Islam on Lewis: Why the church should support Muslims’ right to build mosques

Recently it was announced that the first mosque is about to be built on the Western Isles – a bastion of conservative evangelical Calvinism, dominated by the Free Church of Scotland (colloquially and somewhat pejoratively known as ‘the Wee Frees’). The press sniffed blood – surely this would outrage the Free Church and create civil war? The old headlines ‘Wee Free Outrage’ were dusted down and in some cases used by the tabloids, broadsheets and broadcast media. And with some justification, because a small breakaway group from the Free Church known as the Free Church Continuing had issued a press statement condemning the proposal.

Perhaps it is expecting too much to expect the secular press to keep up with the various smaller Christian denominations. But The Guardian, demonstrating a degree of journalistic integrity, actually did some investigation and produced a more balanced James Maciverreport that included the news that the Free Church supported the right of the Muslims on the island to build their own mosque. Rev James MacIver, minister of the largest church in Stornoway, the main town of the island, is quoted as saying: ‘Muslims have always been regarded by the local community as people who’ve contributed to the local economy and integrated well. I don’t remember any animosity towards them. Outsiders may have got the impression that the Christian community here have resisted the mosque, but that’s not the case…I have no right to come between someone’s conscience and their god…I come at this from the point of view of liberty of conscience, freedom of religion. I don’t personally see Islam as the way to salvation, but they have a civil right to a place of worship. I have no right to come between someone’s conscience and their god.’

Building work at the mosque in Stornaway
TwitterBuilding work at the mosque in Stornoway.

Let me declare a personal interest here. I am a minister of the Free Church. I married a woman from Stornoway and know the people involved well. I, like my colleagues, am committed to the Bible as the infallible word of God and I agree with the theology summed up in our subordinate standard of the Westminster Confession of Faith. So what is going on when the Free Church does not oppose the building of a mosque in what was our heartland? Have we gone soft? Given into political correctness? Are we really opposed and just engaged in a game of political spin? Allow me to explain.

The Free Church would prefer that there was no need for a mosque to be built in Stornoway, because we would love everyone, including Muslims, to come to a saving knowledge of Christ. But we also believe that there is no coercion in real Christianity and that people have the right to reject, or to worship as they see fit. It is for God to judge, not the State. We defend the freedom to preach the gospel as we also defend the freedom of others. The Christian message is pleading and persuasion, not force and coercion. In a world where religious and secular groups alike are seeking to use the power of the state to impose their beliefs, we must not go the way of the world.

The FC has a catholic, Christian, traditional Scottish Reformed view of religious liberty. This is what is at stake for us here. We don’t agree with Islam and maintain that Jesus Christ is the only way. But equally we don’t believe that our beliefs can be imposed upon other people by denying them the religious liberty that we demand for ourselves.

This is not a new position. When one of the early Free Church leaders, Dr Thomas Guthrie, appeared to give evidence before a select committee of the House of Commons in 1847, about the Free Church being granted sites to build churches, he was asked if he would grant a site to any group other than Christians. He said, ‘I would grant a site to any man who desired to worship God according to his conscience’. The committee then asked, ‘To a Jew, or a Muslim, or even an idolater?’ He said, ‘Yes, I have no right to stand between a man and his conscience.’

This was the position of the Free Church in the 19th century and it still is in the 21st. We live in a world where we are told if we disagree with someone, we are disrespecting them, hurting them or taking them out of their safe space. Apparently people need to be protected from having their views, cultures or lifestyles challenged (unless they are biblical Christians). In many of our secular institutions, having a different view about the fundamental beliefs of the secular elites is considered to be grounds sufficient for banning or excluding from public space. Our society also seems to struggle with the concept that it is possible to have civil disagreement and to support the religious liberties of others. Maybe our society could learn from the church something about what real tolerance, equality and diversity is?

 Maybe the wider church also has something to learn from this small biblical Presbyterian denomination as well? In the church there are some who seem to think that campaigning against Islam, and giving implicit, if not explicit, support to far right groups, who wish to ban Islam, is somehow the Christian thing to do. It is not. Indeed, it is the very opposite and shows a blasphemous lack of faith in the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit.
British Muslims
ReutersHas wider society got something to learn from the church’s approach to Muslims?

