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Boundaries and other such ruminations

Boundaries are fundamental to the physical universe and to our social and emotional lives. The Universe is divided sharply between particles and anti-particles and positive and negative. In families we talk about young, and sometimes older people, pushing at boundaries. Arundathi Roy in the God of Small Things talks of the rules of "who you love, and how and how much".

In a park where I often walk there is a monument to the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by Hitler and a few weeks ago I read a report of a mother in Homs who watched a Syrian "soldier" cut the throat of her twelve year old son. I hope he rots in hell, the boy walks in heaven and the mother can one day close her eyes and sleep again. On issues like this I have no time for the Guardian's "on the one hand this but on the other hand that ". I prefer something more like verses 12 and 13 of Psalm 80 "O let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before thee.... And for the blasphemy were with our neighbours have blasphemed reward thou them, O Lord, seven fold into their bosom".

The revelations of Assad and his wife internet shopping during the carnage brought to mind Al Baqarah, verse 86:

"these are the people who buy the life of this world at the price of the hereafter"

Does it follow then that religion should consist of staying within a tight network of boundaries. I feel Ziauddin Sardar is absolutely right in rejecting this except for a small list of offences. Any kind of law or religion expressed as legal codes must be fully justified as a necessary evil because they fail to recognise our humanity. In the poem “God be Praised for Dappled Things” GK Chesterton valued "All things counter, original, spare, strange". Such is Man.

An old man on his sick bed can see and feel again the sunshine of his childhood, sense once more his mother’s caring and then, just minutes later, be entirely alone, face to face with eternity. A psychotherapist called Yalom likened our existence to small boats on the sea at night, alone except far far away we can see the light of another boat. No hard edges here.

Daniel Barenboim, a Jew, and Edward Said, a Palestinian and a Christian in name but a Muslim in spirit founded the West East Divan Orchestra made up of one third Jews, one third Arabs and one third Christians, making music together. Why? The simple answer is to nurture better relations between faiths. But I believe it is more complex than that. Whenever we do something worthwhile we are responding to a polyphonic chorus of motives; to be close to God, to avoid Hell, to be praised by our fellows and to be able to sleep at night. These mingle and twist by the moment like the voice lines in a Mass by Palestrina (Youtube Missa Brevis to hear what I mean). Then there are the other voices, discordant; our our own animal nature and the beast Satan.

Consider a judge at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals; behind the face, impassive before a recital of atrocity and the cold sentence of steely death there will be a maelstrom of feeling and unshed tears. He will struggle.

Virginia Woolf was so right in her book Orlando where the main character announces to the wind that she is not one personality but two thousand and fifty two. Life would be simpler if it was just a question of eating this and not eating that and you could know in your soul that paradise was yours. But is doesn’t work like that because we would be demeaned by our maker.

From the beginning people have tried to twist and cramp religion of whatever kind into just such a strait jacket and they have murdered or tried to murder the prophets who pointed out the error of their ways.  It goes on still. Why do we do it? I honestly and sincerely don’t know. I guess there are at least two thousand different reasons.

Ken Mafham is a Muslim Insitute Fellow and a Town Planning Consultant with 40 years experience. His work has taken him to Mauritius, Bauch State Nigeria , Merseyside and the East Midlands. He has also taught lessons to 30-40 individuals a week for the last fifteen years, from Year 1 to A level. This leaves little time for hobbies but he does like to play the violin and sing. Not both at the same time though.