelates and Judges setting the “rules”. Even the Sharia is better seen as a set of collections of interpretations of the will of God rather than a western style set of laws. This has the side effect of making it relatively easy for Governments to introduce legal codes that are nominally “Sharia compliant” – provided they do not obviously deviate from the “path“.    

By contrast the leaders and spokesmen of Al Qaeda or Islamic State are commonly self-taught, with little or no formal scholastic education. Osama bin Laden studied economics and business adminstration. Abu Hamza studied engineering. And so on. Hence also the bizarre legal codes of the Islamic State Caliphate.

The authority of the Amman Message is, therefore, all the more impressive.    

So why is it not better known?

At that point it may be helpful to look at the politics of the Internet and the motives of those whose interests are served by stoking conflict between the Muslim Communities, let alone between them and both Christianity, (ancient, as in Syria and Iraq, modern) and Judaism.

I am, however,a great fan of John Donne, not just his erotic poetry but his later sermons and “religious” writings – at a time when christians were busy persecuting each other in the name of the God of Love. One of my favourites begins “Kind pity chokes my spleen” and contains:

“To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;
To sleep, or run wrong, is. On a huge hill,

Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will

Reach her, about must and about must go,

And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so.”

A very similar set of messages can be found in the Koran saying, in effect, that those who claim to know the will (not just word) of God with absolute certainty and its meaning for you – are false prophets. You have to study for yourself. I therefore leave you to ponder working out how and why the voices of calm and reason are drowned out in the cacophony of the on-line world, with its lawyer-enforced, short-term, secular business models. 

When it comes to calling on God in support of a “justified war”, I personally find little difference between the teachings of St Augustine of Hippo and the messages about self defence found in the Koran. Neither justifies what is happening in the Middle East today – other than those relating to secular self-defence against men of violence. 

My own summary of the careful and measured tones of the Amman Message is simple: “anyone who presumes to know the will of God and encourages others to persecute and kill in his name – is a heretic”.

However, I too have no religious training. I therefore urge you to read the three points of the message for yourself and then think, very hard, even if you do not feel able to pray to your version of God for guidance.