If we really wish to see the spread of Islam limited, if we are really concerned about the glory of God and the spread of the gospel, then we need to move away from the fear of Islam (the real Islamophobia) which seeks to prevent Muslims coming to our shores or having freedom of worship when they do. When Thomas Guthrie was asked if supporting the building of mosques would be a deterrence to conversion amongst Muslims, Guthrie answered that he thought refusing permission to build a mosque would be a means of preventing conversion, rather than hindering it.

One Muslim was interviewed on the BBC and stated that since coming to the Island of Lewis in the 1950s he had never experienced one incident of racism or Islamophobia. Rather than be surprised that this should happen in the most evangelical church-going area of the UK, we should surely expect that to be the case. In the UK I suspect that the less Christian an area, the more likely you are to get fear of Muslims. It’s the secularists who seem to be afraid of everything that does not fit their paradigm.

This is illustrated by another story from the Western Isles. Recently there has been a fuss on Lewis about the island’s tradition of keeping Sunday special. The failed attempt to change this has been driven by a small group called the Western Isles Secular Society (who were nominated by the National Secular Society for their award of Secularist of the Year). While the militant secularists couldn’t contemplate a culture where their views were not the law, the Muslims have been supportive and accepting of local custom.

The whole story is another reminder that the world is not as black and white as our soundbite culture portrays it. Thank the Lord that we live in a diverse and multi-coloured culture in which we still have freedom to preach the gospel to all.

This article was first published on The Christian Today website 

The Strange Death of Europe – 3 – Islam

25 thoughts on “Islam on Lewis: Why the church should support Muslims’ right to build mosques

  1. Building a mosque would be ok if they were peace-loving. But their religion is a forceful one—using violence when someone chooses to leave Islam for Christianity. Other religions , though they end in judgment, have the right to build. We all have the right to worship and to choose Jesus.

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  2. Yes, tolerance of various things is necessary of course, but if Islam reflects the teaching of a false prophet who at first appears harming but also has a very dangerous side in reserve to use as in a Trojan Horse, would you welcome such? If we look at all the evidence of Islam worldwide, surely we have made a big mistake in allowing those fleeing Islamic countries to bring that very ruinous religion here.

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  3. Of course most Muslims are lovely and are only Muslims because with death for apostates they have no choice. Muslims are fleeing to the UK to escape the evil that Islam has brought upon them so it would be much kinder if we insisted that they do not practice Islam here. The problem is that it is now too late so it is easier to pretend thst Islam falls within the acceptable limits of “freedom of religion” and leave future generations to suffer from what is clearly a Trojan Horse of political bullying and totalitarian misery.

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    1. I don’t think its true that Muslims are only Muslims because they fear death for apostasy. It doesn’t really help when Christian ministers exaggerate and distort the truth. What are you afraid of?

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      1. David, I am not afraid. I don’t mean to distort the truth but am merely writing with brevity. I just feel very sorry for the threat that hangs over Muslims from within Islam. Islam is not merely a religion but is extremely intimidating as the plain facts from all over the world demonstrate. To think otherwise is naïve. To allow freedom to practice something on the basis that freedom is a right when the thing permitted aims to destroy that freedom just doesn’t make sense but is irresponsible.
        I do believe the bigger picture in that in the providence of God we have brought such a condemnation upon ourselves.
        I also agree there are many Muslims who are pleasant because they are no different to anybody and often they behave better, but that does not take away the dangers which are very real.
        Let’s talk about it again in 40 years time if we are both still here and see how this multifaith experiment has worked out. I would be 95 then so may well be delivered from it all. But this really is a very naïve experiment, like secular society. The atheist thinks he has a dream where all religion can be tolerated but it is just a dream with no precedent. I believe it is the same with encouraging Islam today in the UK. What is suggested is that it will all work out fine, but this has never been the case where Islam has moved into new lands. There is much recommended reading in this which is far from “far-right” but which is the testimony of those who have worked among Muslims or who have left Islam despite horrendous threatenings.
        Yes, by all means have freedom of free religions and beliefs because we cannot force anybody to become a Christian and we don’t want them pretending to be a Christian, but freedom does require the restraint of evil under law.
        Thank you David for allowing this discussion here. I am also not so naïve as to believe the things I say will be needed. In such circumstances the friendly acceptance may be the only option, but I still believe we can state the truth about Islam AND be friendly to our Muslim neighbours.

