By Mark Ellis —
Imam Monowar Hussain preached at the Oxford University church of St. Mary the Virgin on Sunday, October 21st, 2018, immediately following the observance of Holy Communion.
The diocese of Oxford defended their decision to invite the Muslim leader as “a good piece of interfaith engagement,” according to a report by Church Times.
The diocese received 12 complaints about the imam’s involvement in the service, but stood by their choice: “If we had had 100 complaints we would have stood by [the university’s] decision.”
The imam is a Muslim tutor at Eton College and the founder of the Oxford Foundation, which works with young people to promote religious and racial harmony, according to Church Times.
In the message, he spoke against those who oppress others, and cited as an example the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and grooming by the Huddersfield child sex abuse ring.
In the Huddersfield case, 20 Pakistani Muslim men were recently convicted of sex abuse and trafficking of girls aged 11 to 17 in Huddersfield, a large market town in West Yorkshire, England.
The imam also criticized online videos that seek to radicalize young Muslims, as well as anti-Semitism.
“Jesus, upon him be peace, radically redefines greatness and, in effect, power. To be great and powerful is to serve others,” the Muslim leader declared in his sermon.
Hussain, who has taught theology at the University of Oxford, was invited by the Vice-Chancellor, Louise Richardson.
One conservative blogger, Adrian Hilton, criticized Hussain’s participation: “By inviting an imam to preach not just a sermon, but a eucharistic sermon, it is hard to understand how this glorifies the crucified Son of God.”
Others disagreed. “As long as it is plain who he is and what his faith affiliation is, I don’t think it’s reasonable to object to one of the leading faith figures in the area being invited to give an address in a Christian church,” Dr. Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, told the Guardian.
The imam admitted he has received his share of criticism from both sides. “Some people in the Islamic tradition would object to my presence there [in church] as well. . . This was just the other way around. If you’re being squeezed from both sides, you must be doing something right.”
Hussain spoke after the post-communion hymn. The Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, the Revd, Dr. William Lamb, also gave a “homily” during the service. A note in the order of service explained: “To respect the sensitivities of Christians and Muslims, the University Sermon will follow the celebration of the Eucharist.”
Dr. Lamb removed his outer vestment before the imam’s sermon, one participant told Church Times.
Christopher Gasson, also present at the service, said if you “shut your eyes it could have been any Anglican vicar.”