Monday, 30 June 2014

Women of Faith: in Australia and the Sudan

Susan Carland, Australian spokesperson for Islam
Meriam Wani (nee Ibrahim), Sudanese Christian  

NOTE:  This blog is posted with the express intention of alerting  young women who may be attracted by the modesty and apparently high values espoused by those who have adopted Islam, to look at the realities. 

I was prompted to make a comparison between these two women, both devout in their faith, by the reading of an article by Susan Carland:  ''Ramadan: In this Month of Fasting, I Feed My Soul". (see link below)

The plight of Meriam Wani (called Meriam Ibrahim in the press) is known through the general outrage that her imprisonment and death sentence has caused worldwide, for supposed apostasy and living in a relationship which is not deemed a legal marriage under Islamic law. The outrage, while shared by many moderate Muslim people, is by no means universal.  Meriam's guilt all hangs on the legality of whether being born the daughter of an Islamic father makes her inherently a Muslim, even though reared as a Christian. 

Her lawyers (themselves Muslims) have taken the position that she never was truly Islamic, but was always Christian. On this technicality she has been freed; had she been proven inherently Muslim through her father, then the death sentence would stand. 
This article presents her situation very clearly: "I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian". (see link below) 

Susan Carland is probably a much more familiar face to many Australians than to me, as I have not watched television for years. As a panellist on the ABC's Q&A she was described as  a founding member and presenter of "Salam Cafe" an SBS comedy program questioning Islamic stereotypes. She teaches gender studies, sociology and politics at Monash University and is writing a doctoral thesis on the ways that Muslim women fight sexism. 

The Image and the Realitiy 

Susan Carland presents a face of Islam that is atypical worldwide, and demonstrates an extreme contrast between the life of a woman under traditional Islam and the liberty of being an Islamic woman convert, married to a liberally-minded man, and possessed of an Australian education, Australian health services,  and, most importantly, Australian freedoms which not only permit her to practice Islam, but protect her rights to follow the rules to precisely the degree that she chooses, no more, no less.  Her husband and others in the Muslim community, by the law of this country, cannot enforce any aspect of Islam upon her. She is free, by the law of this country, to commit apostasy, blasphemy and marital infidelity.  Her husband or community might take it upon themselves to punish her, but they cannot have her stoned, gaoled or sentenced to death for so-doing. Of those three offences to Islam, in this country one is considered her inherent right and an essential freedom, one is widely disregarded, and the third, while generally socially unacceptable and grounds for divorce, is not punishable by law.   

Ms Carland, as an Australian Muslim, presents an extremely glamorous, and therefore deceptive, face of Islam. She covers her head, as a concession to some rule in the Quran that says that women are supposed to cover "parts" (without being entirely specific about which parts), while at the same time, defying the intention of the law, enacted throughout most of the Islamic world, of reducing her sexual allure.  Ms Carland is, in fact, an alluring and attractive young woman.  Her clothes do not reveal her flesh, but certainly reveal her figure. The face surrounded by the veil is plucked, powdered and painted. Long dangly earrings adorn her earlobes. Is this a true face of Islam?  Ms Carland would encourage us to see it as a real possibility. (Footnote 1) 

In the real world outside the protection of the Australian justice system, it is not.  It is not even a reality for many young women of Muslim families in the comparative freedom of western countries. Honour killings of young women have taken place in Australia, in Canada and the UK for perceived crimes such as having a Christian boyfriend, seeking a divorce, refusing to wear a veil, and simply "being too Westernised". 

Rania Alayed was murdered by her husband in Manchester, UK,
in 2013 for "being too Westernised".

Non-Muslim women, all over the world, are assaulted for their non-compliance with Islamic codes. Assault rarely receives publicity unless it is the rape of a minor.  The French police do not want to know that a fat old Australian grandmother was sexually assaulted on the tram to the historic Basilica of Saint-Denis or threatened with rape by a group of men outside the Church of Sainte-Jeanne in Rouen.  Even here in Australia, when a young woman attending a Carols by Candlelight service goes to the toilet block and is dragged into the bushes by a group of Islamic youths, the police respond by giving them a warning and not even taking their names down. Well, she fought them off, so it was OK, in the end, wasn't it? 

In the case of Lara Logan, (below), attacked by a dozen men during the post-Morsi celebrations in Cairo's main square,  the main newspaper of Islam, Al Jazeera, refused to publish a story on the matter, stating that they published stories by journalists, not about journalists.   

