In both Newcastle and Dundee, especially the latter, the events were attended by a number of Muslim students. I was struck by the diversity in this ‘community’. There was the British young lady in her hijab, the mature Iranian man who can’t go back home for fear of the state, the Egyptian post-graduate student who asked me why Christians are so reticent to be public about their religion, the young lady from a very tightly-controlled country who told me she had rejected the Wahabi interpretation of Islam when she saw what IS was doing, and the Arab student who identified as an atheist (more about him later).
Those that attended events listened respectfully and were happy to discuss the issues that arose. There were no heated arguments, no verbal attacks. On first entering the marquee they were perhaps a little uncomfortable, wondering, probably, if they were allowed. But a welcome by a student or CU guest soon put them at ease.
One leader of the Islamic Soc. in Newcastle attended a lunch bar and asked me a load of questions about the logistics of the venue, etc.: he was getting ideas for their own events week!
Another male student, from Pakistan, came during the morning slack time when the marquee was open for coffee. We had a respectful and frank exchange of views and I gave him my email if he should want to contact me later. I received an email a few weeks later apologising if he had given offence (he had not) and said he would come back to me with more questions.
The high point from the point of view of witness to Muslims, was the dialogue between an Imam and a Pastor in Dundee. Imam Jabil, a local mosque leader, shared the stage with Duncan Peters from Glasgow, with the two-hour event ably chaired by a retired Dundee lecturer. The chair had made a list of questions which he asked in turn, with each man having three minutes to answer each question. At the end, questions were fielded from the floor, with the whole event lasting two hours.
About 15 Muslim students attended as well as around the same number of CU members and a few of us others. The Arab atheist stood at the back nearly the whole time (arriving slightly late). He was clearly flabbergasted at what he was witnessing – a friendly sharing of views. He asked me who had organised the event. Afterwards he stayed to talk, not giving too much away but telling me he was unimpressed by the answers the Imam was making.
I thought this event was a modest success. The big gain for the CU is that it provided an environment for building relationships and in which the sharing of the gospel was entirely natural. It was important for those of us who organised this that the event should not be a debate but a dialogue. The former can sometimes cause people to feel threatened, leading them to become defensive and combative. Here no one felt under attack; all were happy to talk afterwards. Duncan’s fresh translation of Luke’s Gospel – Holy Injil: Luke– was available for people to take afterwards. A number of the Muslims who attended came back for subsequent events.
It would be great to see such events put on in universities throughout Europe, especially where there are a significant number of Muslim students. We need to help students to create concrete ways in which they can show love to their classmates, and in which the truth of the person of Jesus and his saving work can be shared respectfully and humanely.