ecently it was announced that the first mosque is about to be built on the Western Isles – a bastion of conservative evangelical Calvinism, dominated by the Free Church of Scotland (colloquially and somewhat pejoratively known as ‘the Wee Frees’). The press sniffed blood – surely this would outrage the Free Church and create civil war? The old headlines ‘Wee Free Outrage’ were dusted down and in some cases used by the tabloids, broadsheets and broadcast media. And with some justification, because a small breakaway group from the Free Church known as the Free Church Continuing had issued a press statement condemning the proposal.
Perhaps it is expecting too much to expect the secular press to keep up with the various smaller Christian denominations. But The Guardian, demonstrating a degree of journalistic integrity, actually did some investigation and produced a more balanced report that included the news that the Free Church supported the right of the Muslims on the island to build their own mosque. Rev James MacIver, minister of the largest church in Stornoway, the main town of the island, is quoted as saying: ‘Muslims have always been regarded by the local community as people who’ve contributed to the local economy and integrated well. I don’t remember any animosity towards them. Outsiders may have got the impression that the Christian community here have resisted the mosque, but that’s not the case…I have no right to come between someone’s conscience and their god…I come at this from the point of view of liberty of conscience, freedom of religion. I don’t personally see Islam as the way to salvation, but they have a civil right to a place of worship. I have no right to come between someone’s conscience and their god.’