Christian Church opens doors to Muslims
- 30 March 2013
- From the section Scotland
On a bitterly cold and snowing afternoon in Aberdeen, the doors of St John's Episcopal Church are open to hundreds of Muslim worshippers, arriving for daily prayers.
The familiar sounds of Christian hymns have been replaced with Islamic prayer in the chapel this Friday lunchtime and the church priest with the imam from the neighbouring mosque.
Muslims from the Syed Shah Mustafa Jame Masjid mosque next door share this church with Christian worshippers up to five times a day.
Church leaders believe this may be the only place in the country where Christian and Muslim worshippers pray side by side.
The rector at St John's has opened his doors to Muslims because there was not enough space for them to pray in their own mosque and many were forced to worship outside on the street.
The Reverend Isaac Poobalan, who grew up in Southern India surrounded by Islam, said he would not have been true to his faith if he did not help his neighbours.
"It was a very cold day, like today, and when I walked past the mosque I saw dozens of male worshippers praying outside, on the streets, right near the church.
''Their hands and feet were bare and you could see their breath in the freezing cold.
''Jesus taught his disciples to love your neighbour as yourself and this is something I cannot just preach to my congregation, I had to put it into practice."
Reverend Poobalan adds: ''I felt very distressed when I saw my neighbours praying out in the cold and I knew I needed to do something to help.''
''I know I cannot solve the world's problems, but when there is a problem I can solve, I will.''
Reverend Poobalan asked his congregation for permission to open the church doors to Muslims.
At first, Muslims were reluctant to accept the invite, but they have now settled in well into their new home.
Worshipper Mozhid Sufiyan said: ''We are so grateful to the church for giving us a space for our prayers.
"It was very difficult, especially for the elderly, to pray outside on the floor.
''Father Poobalan has been very kind to us all by inviting us into his church.'
''He has respected all of our beliefs and made us feel comfortable."
There has been some opposition to the arrangement, with Reverend Poobalan facing abuse by online trolls on social networking sites.
Christians believe Jesus is the son of God, while Muslims regard him as a prophet.
But despite these differences, there does not seem to be any tension in St John's Church, with both faiths having learnt to respect each other.
Peter, a member of the church congregation, said: "Any opposition is from people who do not belong to the church and do not understand the arrangement we have here.
"We do not have any issues with sharing our building.
''My faith says if you see anyone out in the cold, you invite them in, so I don't have any problem with it all."
Muslims and Christian worshippers at St John's Church hope their special relationship could serve as a model for the rest of the country.
The Episcopal Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, Dr Robert Gillies, said the arrangement at St John's could serve as a lesson for the rest of the world.
''What we are doing here, is something local that has global significance,'' he said.
''We have demonstrated that Christians and Muslims do not have to agree with one another.
''But they can learn to respect each other's different beliefs and actually come to get along and even like one another."