Lara Logan, US journalist was separated from her friends and raped just
 moments after this photograph was taken. The men were out in the
main square of Cairo to celebrate the overthrow of president Morsi
in 2011.  The attack was explained as being "politically motivated
to intimidate opponents". Sure!  The sexual assault of any woman who
does not comply with strict Islamic dress codes is commonplace in Cairo.

Feeding the Soul 

Susan Carland's recent article in ABC "Religion and Ethics" is about Ramandan, the time of fasting. Carland emphasises the role of fasting in removing the believer from the distractions of the world, and putting them in touch with their soul. It is a process of self-purification.  

The purpose of Ramadan is further explained here in an excerpt from an article "Return to the Centre" (July 2013), by Tariq  Ramandan, also writing for ABC "Religion and Ethics": 

"The abrupt changes implied by the fast is an invitation to a transformation and a profound reform of oneself and one's life that can only occur through a rigorous intellectual introspection (muraqaba).  To achieve the ultimate goal of the fast, our faith requires a demanding, lucid, sincere and honest mind capable of self-criticism. Everyone should be able to do that for oneself, before God, within one's solitude as well as within one's commitment among one's fellow human beings. It is a question of mastering one's emotions, to face up to oneself and to take the right decisions as to the transformation of one's life in order to come closer to the 'centre' and the "meaning." " (Footnote 2) 

On reading Susan Carland's article, published at a time when Meriam Wani was released, but re-arrested on different grounds, I was prompted to compare the situations of the two women. I have sent my comments to the ABC, but they will be screened before publication, so I decided to publish here. 

The relevant links: 

My Comments on Susan Carland's article  

I notice the subject of Susan Carland's studies is "the ways that Muslim women fight against sexism". I am wondering if this includes fight against the Islamic law that dictates that an Islamic man may marry a Christian person, but an Islamic woman may not.

Ms Cartland, to judge (rightly or wrongly) by her name (presumably that of her father or husband) was not born into Islam. It appears that she has something in common with Ms Meriam Wani (nee Abrahim) whose case has been in the news lately, both being followers of a faith by commitment.

I would dearly love to know what insight the deprivation of fasting and the exploration of her soul has given Ms Carland about the plight of Meriam, who continues to swear her allegiance to God as revealed through Jesus (rather than through Muhammad) while giving birth, shackled and half-starved, on the floor of a filthy prison cell.

If Meriam was a Muslim by commitment, as Ms Carland is, she would, by explicit statements of the Quran and the Hadith, have the right to deny her faith if her life was threatened by a non-Muslim. This is legal, in Islamic law.  Maintaining the fact of ones true commitment to another faith is not. (3)

The principle that allows a Muslim to deny their faith is "Al Takeyya". If Ms Carland, or another person of the Islamic faith needed to invoke this law, then they could clear themselves of the apostasy by the penance of feeding a poor family, freeing a slave, or by fasting for three days. (3)

On the other hand, as a Christian, Meriam was bound by her personal faith, (rather than any written law of Christianity) to maintain the truth, i.e. the actual fact of her belief. No doubt, it was her faith that gave her the courage to maintain this truth, regardless of the potential outcome of Islamic justice.  The laws of the land in which we, as Australians reside, based upon Christian principles, also demand “the truth” with no loophole for lies. Lying to save one's own neck is not only illegal, it is socially regarded as "gutless" i.e. without honour, particularly if it blames or risks other people.

The choice of adoption of any religion that sanctions acts towards human beings that Islam has sanctioned towards Meriam Wani (nee Abrahim) needs to be the subject of much soul searching by every person, before making an ultimate commitment to Islam that can, by the law of the God of Muhammad, be denied for convenience, if danger threatens, but that cannot, by any providence of Mercy, either of the God of Muhammad or the courts of Islam, be permanently revoked once made. (4)
The ruminations of Ms Carland's soul on the matter of the treatment and extraordinary courage of Meriam Wani (nee Abrahim) would be pertinent and interesting, as Ms Carland herself presents such a very attractive, serene, erudite and even glamorous face Islam. (5)


1. I am not expressing any dislike of adornment, but of the adoption of an essentially religious garment in a manner that appears to reduce it to a token symbol.  Long dangly earrings (as worn in other online photos) are a denial of everything that the headscarf represents, so why is the headscarf being worn at all?  

 2. The emphasis on self-improvement, and lack of emphasis on the role of God in the process  are contrasts with Christian teachings which will be immediately apparent to some readers.

