Islam: Civilising the World for 1300 years

Taj Mahal Agra India

I saw some racist graffiti scrawled on a wall in a Gent’’s loo the other day and it targeted some of my friends who happen to be Muslim.

It said “Islam: corrupting the weak minded for 1600 years.”

Now you might say I shouldn’t let you know what was written for fear offending others: but I say only by exploring the statement can we tackle misunderstandings.

And you have to admit that it is on the higher end of graffiti although I would have hyphenated weak-minded myself. And Islam has a history of 1300 years not 1600 as the door-scribbler claims.

But is it true? Has Islam corrupted people?

I think not!

Islam was instrumental in contributing to civilization and influencing European thought. Think of the early decades of Islam, where mosques acted as hubs for intellectual discourse and housed libraries full of books on religion, philosophy and science.

Or the Muslim surgeon Qasim al Zahrawi, ‘the father of surgery’ who invented surgical tools still used today, including the scalpel, the surgical needle and surgical scissors.

Or of the advances in the study of mathematics in the Islamic Golden age; particularly the development of algebra by al-Khwarizmi.

Not leaving out Islam’s contribution to the arts, astronomy, textiles, technology, physics, alchemy, literature and music.

You can read about all of these with a simple Google search.

For me, these don’t seem like corrupting influences at all. Rather they sound like the civilising effects of Islam.

Now that is not to say that religions are perfect; we only have to look under the surface of any ideology or faith group to find out that. And we know how certain groups will corrupt noble ideals for violent and ignoble purposes.

But in view of the contributions of Islam to the world, the graffiti writer’s claim looks silly. Perhaps as silly as the early critics who considered Christians to be cannibals because they ate “the body and blood of Christ”.

So Mr. Grafitti Artist, perhaps you might come out of your toilet cubicle and put your debate to real live human beings. Then we might get somewhere profitable and understand others a little better

I didn’t even know how to say ‘HELLO’: a conversation with a deaf person

Have you ever been on holiday to another country without learning even the most simple phrases?

I haven’t! I always make sure that I have picked up some of the basics; how to greet someone, and say goodbye and, of course, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you.’

But in hospital the other day I found that I didn’t have the language to even say “Hello” to someone.

Now this wasn’t someone from overseas, but was someone who was deaf.

It happened at our Equality and Diversity Day with a stall which Victoria from Deaf Direct was staffing, along with a deaf volunteer. I really wanted to go over and see them, and it was then I realised I didn’t even know how to say hello. And surprised myself even more with how anxious I felt about it. I didn’t want to appear rude, but then I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself or cause the person any embarrassment.

But I plucked up courage and went across anyway. When I got there the volunteer smiled and gave a wave- which I took to mean “Hello,” so I repeated the gesture.

After that Victoria used her skill of British Sign Language so that I could have a conversation. She described the frustration of turning up to a hospital appointment when the staff had not booked an interpreter or worse, a time in Accident and Emergency when she was asked if her 10 year old daughter could sign for her!

I didn’t need to know sign language to see the anger and humiliation that had caused.

I, to my shame, had no idea of the lived experience of a deaf person. As she spoke to me it was a “light bulb” moment.

Firstly, I was grateful to Victoria for the interpreting because without her I wouldn’t have been able to have a fantastic conversation. In fact, Deaf Direct provides essential interpreting services for deaf patients in hospital.

But, secondly, more than that, it was a challenge to me personally. I would never dream of going to France without brushing up on my vocabulary, but right here on my doorstep I had missed a trick. So thank you Deaf Direct! You have inspired me to take your course on British Sign Language. Think of what I’m missing out on without it!

LOVE ALWAYS WINS: Interfaith not Terrorism

Wednesday 22nd March was a day of hope and terror.

In the morning a group of interfaith friends from Sandwell had asked if they could visit the prayer room and talk about Chaplaincy. It is part of their “Faithful Friends: On Tour” (https://www.facebook.com/faithfulfriendsontour/) and is a project where they visit places of religious significance to each of them.

They will go far on their pilgrimage: Israel, Palestine, India and Pakistan.