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  4. It is a conundrum, but I think Mr Guthrie has it right. The problem though is distinguishing between Islam and Muslims. In my understanding Islam is a pernicious faith system design to supplant and undermine Christianity – while there are many overlaps between the two Islam denies virtually every essential of Christianity.

    Samuel Zwemmer was a missionary in the middle east around 100 years ago. He was fluent in Arabic, a fearsome preacher and highly respected but it was said of him that had he shown love for those to whom he preached the entire region would have been converted.

    Allowing a mosque in Lewis will give the Christian community the opportunity to continue to show love and bring the message of forgiveness and assurance of God’s presence, something Islam can never provide.

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  5. Dr Zwemmer was a very great man but he went to preach to the Islamic world that the people might be saved. I am sure he did not desire to bring Islam to the West so that people might excuse themselves saying that they can’t decide which religion if any is true so they will have none.
    Also while Dr Guthrie was also no doubt a very great man, he very likely did not see the danger of Islam today having such a hold on people. Also, he was answering the question as a mere hypothetical question but in his own interest in order to win toleration of his own church when there was no imminent danger of Islam. I am not saying Guthrie did not give an honest answer but I don’t think we can take his answer and apply it to support the toleration of mosques when the harm is so much more obvious now. No doubt Guthrie, if like Spurgeon, supported smoking too, but today we know better.
    I repeat that the question of Islam is not merely about personal religion but a totalitarian regime of domination everywhere it gets power. Personally the individual Muslim is pleasant but he will ultimately be unable to prevent the dangerous aspects of Islam.
    Also, to repeat, what does the UK deserve? What does Lewis deserve? A chastening from the Lord for our sin? Then Islam is well deserved as a rod from the Lord and it cannot be stopped. So maybe we must be pragmatic and welcome, or at least accept, the mosques and love the Muslims to bits in order that they might be saved. It is a sorry situation, like accepting betting shops in our streets and Sunday shopping and entertainment. It is not what we want but we accept that the world is lost and wants to do what is unChristian. O and it wants abortions and euthanasia and multi partner marriages and who knows what else. Who are we to say that such things are wrong and that we don’t want them? I don’t say this to advocate such but to show the implications of unrestrained “freedom of religion and belief”
    Or was the Solemn League and Covenant and good thing?
    Where do we draw the line between godly laws in a Protestant country and allowing everything that secular humanist society says is a matter of individual choice?
    This is why I think the line should be drawn at the point that does not allow the practice of religions that advocate the death penalty for those who change religion, which is why I do not believe we should allow Islam in the UK.

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    1. Peter,
      since we have learned the lesson not to draw lines in little things, surely we ought to realise that drawing lines in big things is not a good idea either.
      I mean, we are talking about the same Christian experience here even if our lines are drawn in different places, aren’t we? E.g. a churchplanting pastor makes the thoroughly reasonable rule that church officers must attend the midweek meeting, only to find that every single man has to work away from home during the week. Or, is it not almost always the case that when we have drawn our line to everyone’s satisfaction then the Holy Spirit sends along someone seemingly on the wrong side of our line who ought to be treated as though they are on the right side of the line?
      (This is not antinomianism; law is better than nothing but legislation that seeks to give Grace power to its elbow is in danger of becoming another Gospel.)
      Furthermore, it seems to me that the enemy loves it when we draw lines in the sand. [Ephesians 6:12] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. If we line up in anti-flesh-and-blood formation we will find ourselves outflanked every time; we must pay heed to put on the whole armour of God.
      However you have demonstrated where a NIMBY protest can lead. You start off protesting about a prayer room being built and you end up with a call to ban Islam on the grounds of the death penalty for those who leave. Our social and civil services have a track record of misimproving their God-given sense of impartiality as seen in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Windrush generation debacle. It would be almost inevitable that the actual people most likely to be refused entry would be those most at risk of being executed because they have converted. Banning Islam, like protesting against the building of mosques, is a bad idea.

