Britain’s oldest chain of church bookshops is to remove the Koran from its shelves because it believes it is “inimical” to Christianity.
The decision not to stock any non-Christian holy text has been taken by SPCK Bookshops, formerly part of the 308-year-old Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
In practice, the Koran is the only text affected because those of other religions such as Judaism and Hinduism were rarely stocked by the shops, which are located near many British cathedrals or in their precincts.
The new policy follows the society’s sale of a majority stake in the chain on November 1 to the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, which is tied to the Eastern Orthodox church.
“Stocking books which are inimical to Christianity, which without question the Koran is, could well create the wrong impression among some that we endorse the belief systems of other religions as equal or viable alternatives,” said Mark Brewer, the Texan lawyer who chairs the trust.
The stated aim of the trust is to take the bookshops back to the missionary roots of the SPCK and reverse the advance of Islam and secularism.
The new approach is likely to offend some in the Church of England who promote a more accommodating approach to Muslims, but echoes recent calls by John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, to recover Christian values.
Brewer plans a rapid expansion of the chain, which has 23 outlets in cities such as Durham, York and Canterbury. The trust says on its website that Britain has become “extremely secularised in recent years and witnessed an explosion of Islam”, and adds that it intends to “re- establish Christianity in areas where it has been driven out”.
Some Anglicans may be uneasy about the chain’s change of direction under the trust. The organisation claims England was an Orthodox country before the Norman invasion in 1066 and plans to take over unused Church of England buildings to promote Orthodoxy in Britain.
It notes that Anglican church attendance is in “sharp decline” and churches have been “turned into apartments, restaurants, drinking establishments and worship centres for other faiths”.
One project is in Bradford, where the trust has bought St Mary Magdalene, an Anglican church that closed two years ago. The plan is to install an Orthodox priest “in this difficult mission field, surrounded by Muslims”.
The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, closely linked to the Church of England, has kept a minority stake in the bookshops and two Anglicans sit on the board.
Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, chairman of the society and one of the two Anglican board members, disagreed with the decision not to stock the Koran. “If I were in charge I would not have issued this instruction,” he said.
He was “aware” of the “fairly conservative” views of Brewer and the trust but said he had seen no evidence that the society’s “broad sympathies” had been betrayed.
The change of direction has dismayed leading Muslims. Ibrahim Mogra, who chairs the inter-faith committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Islam is currently under the spotlight. It is misunderstood and has been abused by some who have carried out violence in its name. Now is the time for people to have access to the Koran and the writings of Islam. This will help people understand the faith and what makes Muslims tick.”
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