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Bishop 'distressed' by row following Qur'an reading at cathedral

The Guardian logo The Guardian 15/01/2017 Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent
A Qur'an: The Qur’an reading lead to a backlash with the cathedral saying it had received offensive messages on social media. © Alamy The Qur’an reading lead to a backlash with the cathedral saying it had received offensive messages on social media.

The leader of the Scottish Anglican church has said he was “deeply distressed” at the “widespread offence” caused by a reading from the Qur’an at a service to mark the feast of the Epiphany at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow.

David Chillingworth, bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, and primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said in a statement: “We also deeply regret the widespread abuse which has been received by the cathedral community.” He has launched a review of interfaith work.

His comments followed a row over the inclusion in the service of passages from the Qur’an read in Arabic from the cathedral’s lectern by a local Muslim student. The cathedral said it was part of efforts to build relationships between Christians and Muslims in Glasgow.

The student, Madinah Javed, 19, read from the book of Maryam, which tells the story of Jesus’s birth. It includes the Islamic teaching that Jesus was not the son of God. Muslims, however, revere Jesus as a prophet.

The reading triggered a backlash. The former bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, said: “Christians should know what their fellow citizens believe and this can include reading the Qur’an for themselves, whether in the original or in translation. This is not, however, the same thing as having it read in church in the context of public worship. The authorities of the Scottish Episcopal Church should immediately repudiate this ill-advised invitation and exercise appropriate discipline for those involved.”

The cathedral said it became the target of offensive messages on social media, which it reported to the police.

Last week, a Police Scotland spokesman said: “We can confirm we are investigating reports of offensive comments made towards St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow and inquiries are ongoing. Police Scotland will not tolerate any form of hate and encourages all communities to work together to ensure no one feels threatened or marginalised.”

The cathedral’s provost, Kelvin Holdsworth, defended the reading, saying similar events had “happened a number of times in the past in this and in other churches, and have led to deepening friendships locally, to greater awareness of the things we hold in common and to dialogue about the ways in which we differ”.

The statement from the bishop said the Scottish Episcopal Church had a long commitment to interfaith work. “Over many years, we have sought to develop friendship, understanding and mutual respect between our Christian faith and the other great world religions,” he said

Chillingworth added: “Those who seek to work in the area of interfaith relationships must weigh carefully whether the choices which they make are appropriate or otherwise. In today’s world, those judgments must give careful consideration to good relationships which have been carefully nurtured over many years in a local context. They must also weigh carefully the way in which national and international issues shape perceptions of what is appropriate or inappropriate.

“The decisions which have led to the situation in St Mary’s Cathedral are a matter for the provost and the cathedral community but the Scottish Episcopal Church is deeply distressed at the widespread offence which has been caused. We also deeply regret the widespread abuse which has been received by the cathedral community.”

Chillingworth said the church would bring together “all those who are involved in the development of interfaith relations ... to explore how, particularly in the area of worship, this work can be carried forward in ways which will command respect”.


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