So, let’s just get it over with and turn Westminster… the Cathedral… the Catholic Cathedral… into a mosque.
Okay… I’m exagerating, to make a point.
Where in London will you soon be able to hear the 99 names of Allah, sung to solemn music? Why, Westminster Cathedral, of course! If you thought the mother church of England’s Catholics was entirely given over to Christian worship, then think again.
Will the 99 names of Allah offend or inspire?
On June 19, Sir John Tavener’s The Beautiful Names, with a text “culled from the Koran”, will be premiered in the cathedral by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. The work has been commissioned by the Prince of Wales, who I hope will enjoy listening to the “magisterial calling out of Allah” that punctuates the 70-minute work.
Some commentators are pretty furious. They point out that, not long ago, Westminster Cathedral encountered a rather different face of Islam.
I’m not sure what to make of this. Does singing the 99 names count as an act of Muslim worship? Does the fact that the work “calls upon Hinduism and Buddhism” make it more or less acceptable to Catholics?
Maybe The Beautiful Names will be such a masterpiece that all our doubts will be swept away. But, somehow, I doubt that strict Muslims will welcome verses from the Koran finding their way into a text that juxtaposes them with elements of non-Islamic spirituality.
Like all other Catholic dioceses, the Archdiocese of Westminster displays a Karen Armstrong-style “cultural cringe” when it comes to Islam. How embarrassing if, in its willingness to embrace other “faith traditions”, it ended up being accused of the unspeakable crime of “Islamophobia”.
Let us not forget that the new Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue will be reopened.