And Rev Nick Ross chose Worcester, where he worked as a nurse at the Infirmary in Castle Street, and where the Chaplain at that time was instrumental in drawing him on in his faith, eventually to ordination.

And so the group of us, from various faith traditions, sat in the Prayer Room at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and reflected on faith and chaplaincy. Sukwinder Singh spoke of the importance of treating the person as a person; another group member spoke of the priority of love.

And amongst these people, Sikh, Muslim, Christian and others, there was understanding, mutual respect, openness, friendship and love. No sense of threat; no proselytising; just the desire to understand.

Fast forward to late afternoon, and the scenes of carnage in Westminster. Terrible stories of people being mown down by a car and the murder of a policeman. I can’t conceive of the hatred-filled heart that can perpetrate such crimes against humanity. But it was not a surprise to hear that it was a terrorist attack in which ISIS took the credit. And the attitudes of the attacker were as opposed to the attitudes of my morning guests as it is possible to get. Hatred; disrespect; intolerance; enmity.

To those who say that this attack was religion-inspired, I say tell that to my interfaith friends who were full of love.

In fact I came across a lovely quote which says: “If your religion requires you to hate someone, you need a new religion.”

It is my belief, and the belief of all the world religions, that in the end, despite the current expressions of hatred and terror, LOVE ALWAYS WINS.

The Rabbi, The Vicar and the Buddhist…

multi-faith-event

The Rabbi, the Vicar and the Buddhist…no it’s not the start of one of those jokes.

Rather it is the group of people who gathered in the Prayer Room at Worcestershire Royal Hospital to sign and affirm our multi-faith covenant.

So along with the County’s Deputy Lord Lieutenant representing HM the Queen, the Chair of our Trust and Councillor Jabba Riaz, himself a Muslim, we heard stories from our different faith traditions.

It was a beautiful time.

And the funny thing is that, whilst recognising each other’s different views, the common theme of LOVE, RESPECT and UNDERSTANDING pervaded it all.

Here were people from different faith positions seeking the common good. Here were a group eschewing war and violence and terror, and wanting to pursue peace and dialogue. There was no sense of threat to different views, just mutual respect.

And it struck me how much we need this in the DARK TIMES in which we live.

It seems that political forces at the moment want to isolate human from human. They want to mark out the “other” as dangerous and not to be trusted. They seem to be loving division and even fostering hate, at the expense of understanding and love and tolerance.

All this is in stark contrast to what happened at our multi-faith event. And whilst these things get very little press (we all know that hate sells more papers than love) they are real and happening all over the place.

Now I know that some will say that religion has started more wars than anything else, and that, if true, is a great sadness. But true religion, in all its forms, is peace loving and noble and good.

And what it takes for that to prosper is trust. Trust in our fellow humans, however different their views. Trust that those who are different can enrich our lives and not threaten them.

I hope that our small multi-faith event represents, in microcosm, the Hospitals in which I work and the County in which I live. I know it’s a pipe dream…but realties have to start with dreams and hopes.

All the staff have been marvellous; so caring and kind.” Credit where it is due!

elderly-hands

The curtains were drawn as I entered the two bedded bay, called there by a staff nurse.

And there was my patient, let’s call her Mary, with daughter and brother at her side.

It’s amazing how much you can tell from a first glance. Mary was on her journey from this world. She was comfy, free from pain, and when I looked at her I saw dignity and strength.

She was from the Welsh valleys and her lovely family told me a bit about her life and her move to Worcestershire.

I could tell immediately, through the tears and tangible sadness, the love that they held for Mary. Of course, not all families are like this but the vast majority are: grief stricken, tired out, but surrounding their family member with love and support. They told me what a character she was, about her strength and fortitude, and above all about what she meant to them.

But they were not on their own, they said. “All the staff have been marvellous; so caring and kind.” I feel I should repeat that statement in the light of the current reports of the Acute Trust: “All the staff have been marvellous; so caring and kind.”

And, as if by magic, a health care assistant appeared. “How are you Mary?” she asked the semi-conscious patient. And then, turning to the family she said: “Everyone on the ward loves her you know. We all want to take her home!”

