The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has spoken out against the forces of secularism, on the one hand, seeking to force religion out of the public sphere, and extremism, on the other, seeking to replace mainstream religion with a radicalised version twisted to fit their own agenda.
In a hard hitting speech, he also urged Muslim leaders to do more than simply condemn terrorism; they should also promote an alternative, peaceful version of their religion.
On Friday Welby joined the Anglican Archbishops of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and members of the Welsh Muslim community at a meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, based at Cardiff University, where he made his remarks.
Addressing the gathering, Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales described terrorism as a “cancer” which must be addressed, the Telegraph has reported. But he added that Muslims in Britain feel they are effectively living under siege.
“The Muslims I meet in mosques and across Wales generally are concerned about the environment where they are raising their children,” he said.
“[It is] an environment in which to be a Muslim is to be treated with suspicion; an environment in which far right groups increasingly protest against Muslims; an environment in which there are arson attacks against mosques; an environment in which a Muslim woman walking down the street is likely to be … spat at or abused.
“Call it Islamophobia, call it anti-Muslim prejudice, call it racism, but whatever you call it is wrong and it is sadly becoming a norm.”
Acknowledging the fears of the Muslim community, Welby said that we are indeed living in a time of fear, which “seeps into our society, and begins to work at the cracks between us in our diversity, deepening them into barriers between us.” His proposed solution is for faith communities to work in conjunction with each other, building bonds of citizenship and friendship.
Welby did not contradict Kidwai’s narrative, but went on to argue that fear must be confronted by members of all faiths. “Darkness is cast out by the light of truth and love,” he said.
In a clear message to his Muslim counterparts, he acknowledged that Christianity had seen its own share of radicalism, saying: “I cannot say that Christians who resort to violence are not Christians.
“At Srebrenica the perpetrators claimed Christian faith. I cannot deny their purported Christianity, but must acknowledge that event as yet another in the long history of Christian violence, and I must repudiate that what they did was in any way following the life and teaching of Jesus.”
But he used those events to set a challenging example to moderate Muslims, continuing: “We have unequivocally to condemn those who misuse our own Scriptures for their own ends. But condemnation, a negative, is not enough.
“The mainstream of each faith needs to generate a counter-narrative that acknowledges our differences and commits to resource and support one another in defiance of those who wish to divide us. The counter-narrative must be so exciting and so beautiful that it defeats the radicalisers, with their message of hate and despair.”
He also used the speech to send a clear message to secularists that Christianity must not be pushed out of the public sphere, and to faith leaders that they must not hide away on the side-lines.
“Christians and Muslims are not called to a ghetto-like existence, although both our faiths have from time to time acted in that way, through fear or defensiveness,” said. “We are called by contrast to be actively involved in our society not for our own good but for the common good.
“The common good seeks to benefit those of faith communities and those of no faith. It urges a flourishing that is economic, environmental, political, familial and spiritual. It is something deeply rooted in freedom of religion and freedom of worship, and in the capacity to explore ideas that may be difficult for those around.
“It means being committed to a society and country where not everyone agrees with us, far from it. In the book of Proverbs, the writer talks of iron sharpening iron. We are to speak truth to power to hold to account and also to be willing to be held to account ourselves.”