Take any of the exits from Stratford station at the moment, and
you run the gauntlet of missionaries. There are young Muslim men
eager to explain why the Qur'an was right about the earth's being
shaped like an ostrich egg; Christians handing out Games-inspired
tracts such as "What if your thought life was broadcast at this
year's games?"; and a man in a cagoule reminding the crowds,
through a placard, of the Sixth Commandment.
Some new arrivals had barely stepped out of the ticket
turnstiles before they encountered a woman loudly reciting verses
from her Bible to them.
For the most part, people seemed uninterested on Monday
afternoon. Tracts were refused; questions were dodged; preaching
was scurried past. But not everyone walked on by. One young man
listened intently for a good 20 minutes while another with a long
beard and a "Team Islam" ("Always number one!") T-shirt, chatted to
him. Next to him, a young woman cheerfully discussed the hijab with
another member of the team. Another asked for a pamphlet from the
Christian pastor who was handing them out.
"It's mostly the same everywhere you go - just like it was when
Jesus preached," said Kevin Williams, the pastor of Grace
Fellowship Manchester, who was there with a team of 12. "Some
believe; some mock; some get angry; but it's been quite mild today.
We leave the results in God's hands."
He had had some interaction with the Muslims near by. "It's hard
to speak to them, because they go off in a programmed reaction";
but it had been easier talking to a Muslim from Russia, he
Most of the members of Team Islam were young, some of them,
perhaps, on their school holidays. The young man I spoke to was
very keen to emphasise the rationality of his faith.
Muhammad split the moon in two, he explained. Science had
provided evidence of this. He had a book in his rucksack ("I would
give it to you . . . but it's worth £15") about how science and the
Qur'an are compatible. Undeterred to hear that I was a Christian,
he suggested that it was important not to pray through Jesus, and
advised me to ask God to guide me. Hellfire was the destination
for those who rejected the message.
For Anjem Choudary, another member of Team Islam, there was a
political point to be made. Although he was there to "propagate
Islam" ("the invitation to Islam is an obligation on every
Muslim"), the Olympics, he suggested, were about "the promotion of
division, nationalism, alcohol, and drugs". There were "tyrants
coming here" - Russia and the United States, for example. And those
who looked on Britain as a "peaceful host" needed to know what
Muslims here thought about foreign policy and British actions
in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A few feet away, Solomon Nagalla, of Stratford Zion Christian
Fellowship, was giving out leaflets ("Why did Jesus Christ come to
the world?"). "This is a way to reach different nationalities of
people, to share the peace that changes their heart . . . peace,
joy, happiness," he said.
Music made a difference, he suggested, on the basis of his
experience of street evangelism in other areas. "Singing gospel
songs sometimes really encourages people."
Meanwhile, a man in a cagoule was strolling around with a sign:
"You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness,
but you shall honour your father and your mother and love your
neighbour as yourself," read one side. "Jesus said 'I am the way
the truth and the life'" proclaimed the other.
When I left, he was still quietly parading up and down, pulling
up his hood when it started to rain through the sunshine.