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'No one in my Muslim community would resent hearing the name Jesus' - Islamic leader queries removal of Jesus from parliamentary prayer

A senior Auckland Islamic prayer leader has questioned the motives and sincerity of the Government's decision to remove reference to Jesus in the parliamentary prayer - suggesting the move may be designed to marginalise all religions rather than be inclusive of different faiths.

Seyed Mohammad Taghi Derhamy is one of the trustees of the first Islamic Shia organisation in New Zealand, the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Foundation, and says the decision to make the parliamentary prayer an ambiguous uniform address, amalgamating all faiths into one, actually reduces them "all to zero" in a sense.

"If this change is to bring about more honesty and sincerity, than hypocrisy - mentioning things parliamentarians do not believe, and everybody knows they do not believe, we see that as an improvement," Mr Derhamy said.

"But if the reason people are taking the name of Jesus out is to forget about religion as a whole, I'm against it.

The Breakfast team battle it out on the merits of changing the prayer. Source: Breakfast

"To de-religionise the society, saying all religions are equal and they are all equal to zero, they are equal to nothing."

Mr Derhamy said there was no trace of resentment or alienation coming from his Islamic community, of which he leads Friday prayer and is a qualified celebrant in Pakuranga, Auckland, on the presence of Jesus in the parliamentary prayer. In fact, quite the contrary.

"No, no, no. No one in my Muslim community would resent hearing the name Jesus. The word Jesus, they love it, especially if it is pronounced by the person who believes in it," Mr Derhamy said.

"Any attempt to make the prayer something that can now can be pronounced as a collective prayer of a diverse set of beliefs I think it is not doing anybody any service.

"People who are sincere about their beliefs, they love the honesty and sincerity.

"Look, I do not mention Jesus in my prayers as a Muslim, but when I hear a Christian mentioning Jesus' name I love that, because they are honest and sincere and that is what I want them to do.

"I do not like, and I do not look for, a prayer in the parliament covering everybody, I think that would only hide lively debate."

On his first day in parliament, speaker Trevor Mallard removed both reference to Jesus and the Queen from the parliamentary prayer, telling media a consultation process with MPs would ensue before the changes were officially adopted.

However, Mr Mallard continued to exclude reference to Jesus from the parliamentary prayer up until the date, November 28, at which the supposed consultation process had resolved whether to permanently change the prayer.

Mr Mallard's explanation for the prayer amendment was that it would now be more inclusive of a "variety of religions" rather than just Christianity, and Anglicanism.

During this consultation period, National MP Jamie-Lee Ross sent a letter to Speaker Mr Mallard on behalf of the National Party Caucus to express "strong concern" over the already implemented changes to the parliamentary prayer, and the method of consultation.

Mr Ross said the National Party was concerned about the removal of Jesus Christ from the prayer for its importance to Parliament's history, and because it holds meaning "as a more personal association between members and their personal beliefs".

New Zealand's top Catholic clergy, Cardinal John Dew, also provided his very measured reservations over the Mr Mallard's impromptu removal of Jesus from the parliamentary prayer.

"While we hope that there would always be a prayer acknowledging the importance of God in our lives, it is important in today's society to be respectful of all faiths," Cardinal Dew said.

Christian Labour MPs have also been silent in their personal opinions on alterations to the 50-year-old parliamentary prayer.

Health Minister David Clark, who was a former Presbyterian Minister, only offered the following comment on Mr Mallard’s prayer amendment process: "I'm following with interest the work the Speaker is doing around the daily prayer".

But for Mr Derhamy, the historical parliamentary prayer with reference to Jesus Christ was a healthy example of religious freedom that didn't need to speak for all faiths.

"All I am requesting, is for them to be honest and sincere, and everybody else understand that his (the Speaker's) prayer is not representing me, or any other," Mr Derhamy said.

"We must be able to say our prayers in our heart the way we believe.

"How can anybody summarise and make one out of such a diverse set of beliefs, from non-believer at all to believer in Jesus, believer in Buddha, believer in Hindu… How can you make one out of them all?

"You cannot, so why do you make an impossible task for someone to do by not mentioning Muhammad's name, not mentioning Jesus' name, not mentioning Moses' name. Are we mentioning all of them? Rubbish." 

Auckland Islamic Shia leader Seyed Mohammad Taghi Derhamy has questioned whether Speaker Trevor Mallard's removal of "Jesus Christ" from the parliamentary prayer is actually intended to make people "forget" about religion on the whole. Source: Supplied