On a Saturday in July, I was one of about 30 people from across the circuit who spent their Saturday at Hoyland Chapel listening to Dr Chris Hewer leading a course about Understanding Islam. Dr Hewer has over 30 years experience of conducting similar sessions, and in the course of the morning and afternoon he helped us all to begin to understand this major world religion, practised by 1.6 billion people.
There can be little doubt that a good understanding of Islam is increasingly important in a world in which there are obvious tensions between and within different religions, and particularly in Britain where there are many in society who are ready to spread a negative and inaccurate view of Muslims and Islam.
My impression was that most, probably all, of the participants found the day immensely useful. Personally, I learned a great deal about things I thought I knew, and more about those of which I knew nothing. But more than that, understanding was very definitely the aim of the day. We were not simply learning facts, but gaining an understanding of what lay behind them, and all from the perspective of Muslims, not Christians. We were being helped to see Islam through Muslim eyes.
Like everyone else I am sure, I came away better informed, but more importantly with a much greater understanding of one of the world's great faiths and of what it means to its followers. It helped me to see what Muslims believe and why, and how that translates into their religious practice. There was much that I found impressive and admirable. For example in the approach to prayer, in the sense of community of all Muslims, the commitment to the discipline of fasting in Ramadan.
So what difference has the day made to me. As I hope is clear, I learned much, I now understand what was previously unclear to me, and I have gained an increased respect for the the way that Muslims practice their faith.
I can't possibly compress nearly 4 hours of the course into a short Spotlight article, but fortunately Chris Hewer's website www.chrishewer.org contains a great deal of very readable and helpful information which anyone can access who is interested. I would strongly encourage you to have a look.
If any church or group is interested in exploring this very important and relevant subject, Chris Hewer may well be able to repeat his session on a future occasion – just contact the circuit office to let them know.