William Dalrymple - the very same as he who wrote that fascinating and elegant book [From the Holy Mountain] on the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East - is now talking about how Islam can be seen as a variant form of Christianity. He is not the first to see Islam as a Christian heresy rather than as a discrete religion; what interested me was his reminder that the way Moslems keep Ramadan is exactly how premodern Christians kept our Christian fasts; the witholding of all food and drink from the body until evening. I phrase it like that because I recall something like that in the Sixteenth Century Anglican Book of Homilies. (I presume that Prayer Book fundamentalists practise just such a fast; and on the Prayer Book Vigils and Ember days as well as in Lent.)
I was musing upon something very much like this just before I heard William Dalrymple's piece, as I read in my Irish Times (perhaps the most civilised daily paper produced in these islands) an account by an Islamic girl on why she wears her hijab: 'I see a world where the female body is used to sell products from travel to drinks and even crockery. The magazines and bill-boards vociferate the same thing - if you want to sell a product, use a scantily dressed woman. Schoolgirls roll up their skirts believing it makes them more attractive. Often, young men feel they have a right to whistle, touch and utter derogatory remarks about young women they barely know. The total objectification of the female body in modern society sickened me: this was not how I wanted to be defined.' So: she started to wear a hijab. 'With one glance, the male population knew exactly where the boundaries lay, pressures from peers to drink or have sex did not exist. A hijab makes it clear that no casual fraternisation is permitted; a relationship with me can only be one of permanence. It tells the world I take things seriously, especially relationships. The hijab is a true reflection of how I see myself as an educated, free woman completely in control of her body and actions, emancipated from society's negative influences.'
Remarkable, isn't it, that Ireland, where little more than a generation ago the Church could expect to be taken seriously when it exhorted the young, especially young women, on the meaning, function, and necessity of modesty, now has to be lectured on this essential Christian virtue by an intelligent young woman who has discovered it for herself by drawing upon the reserves of her Islamic culture in the contexrt of modern, dissolute Western culture.
More than that: is this the real Inter-Faith dialogue that we ought to be engaging in? Recovering our Christian culture and identity from sources where it has been, I dare to say, by the grace of God, preserved in times when the smoke of Satan even within the Church has led to our forgetting it? Secularists have used an excuse of multiculturalism to hammer Christianity; our own liberal Christian Treasonable Clerks have used Inter-Faith dialogue as a pretext for relativising Christianity. If Moslems can teach us how to fast, how to be modest, and who knows what else, will they not have taught us to be better Christians? And will they not take our Faith more seriously than when they see Christians apparently surrendering hook, line, and sinker? And might not this be a prerequisite for real mission, enabling Moslems to understand that faith in the One Saviour and Redeemer of Mankind would not mean accepting 'Western Culture' - but just the opposite?