Travel: a migrant’s story

(This continues in our “Theology of Travel” series, which you can see using the top toolbar)
In recent weeks I’ve spent time with some of those more fortunate to come to Ireland as Syrian migrants through the government systems.  They didn’t risk life and limb to cross oceans in tiny inflatables, but they have just watched their cities being destroyed bit by bit in a mass genocide that has probably scarred several generations mentally, emotionally, physically.  And so they travelled…

Sitting there trying not to let their migrant status mean I treat them as sub-human in a one way relationship, my mind wandered to a story of economic migrants of old.

A famine happens in ancient Israel and Judah, and some of them leave for Moab to find food.  It’s a time where everyone was doing right in their own eyes, and few cared for God and His ways and purposes.  Whether the famine was because of the people’s disobedience to God (causal connections in that time in Israel were more usual in their covenant with God), or whether they were showing a lack of faith by moving, is not mine to know or say.  19863662131_0afcd6a60a_b

But somehow a vulnerable female (oppressed as they were in their society, and perhaps still, ours) finds her way along the road, alongside her mother-in-law (speak of unlucky company!) and a friend.  Their husbands had died, their father-in-law had died, and they were without inheritance, in a famine, just having walked around 100 miles by foot (a week perhaps?).   And so two women headed back for Israel (one a foreign Moabite) as things were easing up with the famine.

Thankfully, unlike other ancient near eastern cultures, Israel’s laws allowed for a “kinsman-redeemer” who was responsible for providing in such situations and taking such vulnerable people under their wing, should they desire.  Today that role should be ideally, and often is carried out by the church community.

In this case, instead of this figure taking responsibility, another man steps in who goes out of his way to lavish far more on these women than is required by law, refuses to abuse his power and sleep with the women, and asks for permission from the closer relative to take care of these folk.

“As an example of storytelling alone it has outstanding merit, with its symmetry of form and vivid characterization, but above all it is a book with a message.”

Baldwin, J. G. (1994). Ruth. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 287). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

It’s a powerful story of immigration, death of loved ones, famine, honour and romance, all in a short 4 chapters that can be read here.

And it’s a story of migrants that is meant to point forward to a greater reality of what is to come.  Of a redeemer (someone who’ll “buy” back), come to rescue humanity from the circumstances it has got itself into, and the conscious and unconscious things, seemingly moral and not-so-moral, that we prostrate ourselves before.  This redeemer will come when there’s no other way out, and will lavish on us far more than just contractual obedience.

As we face the migrant crisis, the things that create it, and our selfish hearts that exacerbate it, may it make us long for a redeemer like this!

Muslim Immigration in Europe: masculinity, politics and law

Working in a university has its advantages, and Friday night was one of them.  Public lectures on relevant topics, by those with suitable qualifications.  UCC had me excited with this one.  And so too were many of the university staff, with most in attendance being from the related fields of study within UCC (those lecturers chatting behind me were lecturers in middle eastern art history, and history of gender studies).  But sadly I was left walking out of the majestic Aula Maxima into the darkness, even more confused than I had been before.  Where did it all go wrong?

The UCC president (Dr Murphy) opened on a fascinating note islam-migration-msaulinity-politics-and-lawby telling us of the huge changes in Irish society and in UCC.  in 1990 there was only 4% of Ireland who were non-native (not born in Ireland).  By about 2011 there was 12-14% non-native living within the shores.  Nods were taken from the professor who specialised in Irish migration.  You couldn’t say anything wrong here, given those specialists attending.  Or could you?

What followed was two fairly unrelated speeches from high profile speakers, both women who came from a Muslim background.  One, Tasmina, who is MP for Ochil and South Perthshire seemed keener to tell us about her achievements in life and her passions as an SNP politician.  And much as a woman who had achieved so much was fascinating to listen to, I did wonder whether I’d come to listen to an inspiring SNP politician (the inspiring part need not be linked to the SNP part) or someone speaking on the topic in hand.  Brief reference was made to how SNP policy endorsed more open borders than others would.

Following on was Dr Samia Bano, from SOAS London who started by trying to tell us that she would be very academic (I’m not sure why she thought this would be a problem), and then proceeded to speak on a range of issues, some of which tried to separate Islamic culture from religion, some which tried to persuade us that we could contextualise and re-interpret the Qu’ran, and some which tried to persuade us of the forward leaning nature of many of the Muslims within Islamic communities in the UK.

But I couldn’t help but think what the Islamic Society (or the local mosque for that matter) would have thought about such attempts to separate culture and religion, to re-interpret the Qu’ran (or even reinterpret a copy of the translation of the Qu’ran, as I’m not sure what levels of Arabic were actually read by either panellist), or to persuade us that the Islam could be up-to-date with the latest gender theories and feminist issues.  Or to even what extent they’d want to do that.  For the religion that completely bows to the theories of the day, and whatever direction the wind is blowing, ultimately gives up its right to objective truth.

Liberal academics may try and persuade us that Islam says one thing or another.  But in reality, the only questions on people’s lips were:

  • what is the essence of Islam (if there is one)?
  • how can change be brought about?

And if one thing were fairly obvious, it was that the panellists were trying to make the Qu’ran say what they wanted to hear.  And that because of that, change will only occur in the outer echelons of liberal or nominal Islamic communities.

To know what is actually believed in Islam, or to bring about change, I would suggest one may need to be side-by-side at the heart of such communities.  And so I find myself in a local mosque again tomorrow, as well as reading some academic works.  The disconnect is huge.

The main point I took away from the evening?  How much travel is impacting Irish society, both in immigration and otherwise.  Thanks Dr Murphy!