This is common on this ward and many others in our hospital. Staff really do care. They form a relationship with their patients. They matter to them and they want to make a difference – especially at the end of a human life. I’d love to tell you which ward this was but can’t for fear of identifying the patient – but they will know who they are.

They will know of the care and dedication which they give day after day. And they will know that is why they do the job that they do. So, in these times of great challenge, I say give praise and credit where it is due.

The Rocking Chair…

rocking-chair

For all the world it was an idyllic scene. The mother, in a rocking chair, slowly rocking her 9 month old baby. Cooing to him and singing him lullabies, surrounded by the trappings of the post-Christmas season; Christmas PJ’s, ‘cuddlies’ and toys.

And I sat on the floor, invited there by Parents (as I have been invited to share their story) and marvelled at the scene of the unspeakable love and bond between mother and child.

But, I’m afraid, this was no ordinary room. It was a room in a hospice, and this little baby was severely ill. I had seen him in another place a number of times and, at the parent’s request, had come to see him here as well. I’d been asked to pray for him because now he was close to the end of his life.

As I sat there, it was almost as if I was looking down on this scene from above, and it dawned on me that it was a huge privilege to be invited into this room by the family. To share, in some small measure, something of the journey of this family is an honour that I won’t take for granted. But then I guess that is “chaplaincy” – the invitation into people’s lives in times of crisis.

Then Mom said: “Do you want a cuddle with him?” So it was my turn to sit in the rocking chair, and in amidst all the wires and tubes, to have him stare into my eyes and me look back – wishing things could be different.

We prayed for this little one, and cried, and hugged. And afterwards, in the comfort of my own home that evening, they phoned to say that the baby had passed away.

I don’t know why these things happen. I have no fancy words or explanations. All I know is that being in that place, alongside this family, was where I belonged for a time. Mom and Dad have asked me to take his funeral; and together with them I will do my best to lay him to rest and to honour his contribution to the world. He was loved and, I believe, gave love in return. And now, the rocking chair has stopped rocking; but the picture of love that I saw in that place between mum and baby will stay with me forever.

Dear Jeremy Hunt. Worcestershire Acute is not a “BASKET CASE”.

jeremy-hunt

Dear Jeremy Hunt MP,

I watched you on the TV last night express your concern for Worcestershire Hospital saying that it is “probably the hospital you are most worried about.”

Indeed the recently nationally reported events have been tragic and none more than our hospital staff share in the sadness of these occurrences.

However, we are far from being the “basket case” which the media have painted us out to be, although that is not to deny the serious challenges which face us, and many hospitals in the country at the moment. And if you take time to read social media posts from consultants, medical professionals and experienced nursing and health care staff across England you will see that this is the case.

It is so easy (not to mention lazy journalism) to scapegoat one hospital to deny the reality of the whole situation; and, in fairness, I think that is perhaps what is going on with Worcestershire Acute Trusts media profile at present.

However, I count it a privilege to serve as Lead Chaplain in this Trust and I can’t tell you how amazing and dedicated the staff are in the pursuit of their work. Day in and day out they do amazing things on behalf of the people of Worcestershire, and it would be good if this is recognised too. I know that “hospital does its job” is not front page news, but all this bad news does nothing for staff morale and public confidence in our hospitals – and indeed in the NHS in its entirety.

You are, of course, correct that we are in special measures and await the outcome of a recent CQC inspection. And my hope is that a new leadership team, with our excellent new Chairman and Chief Executive, will bring the improvements which will again restore our reputation to the people of Worcestershire.

But in the meantime, as a resident of this fine county, I can say with certainty that I am happy for myself and my family to be treated on any ward in any of our hospitals and know that they would get kind compassionate and professional care.

Dare I suggest that the real issue here is lack of funding for our hospitals. You will know that at the inception of the Worcestershire Royal Hospital concern was raised by elected representatives that the hospital was too small for its purpose.

Perhaps you might ease our situation by considering how we move on from here in conjunction with the other stakeholders in our health economy.

Indeed, this might ameliorate the current scapegoating of the hospital which I love.

With all good wishes for a Happy New Year.

Rev’d Dr. David Southall
Lead Chaplain- Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust