The Imam Next Door - A Dogged Story

While I am in Birmingham I learn as much as I can about Muslim-Christian dialogue. There are three ways to learn: street talk with strong-minded missionaries in the city centre; academic talk with people like Andrew Smith, the Inter-faith officer for Birmingham's Anglican Diocese, and chats with the Imam next door whose name is Majid. Imams of the many and varied small mosques are elected by their neighbours on the mosque council. Most are not scholars. Majid had said I could call in and talk any time he was in.

The subject now changes, I sometimes take Alfie the dog for his daily walk. He has to be kept on a lead until we reach a park. Although there are different views within Islam about dogs, the norm here among Pakistani Muslims is that to touch a dog makes you unclean - so everyone avoids Alfie. Once, when my hosts were out all day, I returned with Alfie to a locked house and discovered I had forgotten to take the house key. There is no way in. I was faced with an Initiative Test worthy of the commandos. I tied Alfie to the Imam's gate post, asked Majid if we could have inter-faith dialogue until Alfie's barks outside made talk impossible. Then, would he help me over his garden wall (still without Alfie) so that I could get into our house from the back? His wife made us a cup of tea. We talked about the 'mistake' Christians had made of claiming that God had a son - since most people take that word in its normal biological sense - and of different attributes of God - for example that he is both the Hidden One and the Manifest One.

The barking became a crescendo. The Qur'an calls us to be compassionate to animals. So Majid took me to the end of the brick wall which is slightly less high, held an old plastic chair for me to stand on the top of its upright back, and despite the fact that this split, heaved my other leg on to the wall. I emerged into the street again, untied Alfie from the Imam's gate post, and rewarded him with a treat. He was as good as gold, international friendship had been advanced, and I had passed an initiative test!

Posted at 02:57am on 9th December 2015
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