One Episcopal church in Scotland celebrated Epiphany this year by letting a Muslim sing a song — which denied the very basis of the Christian holiday. In fact, the song, taken from Surah 19 of the Quran, explicitly rejected a doctrine fundamental to the Christian faith.
On Epiphany Sunday, January 8, 2017, Muslim singer Madinah Javed sang a portion of Surah 19 — including a section which flatly states that Jesus is not the Son of God — during a Eucharistic service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow.
A post on the cathedral’s Facebook page (now removed) described the service as a “wonderful event,” hailing the Muslim portion specifically. “The congregation was also reminded during the service that it is not only Christians who give honour to Jesus. We were joined by friends from two local Muslim communities,” read the post, according to ChristianToday.
Surah 19, the Quranic passage sung in the service, details the Muslim account of Jesus’s birth. While the story agrees with Christians that Jesus’s mother Mary was a virgin, it portrays her as becoming ashamed at the birth of Christ! “Oh, would that I had died ere this and had become a thing of naught, forgotten,” Mary declares in verse 23.
After Jesus’s birth, the baby speaks aloud (something never described in Christian versions of the nativity), and the narrator goes on to declare that while Jesus was a prophet, he was emphatically not the Son of God.
At the service, the Muslim singer concluded with verse 35 —”It befitteth not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him!”
“It is particularly insensitive to have this passage read in Church on the Feast of the Epiphany,” declared Michael Nazir-Ali, a leading evangelical Christian in Britain who once served as Bishop of Rochester. Nazir-Ali explained that Epiphany is the time “when we celebrate not only Christ’s manifestation to the gentiles but also his baptism and the divine declaration, ‘you are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’.”
The Feast of Epiphany has many different interpretations, but every Christian denomination celebrating the holiday views it as a time to celebrate Jesus Christ revealing his glory and divinity to the gentiles. As explained by the Roman Catholic site New Advent, “very different manifestations of Christ’s glory and Divinity were celebrated in this feast quite early in its history, especially the Baptism, the miracle at Cana, the Nativity, and the visit of the Magi.”
In each of those biblical events, Jesus Christ reveals his glory and divinity. At the Baptism, which Nazir-Ali referenced, the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice from Heaven declared “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” This passage is a direct contradiction to the Quranic passage read at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral.
Nazir-Ali condemned the reading and called for discipline against those involved. “The authorities of the Scottish Episcopal Church should immediately repudiate this ill-advised invitation,” the former bishop declared. He called on Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to publicly distance the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion from the event.
“Christians should know what their fellow citizens believe and this can include reading the Qur’an for themselves, whether in original or in translation. This is not, however, the same things as having it read in Church in the context of public worship,” Nazir-Ali declared.
While it is good to learn about the religious practices of Muslims, and may be appropriate to reach out in dialogue with them, it is a recipe for disaster to invite members of a different religion to join the church for worship. Especially on a holiday celebrating Jesus’s status as the Son of God, it was particularly ill-conceived to invite Muslims — who deny the divinity of Christ and say he was not the Son of God — to celebrate with Christians.
Muslims do indeed celebrate Christmas, remembering the birth of Jesus. They consider Jescus to have been a prophet leading up to Mohammed, not a person of the Triune God. This distinction is fundamental, not just in understanding why this particular event was a tremendous offense to the Christian faith, but also in understanding the key differences between how Christians and Muslims approach God.
A fundamental teaching of Islam is Tawhid, which declares that “Allah is absolutely one.” This means “Allah is a monad; he is not inherently relational,” former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi explained in his book No God But One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam & Christianity. In contrast, the Christian God “is three persons; he is inherently relational.”
This means that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, mainly because Allah is transcendent and separate from humans in a way that the Christian God is not. While in Christianity, God the Father is transcendent, Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, allows human beings to be reconciled with God the Father and to see a glimpse of His divine glory.
The intimate relationship which the Christian believer has with God, through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and the Holy Spirit’s personal involvement in the hearts of believers, would be utterly unthinkable — and outright heresy — to a Muslim.
This is why the current trend of the Episcopal Church, as opposed to the Anglican Church, is extremely troubling. Not only has the Episcopal Church adopted a liberal ideology on homosexuality and gay marriage, but it has also flirted with the idea that people can find salvation apart from Jesus Christ. In January of last year, the Anglican Communion voted to suspend the Episcopal Church over its acceptance of gay marriage.
Liberal causes such as gay marriage, a deemphasis on the necessity of Jesus Christ, and the rush to welcome non-Christians —even into worship services on high holy days — are a threat to the dignity and faith of the church. Conservative causes can also twist Christianity (the United States is not God’s chosen nation, for instance, and God forgives all repentant sinners, LGBT people emphatically included), but in this case the rush to welcome Muslims has caused a scandal in the church.
This Epiphany scandal reminds Christians everywhere that there are fundamental faith differences between Christianity and Islam, and that while interfaith dialogue is a good thing, it should not take center stage in Christian worship.