 3. Christians, and other people in Western society who are not familiar with Islamic ethics, often make the error of attributing to Islam some concepts that are basic to Christianity, such as the nature of the "truth". It is widely presumed that being "truthful" is a characteristic of devout people of every faith.  

This is not the case, with Islam. In Islam, there are a number of defined but broadly inclusive circumstances in which it is permissible to lie: when ones life or safety is under threat, when telling a lie will promote peace among believers, family or neighbourhood; when telling a lie will aid in overcoming an enemy;  and, in the broadest sense applicable, when telling a lie will promote the cause of Islam.  In all these cases the lie is described as a "righteous lie". The implications of the concept of Al Takeyya, the righteous lie,  are far reaching.

Al Takeyya is why Ahmadinejad, President if Iran, could state publicly that the Holocaust never happened, and be praised by Muslims across the world for saying things that annoy the Western World. The fact that he so obviously was lying was immaterial in the eyes of those who praised him and saw his lies as effective and entirely righteous challenge to Western ideology.  Meanwhile, the bemused non-Muslim observers thought the man was not only offensive but also ridiculous.  
Al Takeyya is the reason why Palestinian TV programs can state that the hearts of Muslim children are used by the Jews to make bread for the passover.  
Al Takeyya is the reason why a Muslim cleric can frame an intellectually disabled child, or three women can witness that the fourth woman at the water fountain, a Christian, committed blasphemy. 

Most significantly,  Al Takkeyya is the reason why Islam can be promoted by Islamic scholars and Imans accross the world as a religion of "Peace" when all the evidence points the other way.  

 4.  In the present case lawyers were able to argue that the commitment to Islam was not made by the accused herself, but implied by her paternity; therefore she had not apostatised. 


Meriam was released and she and Wani planned to leave the country, but they were arrested at the airport. Ultimately, pressure from world governments brought about their release and departure from the country. They escaped to Italy, where they met Pope Francis who thanked them for their courage and witness to Christianity. On 31st August 2014, the family arrived in the Inited States. 
Meriam and her husband being welcomed into the US.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Another poem

This is a young Clydesdale, not the Norman of the poem who was a mature horse.
He was photographed at Mount Kembla, NSW,  in 2006


“I reckon he’s a real nice horse!”
says Peter Fuller, leaning on the paddock fence.
“I got him from the knackers
and I don’t know where he came from.
He’s got lovely conformation,
noble head
and good strong legs!”
Norman stood on four great tree-trunks
feathered white around each base,
with a coat of old red cedar
and a white blaze down his face.
“But I don’t know if he’s ever worked before,”
says Peter Fuller,
“So I’ll harness up
and try him out today.
We’re doing a promotion for the discount store,”
says Peter Fuller.
“I just hope that he’s OK!”

Peter burnished Norman’s hide,
polished up the stripy hooves
and decked his tail with flowers and ribbon.
Norman lowered down his head
while in his mane rosettes were made.
Out came the Scottish harness,
all its leather oiled with Dubbin,
the heavy collar, the shining chains,
the silver breastplate, the gleaming brasses.
 Norman took the bit and backed up to the waggon.
Peter fixed the traces and gathered up the reins.

All day long
the country town of Orange
rang with the echoes of its
not-so-distant past-
staccato clopping of the hooves,
the jingling chains, the clink of brass,
the heavy rumbling of the wheels,
the old familiar cries
of “Gee!” and “Whoa!”
And all day Norman worked
and all day Peter sat aloft
and only cracked the whip
to make a show.

At six o’clock,
the last delivery done,
they turned the waggon round
to head for home.
“A mighty chunk of horse-meat you got there!”
remarked the butcher,
pausing in his door
to lean upon his broom.
Peter climbed down off the seat
and stroked the horse’s sweating side.
“I got him from the Blayney Abattoir
for thirty quid!
We’re going in the Lithgow Show-
and after that, the Royal!
I want to buy that fancy cart
that’s sitting in your shed.
I reckon we’re a real good team!”
Peter Fuller said.


© Tamsyn Taylor,     February 18, 2002

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Lord's Prayer

Mike Taylor
My brother Michael Taylor died last year, a few days before his 73rd birthday.  He had lived in a nursing home for six years, keeping the staff entertained and on the run, with his loud, cheerful and demanding voice, and his infectious laugh.  In the last months his health deteriorated rapidly. Always a gourmand, when he was no longer able to go to Gilmore's Hotel for grilled barramundi or steak dianne, the last real pleasure went out of his life.  As the end drew near, he rallied just long enough to send messages of love to people and say that he wanted us to sing "The Lord's My Shepherd" and play music of The Beatles at his funeral.  We stood around his bedside and prayed, led by our sister, the Revd Roberta Hamilton. The last word that our brother said was "Amen".  It was in response to the Lord's Prayer.