      Yours,
      John/.

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  6. Love it.

    In my spare time the last 6 years, have been working with Christians up and down Ireland to try to have similar goals. Thankfully the local councils are recognising the beauty of true tolerance, with one saying “could you help us know how to integrate people into society? You are the only ones who seem to profoundly disagree with people, yet get on well with them, serve them and seek their best interests”. And it doesn’t come at the expense of evangelism either, with some coming to faith.

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  7. What troubles me is that Islam is not just a religion in the fuzzy sense of an individual’s search for spiritual fulfillment. It is also brings with it a repressive social, legal and economic system with very serious territorial aspirations. How can you manage to be kind to individual Muslims while not ceding an inch to Islam?

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    1. But its not just Muslims…you can be kind to individual Muslims the same that you can be to individual atheists, secular humanists, Hindus, Buddhist, Communists etc whilst not ceding an inch to any of those philosophies. All are human beings made in the image of God – all are enemies of God – and we are to love our enemies…

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  8. This article shows total and complete ignorance of Islam. When the first Mosque in the Uk was built in Woking in 1889 the Muslims brought the bones of an Immam and buried them there and claimed the ground for a demon god called Allah. Since then hundreds of Mosques have been built each time claiming more ground for Allah.
    The Muslim religon is a clear attack on Christianity. We love Muslims but should not be ignorant of the religion.
    1. The Qur’an says Jesus did not die on the cross (4;157) Jesus death is the means of salvation for a Christian.
    2. The Qur’an says that if you say Jesus was the son of God you will go to hell (5:72). Jesus divinity is central to Christianity.
    3. The Qur’an says before Allah you can only be a slave (19:93). Jesus says he wants to be our friend and wants to have a relationship with us.
    4. Islam tells you to say the same prayer 5 times a day. Jesus said not to do this “for they think they will be heard for their many words” but to pray simply and specifically.
    5. The Qur’an says to kill disbelievers(9:5) and cut off their heads (47:4). Jesus says to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.
    6. The Qur’an says Allah is the best of deceivers (3:54,8:30) Jesus claimed to be the truth and said the truth will set you free. He also said he was the only way to the father. There is not more than one way.

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    1. I’m afraid that your comments are the ones that demonstrate the ignorance – as well as arrogance and a sad lack of understanding of how the Gospel works. I was not arguing for approval of Islam – I was arguing for freedom of religion. You appear to disagree with that. I don’t accept your position…

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    2. Sidney,
      I long to see the restoration of a public-square discourse where principled non-approval is not branded as extremism or as a hate crime but I don’t think it helps if you preface a comment with This article shows total and complete ignorance of Islam when it obviously shows no such thing.

      As I understand it, the Muslim objection to the very idea of God having a son is based on the notion that ‘having a son’ would of necessity require a sexual relationship between God and a woman. We need the sort of dialogue that allows us to say with great firmness that we also believe that the idea of such a relationship is repugnant. If the only way to interpret the Qur’an’s condemnation of divine sonship is to tie it to the sexual act then the condemnation cannot apply either to the Bible or to Christians.

      Such dialogue is rare enough without our clumsy attempts to build a protective fence around the preaching of the gospel by obstructing the building of mosques, etc.

      Yours,
      John/.

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  9. I’d be interested to know what scripture teaches, from Genesis to Revelation about freedom of religion?
    Much has been said on this site about synchretism in church worship services. While there is no sycretisnm here in a “place” of worship, is there not some accommodation of syncretism in religion here?
    It the simplest level, who is spreading what to whom? Who or what is influencing whom?
    And frequently it has been said on this site that Islam is not only religion, but also a political system, a theocracy.
    It would also be interesting to see how the Gospel works in this situation, when, presumably, it has not worked so far with those who live on the Island who are now building the Mosque. It would be interesting to hear any conversion stories from Islam to Christ, from Islanders.

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  10. I think we should have freedom of religion in our country.
    I also think that no religion in our country should have the freedom to murder anyone who decides to leave it.

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    1. No religion does. I’m not sure of the relevance of your comment to this discussion – unless you are wanting to accuse the Muslims in Stornoway of being murderers!

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