This week’s View from Fleet Street in the Church of England Newspaper is by Riazat Butt. Reproduced here by permission.
My time of abstinence
Ramadan is upon us and, taking my cue from Tower Hamlets council, I’m asking you to be sensitive to my needs during this 30-day period of abstinence and restraint by refraining from publishing stories about gay bishops during the hours of sunrise and sunset.
In the month of fasting I can think of no better example to set than a complete avoidance of phrases such as openly gay and Anglican Communion in the same sentence, especially when ever one is stuffed to the gills already with stories of schism. A little bit of perspective and reflection is required here. There are 80m Anglicans in the world. There are more than 800m Hindus, more than 300m Buddhists and more than 1bn Catholics. The Anglican Communion is, much like Springfield, Illinois, a one-horse town.
I was minded of how bizarre the obsession with gay sex must look to the outside world when I spotted the excellent Stonewall poster — “Some people are gay. Get over it” — on the westbound District line service to Blackfriars. I am thinking of bulk ordering these t-shirts for my Fleet Street colleagues, bishops and archbishops. I am so over gay sex. Alas, the combination of gay bishops and journalists is a bit like competitive dieting. You see other people doing it, so you have to as well. Nobody wants to be the fat one in the photo.
But I would much rather write about other religions, about other stories, which is why I am launching this Ramadan appeal — to go on a gay fast — and I am encouraging others to join me. This month could prove to be one of Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Quakers instead. Don’t get me wrong — I love gay bishops and I think there should be more of them — I just don’t want to have to write about them all the time. There will be a day when someone’s sexual orientation won’t matter in a recruitment or selection process — just as it is in almost every employment field except religion — and homosexuality will be as normalised and wallpaper-like as hair colour or eye colour and will be greeted with, if anything, a shrug of the shoulders.
At this point someone — probably a conservative evangelical — will think that a homosexual imam would be stoned to death and wouldn’t make it past the initial telephone interview let alone have the top job at a mosque so why the constant mud-slinging at Anglicans?
Undercover Mosque, shown earlier this week on Channel 4, exposed the situation perfectly. I agree that attitudes need a complete overhaul, the way our mosques are funded and run needs serious scrutiny, the way Islam is taught at schools, in the homes, needs to be re-examined and that there needs to be greater involvement from women and young people in the day-to-day activities in places of worship and community centres. There also needs to be less reliance on government money and more independence.
Islam in Britain is not — as some bishops would have you believe — as established as the Christian identity. Nor is it as structured, prevalent or fixed. It is relatively young and fluid. There are Muslim communities — notably in Liverpool and Cardiff — that have been around for longer than the ones in Bradford and Manchester. There are only 2m Muslims. We are not taking over Britain — even if we are taking over the Premier League. Does the Manchester City buyout mean that the only good Muslims are the rich ones?
Attacking Muslims is easy because there is over whelming evidence to support the popular notion that Muslims are mad, bad and dangerous. It is harder to see beyond the bigotry and engage with flesh and blood individuals — the ones who get parking tickets, or take their kids to the park or like Coronation Street — because that would require moving beyond the conventional narrative and talking to someone who has everything in common with you and nothing. Somewhere in there, there is a lesson for us all.
Riazat Butt is the religion correspondent for The Guardian.