Tony Blair reads the Qur’an every day, and so he should
Religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideology was to the 20th century. In an era of globalisation, there is nothing more important than getting people of different faiths and cultures to understand each other better and live in peace and mutual respect, and to give faith itself its proper place in the future.The first sentence is a straightforward statement of fact: like it or not, political ideology is now subsumed to popular feeling and innovative ideas; today, for a politician to be accused of being ‘ideological’ is almost as bad as being called a paedophile. And no civilised person could possibly disagree with the second sentence: where the Christian lives next door to the Muslim, and neither has a hope of converting the other to his respective worldview, the task is to learn what is necessary and manifest the respect due to all people in order that both may coexist in peaceful society.
There is an article in The Daily Mail in which Tony Blair is quoted as saying: ‘I read the Qur’an [Koran] every day. Partly to understand some of the things happening in the world, but mainly just because it is immensely instructive.’
Note how the Mail helpfully includes the vernacular anglicised spelling of Qur’an in parenthesis, just in case its readers can’t quite make the link. The article is designed to incite not quite hatred, but certainly contempt for the man who famously did not ‘do God’ while in office, but since leaving it has crossed the Tiber and done Him in abundance.
Mr Blair’s experience on the Road to
Mr Blair said: “To be faith-literate is crucial in a globalised world, I believe.” That is to say, an understanding of religion informs his current role as Middle East envoy for the Quartet of the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia.
His Grace has already said as much, which is why the Middle East conflict will never be solved by politicians alone: the conflict needs a theologian.
In this understanding, Tony Blair is way ahead of David Cameron and indeed many Conservatives, who are either a little embarrassed by religion or believe it to be completely irrelevant to politics. Certainly, the Prime Minister has declared that he is fully prepared to ‘do God’ whilst in office, and his Party Chairman Baroness Warsi has made it known how broad and deep that ‘doing’ will be. But it’s not until you get the official No10 response to an article by the Archbishop of Canterbury (and subsequent mockery) that you understand the chronic gulf that exists between church and state: the two are in irascible tension.
That is not, of course, the case between mosque and state in some Islamic countries, and certainly not in the prevailing Wahhabi mindset, in which mosque and state are irrevocably fused in an ever closer union the likes of which the EU can only dream of.
In order to understand something of this, Tony Blair is reading the Qur’an. And so he should: it is often exalted as the primary source of extremist inspiration:
Verily, Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their wealth for the price of Paradise, to fight in the way of Allah, to kill and get killed. It is a promise binding on the truth in the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur'an.And so one should dig deeply into the Qur'an, but also research, read, study, strategise and do all one can to understand one’s enemy. Only then may he be defeated.
But the Mail incites its readers by including the fact that Mr Blair ‘has previously praised the Muslim faith as “beautiful” and said the Prophet Mohammed had been ‘an enormously civilizing force’: in 2006 he said: “The Qur’an is reforming book, it is inclusive. It extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition. It is practical and way ahead of its time in attitudes to marriage, women and governance.”
The fact is that one can only understand that this is not entirely true by reading it first-hand. A deepening of theological understanding and historical appreciation can only come by studying. For the Mail, Tony Blair is politically locked and theologically frozen in his 2006 understanding of Islam. To the more discerning and intelligent, Mr Blair will have learned more and grown over the past five years, as his own understanding of theology has matured and his political lens adapted to his new role in the Middle East.
Only by reading the Qur’an will he appreciate the fons et origo of the atrocities which exploded on his political watch: September 11th 2001 in New York, in which almost 3000 innocent people were killed; and the July 7th suicide bombers who attacked London and murdered another 52. Only by reading the Qur’an will he appreciate the political agenda of al-Qaida, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood for the eradication of the Jews and the elimination of Israel. And only by reading the Qur’an will he begin to understand the concept of abrogation and the reality that there is no single interpretation of Islam any more than there is a uniform understanding of Christianity.
One can understand, in office, why a prime minister may feel the need to say that Mohammed had been ‘an enormously civilizing force’, and that the Qur’an was ‘inclusive’ and ‘practical and way ahead of its time in attitudes to marriage, women and governance’.
If Mr Blair also reads his Bible every day, he will have found it to be rather more inclusive than the Qur’an, and immensely more practical in its attitudes to marriage, women and governance.
But one acquires little understanding of either faith by simply listening to priests and imams, or reading The Daily Mail. So, in preparation for the century in which religious faith will supplant political ideology, His Grace exhorts his readers to read and understand the primary sources of the Torah, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Gita, the writings of the Buddha and the Wisdom of Yoda. You might just learn something.