THE LOVE OF GOD AND THE LOVE OF MAN

St.Ethelburgers is a small church which manages to survive in the midst of all the international banks and multi-nation- al corporations of the City of London. At night, the streets around it are teeming with swaying drunkards leaving the old Victorian public houses at Liverpool Street. The house of spirit in the midst of the houses of materialism. The Church was bombed by Irish terrorists by mistake, probably when they were tight after a couple of hours in one of those worthy pubs. It was rebuilt, thanks to international contributions, to become a centre for reconciliation, religious co-existence and meditation. The programmes include concerts, ethnic music of all nations and story-telling of folklore literature. This is the secret behind my frequent visit to this unusual house of God. There, I heard Sufi and Indian Quali music and Islamic chant.

The Church has also a carpeted and lavishly furnished large, tent-like construction donated specifically by the government of Saudi Arabia to be used for spiritual meditation. The Church has also an old clock which strikes on the hour. I have found that noise abominable at times when someone was telling a story, giving a sermon, singing or playing music.

I was going to mention my objection to the church administration but I decided that it served as a timely reminder that for us, the greedy and dissatisfied sons of Adam, the sons and daughters of man, that our days are numbered.

I last went to St. Ethelburgers to listen to old Ottoman Sufi music. I arrived too early for the concert and went into the tent and let my thoughts take their course, meditating not on God but on what these Islamist fanatics are doing in His name.

A young couple walked in and sat on the carpeted floor opposite me. Within a few seconds they started to embrace each other and engage in a passionate snogging session. Somehow, I found it objectionable to indulge in such activities in this holy place, dedicated to spiritual meditation not erotic exhibitionism. I was on the verge of telling them to respect the place, or even going out to speak to the vicar about it. But then another thought struck me. Their Christianity tells them that God is love. I worship God in my own Muslim way and these two young people are doing it in their own way, I decided.

Who knows? This is London and not Basra, where lovers have to hide their love and act furtively. An English man or woman can kiss, hug and express their love publicly. But why did these two lovers come to this place to indulge in such behaviour? And why in front of me? Why should I be forced to encounter this demonstration of exhibitionism? Shouldn’t I have the right to tell them off and ask them to go somewhere else, rather than to make such a display of themselves in front of those deprived of similar passion?

I was pondering this question when that same old clock struck the hour. Oh, son of man, remember old time. It was now time to return to the main church to hear the chorus of the Sufi singers in their long white jallabias singing of the love of God and the love of man. I made my way slowly back to the church, followed by the two young lovers holding each other tightly all the way.

Khalid Kishtainy

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