I have been reliably informed by young Evangelical Christians that we don't really need to learn the Lord's Prayer by heart.  One young man informed me confidently that in the future it will hardly be used any more. ..... and, although this might come as a surprise to some, in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, this seems to be quite right.

The Sydney Diocese (for those who don't know) has a Bible College which sets the benchmark for how 21st Century Evangelical Ministry ought to operate.  A recent graduate of Moore College argued the point that the Lord's Prayer was given to us as an example of how to pray.  It didn't come with any obligation that it should be learnt by heart and repeated daily, or even repeated once every Sunday.  If we read the Lord's Prayer, and comprehend from reading it, how praying ought to be done, then we are free to pray our own prayers.  We can pray, safe in the knowledge that we know how to do it.  And, by this reasoning, a leader, in a church or community situation, knowing how to pray, can pray effectively for the congregation or group, and say what needs saying......... or can they?

Is there any reason for bothering to memorise the Lord's Prayer?  Is there any reason for using it, on occasions when Christians gather together, given that Jesus didn't actually command us to use it?

My son, who is now a Christian youth leader, went to a Christian school.  And for the six years that he was there, I went to services and functions. I don't recall ever praying the Lord's Prayer on any school occasion..... not once, even once, in those six years.  When parents were asked to comment on school matters, it was one of the things on which I wrote at length. To no avail.

My son goes to a large lively youth service at the local Christian auditorium, on Sunday evenings.  I do recall the Lord's Prayer being used once. It was on the occasion of Archbishop Peter Jensen's visit, and was the same day that the rector included the Apostle's Creed, and explained to the young people present that these two elements were traditional to Anglican Church worship, so we were going to repeat them, with the aid of the overhead screens, because, of course, none of the young people could be expected to know these things by heart.  In retrospect, Archbishop Peter may not have even noticed if they were omitted, since  he was previously the principal of Moore College, and may have had a part in encouraging his clergy in the understanding that they should make up their own prayers, rather than simply reciting what they have learnt.

I have already asked the question, is there a point in learning the Lord's Prayer (by heart, as they say), and continuing to use it?

My dying brother would encourage me to say, yes, there is!

It seems to me that there is an extraordinary degree of arrogance in the notion that we can dispense with  that which Christ himself gave us. This is the prayer of the person who, confronted with fear, agony or grief, can think of no other words.  This is the prayer of the aged and dying.   This is the prayer that remains when mind and memory fail.  This is the prayer that unites us as Christians across the world.

"No it's not," says my young Moore College graduate. "In point of fact, we are united by the Statement of Faith." (a.k.a. The Creed)
Well yes, that too!  But Jesus didn't give us the creed.  The creed is mankind's invention.  It's about Church. It isn't about God.  We don't "draw near to God" in the words of the Creed.  We draw near to God in prayer.

There has always been a place in both public and private worship for the custom-made prayer of the prayer leader or praying individual. We are encouraged to bring the "desires of our hearts" before God, in praise, thanks and petition. But does the priest or prayer leader know what the other praying individuals have in their hearts?

The arrogance of modern Evangelical leaders is that they think they have all the answers, all the time.  They obviously believe that the prayers that they utter, in front of, and on behalf of congregations, youth groups, school assemblies and so on, are able to fill all the needs every time; that after they have prayed, nothing is left undone, and no words remain to be said, on behalf of the group, to God.   The group listens and says "Amen". They say it, politely, whether everything has been covered, or not.  The group doesn't usually pray out loud, together, as a group, unless there is a prayer projected onto a screen that they can follow.  Nobody says, anymore, "As our Saviour Christ has taught us, we are confident to pray.....".  Young people are not taught, any more, so they are no longer "confident" to pray it.

The beauty of the prayer that Our Saviour taught us is that it covers all sorts of possibilities.  It states who it is to whom we pray: Our Father in Heaven.  It expresses his greatness and our trust in his wisdom and might. It sources our needs and petitions our forgiveness.  It acknowledges our weakness and seeks relief from our greatest fears.  Basically, it is the prayer that has everything covered.

Let all the World, in Every Corner, Sing!

