Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Support of my Muslim friends helped me cope with mother's death: Rev Dr Johnston McMaster

Heartfelt broadcast:  Rev Dr Johnston McMaster
Heartfelt broadcast: Rev Dr Johnston McMaster

It was a message of hope about a society where all citizens are cherished equally – and it struck a chord with the public.

After weeks of negative headlines about race attacks and controversial comments about faith, the Rev Dr Johnston McMaster moved people when he took to the airwaves to share a simple tale of friendship.

On Radio Ulster's Thought for the Day segment yesterday he reflected on the death of his mother Isa last month and how his pain was eased by the support of his Muslim friends.

His words on building a society "where all citizens are cherished equally" struck a chord with listeners and stimulated conversations on social media.

Peter Osborne tweeted: "A thought for the day reminder by Johnston McMaster of tremendous inter religious work; that will continue & grow stronger" while Martin Magill added: "A very topical and relevant Thought for Today from Johnston McMaster"

Dr McMaster, of Trinity College Dublin's Irish School of Ecumenics in north Belfast, told the Belfast Telegraph that the disturbing racism row, sparked by comments by a Belfast Pastor about Islam, needs to be a catalyst for positivity.

"Words have consequences for relationships in the community," he said.

"We ended up with one particular group being demonised, there was a demonisation of all other faith traditions except Christianity. I don't think you can make absolutist claims.

"I was disturbed also by comments and the responses putting communities at risk. You can't really begin to say comments led to race attacks, but race attacks were there.

"I think the Pastor's comments were unacceptable and I think the First Minister's comments were profoundly disappointing. We needed states- manship and leadership.

"One welcomes the apology but it took a long time to arrive. It should have been more immediate.

"The Muslim community have accepted it in terms of moving on.

"Also part of my being disturbed is through my involvement in interfaith and inter- cultural dialogue both here and internationally . I would be very close with members of the Turkish Muslim community, so I felt hurt and anger for them.

"I chose to reflect on a personal experience on Radio Ulster about my premature trip home from Japan.

"It was made a lot easier by the kindness, goodness and generosity of my Muslim friends.

"One of the things that struck me when comments were made is there is a serious level of ignorance – not knowing anything about Islam, and a serious lack of knowledge and ignorance about the history of Christianity.

"As someone from that faith tradition I wouldn't be prepared, uncritically, to stand over 2,000 years of Christianity.

"I think the positive is that were may well be a realisation that no category of people can be stereotyped but also finding out more, increasing the knowledge base and trying to understand other ethnicities and faiths."

‘We must build a society where all are cherished’

A transcript of Dr McMaster’s Thought for the Day broadcast on Radio Ulster

“Three weeks ago I arrived in Japan for a programme of lectures and seminars. Next day I got news from Belfast that my mother had died.

“With 10 days of commitments and three flights to co-ordinate, my situation was complicated. Fortunately I had good friends back home. They set about working on my flight schedule and got me home earlier than I thought possible.

“They proposed a car to meet me at Dublin Airport to drive me to Belfast. They attended the funeral service. One friend who couldn’t make it drove from Coleraine with his family two days later to visit and express his sympathy. From these friends I received enormous kindness, generosity, goodness and compassion.

“All these friends are Muslims, living in and making significant contributions to life in Northern Ireland.

“I met them again last Saturday morning as part of a regular Christian Muslim dialogue breakfast and expressed my gratitude. With one of them I have travelled to a number of international inter-religious peace conferences in such places as the United States, South Africa, Nigeria and Pakistan, presenting lectures on peace-building, democracy, justice and tolerance. These Muslim friends are not demons or Satanic and the Islamic faith that has inspired and nourished their kindness, generosity, goodness and compassion has definitely not been spawned in Hell.

“On Monday this week the outgoing Lord Mayor of Belfast launched the City of Belfast Compassionate Charter. It is a commitment of ourselves to the common good and to the creation of a compassionate, inclusive, tolerant and peaceful future. It expresses the truly human values that can help a society be more truly humane.

“They are also the values at the heart of every world faith tradition.

“Unless faith is making us more truly human and more authentically compassionate, tolerant and generous, then it is only a religious ideology with which to beat and dominate others, and is neither worthy of God nor the common good.

“It is imperative now we build a society where all citizens are cherished equally.”

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