I have a feeling that Her Majesty The Queen does not ordinarily wear a mantilla when she goes to church. But, of course, on those occasions when she has met the Pope at the Vatican there she is, dressed in black, mantilla on her head. She dresses respectfully as is expected in those circumstances.
So why would Marine Le Pen refuse to cover her head when she was to meet the Grand Mufti last week in the Lebanon? We can only assume that it was a deliberate publicity stunt to make her point about people of the Muslim faith. Her supporters will be gleeful but the rest of us, I assume, only saw someone lacking in respect, unwilling to accommodate the traditions and teachings of another brother or sister.
When I was on sabbatical in Jerusalem I had the real privilege, with clergy from the Diocese of Southwark and the dioceses with which we are linked in Zimbabwe, to visit the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock on Haram al-Sharif, otherwise known as the Temple Mount. The Arabic name for that ancient and deeply holy site means ‘The Noble Sanctuary’ and as any visitor there knows there is a real nobility about the place. We went, however, as guests of the Waqf which is the religious trust in which is invested the care of religious and other property on behalf of the Islamic community. But before we went there we were clearly told how to behave, so that we were appropriately respectful. The women in the group would have to ‘cover up’ and we would all have to remove our shoes when we went into the Mosque. We would talk quietly, not shout like tourists and respect those who were praying or reading their scriptures.
It was a wonderful visit, we respected our hosts, they respected their guests.
There is one of the Ten Commandments that stands out from all the rest. Nine of the ten tell us what not to do but the fifth is different
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20.12)
Having respect for our parents, honouring our father and our mother leads to the promise of a blessing, that life will be long and good. Good things flow out of respect, we are being told; the opposite must be true.
This constant battering of the Muslim community, constant finger-pointing, disrespect, criticism, denunciation, vilification that we see not just in Trump’s USA but elsewhere is an utter disgrace to the whole of our society. I was reading a blog by the only hijab wearing member of the White House staff. She had worked for President Obama, she lasted only 8 days in the Trump west wing. She wrote that she had to go because she could not stay where her people were being singled out in such aggressive ways.
In Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brain’ the members of The People’s Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front) sit around asking the question ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ and they come up with a long list. We can ask ourselves the same question about Islam and the Muslim community and, if we do so, we end up with a list that includes mathematics, algebra, medicine, architecture, the preservation of libraries of thinking and philosophy otherwise destroyed in the western world, the most beautiful roses and sublime poetry. Just as with the dominant Christian culture in the west they have been responsible for some horrors and we see some of them being played out by sects of Islam today. But that is not the real story just as the Crusades are not the only story to tell about Christians.
The Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic beautifully writes in one of his mystical poems
Others call you love, I call you the king of love;
O you who are higher than the imagination of this and that,
go not without me.
God, who is love, God who is the king of love, calls us to the honouring of those in our family, blessings will flow from it. Covering our heads, removing our shoes is the least we can do, it doesn’t dishonour the God we know in Jesus Christ, it celebrates the love that all people of faith know is at the heart of the divine, the structure of the Noble Sanctuary in which God invites us to dwell, at ease with each other.
God of love,
I stand before you
on holy ground
with all my sisters and brothers.