"The power of art draws people to behold it. Good art bears its message into the soul through the imagination and begins to appeal to reason, for art makes ideas plausible. The quality of music and speech in worship will have a major impact on its evangelistic power. In many churches, the quality of the music is mediocre or poor, but it does not disturb the faithful. Their faith makes the words of the hymn or the song meaningful despite its artistically poor expression, and further, they usually have a personal relationship with the song leader and musicians. But any outsider who arrives not convinced of the truth and having no relationship to the music leaders will be bored or irritated by the poor offering. Excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aesthetics exclude. The low level of artistic quality in many churches guarantees that only insiders will continue to come. To say this positively, the attraction of good art will play a major part in drawing non-Christians." (Tim Keller - Evangelistic Worship, p. 7).

"Excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aesthetics exclude."  This is absolute nonsense! 

For a start, it is based on some preconceived notion of what is aesthetically excellent, what is mediocre and what is poor.   One of the things that people of almost every type find "inclusive" is participation.  A church with talented musicians and a great "up-front" music team can suffer from an extreme lack of participation, simply because every church service is a "performance".  People don't "sing"; they simply "sing along".  

If you can get ordinary people to sing "together", then you have something that others will want to join in. The music can be as excellent as Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, Bach's "Oh Sacred head sore wounded", or the magnificent Wesley/Mendelsshon combo of "Hark the Herald Angels"; it can be as corny as "Standing on the Promises" or "When the roll is called up yonder"; as simple as "Wide wide as the ocean" or the Taize chant "Laudate Dominum", or totally and utterly trite.  But whatever the music may be, wherever people sing with enthusiasm, others will join in, and in doing so, will be included, just in the process of raising their voices as part of the multitude. 

Modern styles of worship have increasingly robbed worshippers of the pleasure of hearing their own voice raised as one of many. Recitation of familiar prayers, including the Lord's Prayer, is in many places a thing of the past. The voices of the young are rarely raised together in that ancient statement of faith known as The Creed. Familiar hymns that traditionally have been used to bond communities (young and old) in times of grief or celebration have been forgotten in the provision of stimulating entertainment for the young.  No.  "Excellent aesthetics" is one of the least considerations. Being able to join in "The Lord's my Shepherd" with your mother, granny and other mourners  at your grandfather's funeral is to be included. Standing there and fumbling because you don't know it when you need it is to be excluded. Holding a Carol Service and using the familiar carols but with modernised words and an up-beat rhythm excludes all the people who only come once a year to bring their kids. 

Putting a group out the front who concentrates on producing a quality performance, is exclusive. Putting just one leader whose primary job is not to play an instrument and sing into a microphone, but to conduct the whole congregation is far more inclusive. No-more than one person can lead congregational singing, unless the venue is so big that people cannot see. There is nothing wrong with a backing group which serves like a choir, but the minute they take front stage, you have lost your congregational singing. 

The traditional choral service such as are still used in cathedrals and collegiate churches across the world, are an effective way of getting congregations to sing.  The choir doesn't face the congregation. They sing the responses (which the congregation can join in) and when they do perform during a service, it is an "anthem" and it is clearly a "worship performance".  The choir also leads the hymn-singing, which is generally done in unison, with the choir breaking into parts in the last verse. The treble line that is produced in the final verse is intended specifically to complement the unison singing of a congregation of ordinary untrained singers. Being part of the congregation when the choristers suddenly break loose in a great hymn can be thrilling, but it is the general rumble of untrained voices that is the essential component, not the choir.  I will put some of my favourite hymn-singing clips on my page. 

Some of my favourite Youtube Hymn-singing: "Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah" from Wales.  Jesus would have been right in the middle of this. a very enthusiastic Easter Anthem

Taize from Notre Dame, Paris

This is what a well-trained congregation can do! 

The words and music of this hymn are as trite as they come. The singing is delightful!

Pope Benedict really enjoyed his visit to Westminster Abbey.  The name of the tune, appropriately, is “Westminster Abbey” by Purcell, and the words “Christ is made the sure foundation”. The grave with the poppies is that of the Unknown Soldier. This was a great moment for ecumenism. 

The very poor video is of a wonderful and glorious moment in the history of Christianity.  "Shine Jesus Shine" at the inaugural service at Our Lady of the Rosary, first Christian Church in Qatar, an Islamic state on a peninsular in the Persian Gulf. The Catholic congregation is mainly domestic servants and workers from the Philippines and other parts of South East Asia.