Thoughts for Thursday 28th January 2021

Psalm 111; Deuteronomy 3:23-29; Romans 9:6-18

There are seven names in our passage from Romans today: Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebecca; Esau and Jacob (and Moses). But there is one glaring omission, and that is of Ishmael, Abraham’s first-born son. His story can be read at Genesis 16, 21:9-21 & 25:7-18. Here we find out, for example, that his mother was Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden; that he lived to be 137 years old; and that he was ancestor to all Ishmaelites (Arabians / Muslims).

Within Islam, there’s a tradition that Hagar and Ishmael are buried next to the Kaaba in Mecca, and that Muhammad (pbuh) was descended from Ishmael. When it comes to a passage such as this one in Romans, though, it always seems such a shame to me that, while Isaac is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke-Acts, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews and James (i.e. 7 books in all), Ishmael, Isaac’s older brother, doesn’t even rate a single reference in the whole of the New Testament. Indeed, it’s almost as though its authors studiously go out of their way not to mention him.

And this is something we can be almost sure has, if not encouraged then certainly not done much to prevent Islamophobia. Which is why in the run-up to Christmas when, as Williamwood High School chaplains, we were asked to make a video presentation to be shown in school in the last week before term ended, I was really pleased with our choice of topic: Mo Farah.

Here’s a transcript of what (with thanks to Rev Jan Mathieson who wrote it) we all said:

Mo Farah is well known to us from his recent participation in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here where he entertained us by his reaction to trials involving critters or the creepy–crawlies which he hated; his impersonations of soap stars whom he loves; his stories and his sense of humour.

He is, of course, well-known also as the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic history (winning gold medals in both the 5k and 10k in 2012 and 2016) and as a two times World Champion (in 2013 and 2015)

But life was not always like this….

Sir Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah was born in 1983 in Mogadishu, Somalia. Violent conflict in that country meant he spent his early childhood as a refugee living with his twin brother Hassan and the rest of his family in a refugee camp. He moved to London when he was 8 years old. Mo, his mother and two younger brothers joined his father who was working and studying in the UK, but his twin brother Hassan was too ill to travel and remained behind. They lost touch and were separated for 12 years. Mo barely spoke a word of English and so school life was hard for him – but he loved football and that helped. Later a PE teacher encouraged him to take up running and that resulted in the career and life-style he has today.

His situation must have seemed hopeless at times during his early life but there were things which gave hope too – being able to escape conflict and settle somewhere where there was peace instead; being supported to learn a new language and a new way of life; the encouragement of others.

Now perhaps he himself gives hope to others. He is a role model helping us to believe human beings can overcome the most difficult of circumstances. But he also shares his good fortune with others through charity work including his own Mo Farah Foundation which works in Somalia giving hope and changing people’s lives for the better in his home country.

For Sir Mo, his Muslim faith is important to him. Prayer is part of his preparation for races; he eats halal meals, prepared in accordance with Muslim law, and his charity work also reflects his religious belief and commitment.  

For Christians, too, hope is something we can hold onto in the most difficult and dark of times – for we believe that, at Christmas, God came in Jesus Christ to bring hope: hope of justice; joy; peace; and love that transforms lives for good. 

Amen.


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