Saturday, 18 December 2010

Celebration of National Inter Faith Week

Celebration of National
Inter Faith Week

Dr. Mozammel Haque

National Inter Faith Week took place in England and Wales from Sunday, 21 November to Saturday, 27 November, 2010. It is the second year that this Week was held to strengthen good inter-faith relations at all levels; increase awareness of different and distinct faith communities in the UK, in particular celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society, and increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious belief.

National Inter Faith Week
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG), Eric Pickles, kicked off the National Inter Faith Week by urging everyone to get involved in inter-faith activities and make connections with people of different beliefs. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said, “Inter Faith is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the fantastic practical work of faith communities – and also to recognise that it’s when they pull together in a shared endeavour that they can make the biggest difference in their community.”

“Collaboration builds stronger understanding and helps people to concentrate on the values they hold in common – without ever losing their unique strengths,” Pickles said.

As well as aiming to strengthen bonds between people of different faiths, Inter Faith Week also sought to increase understanding and collaboration between people of religious and non-religious beliefs.

The Rt. Revd Dr. Alastair Redfern and Dr. Manazir Ahsan, Co-Chairs of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, said, “Good inter faith relations and practical cooperation between different faith communities are vital to the wellbeing of our society in the UK. Faith communities have enormous amount to offer to their local communities and to national life: working both independently and together in ways which respect their distinctiveness.”

“Inter Faith Week shines a light on the rich possibilities of mutual engagement and offers a chance for encounter, learning and practical engagement. We are delighted that hundreds of organisations, such as faith groups, schools and institutions of further and higher education, local authorities and emergency services are planning events,” they said.

Events and Projects
Among the events and projects being arranged to mark the Week were: dialogues and debates; school activities and youth faith forums; inter faith football; exchange visits between places of worship of different faiths; faith and social action projects; special focus events on topics such as faith in the workplace, faith and family; aging and spirituality, spirituality and health, faith and disability, faith and the Big Society, freedom of speech, and compassion and social justice.

It also included a national photography competition, plays, arts and music festivals; story telling evenings; faith trails and interfaith walks visiting different places of worship; an interfaith exhibition on science and religion; bring and share meals and ‘faith and food’ events; inter faith salsa; youth evening exploring faith and diversity through film and tree planting.

ICC hosted and MINAB celebrated
National Inter Faith Week
The Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) hosted and the MINAB (Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board) organised an Inter Faith Seminar entitled “Faith & Phobia in Modern Britain” which was held in the Library Hall of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, on Sunday, 21st of November, 2010.

Fuad Nahdi, the Executive Director of the Radical Middle Way and a Senior Fellow at the Muslim College, London, was the keynote speaker. Besides the keynote speaker, the meeting was also addressed by Revered Canon Guy Wilkinson, the Secretary for Inter-Religious Relations to the Archbishop of Canterbury; Rabbi David Hulbert, Rabbi of Bet Tikvah Synagogue, Berkingside; Sudarshan Bhatia, President of The National Council of Hindu Temples and Harmander Singh, who was awarded an Honorary Fellowship for outstanding achievements in community development and champions a range of issues concerning injustice, identity and social policy.

While opening the Seminar, Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan, the chairman of the MINAB’s Inter Faith Committee and the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, said, “It’s great privilege and honour for me, for MINAB and the Islamic Cultural Centre. It is a day actually, when we talk about dialogue, interfaith, connections, relations and we believe these are really very important. Dialogue and relations between the faith followers is of course not something new. I am sure that in the histories of all the religions we will find many examples of relations, dialogue and connections between the faith communities.”

“But nowadays it is more important, I believe, than any other time in the past. Why?” enquired Dr. al-Dubayan and immediately replied, “Because the world now is of course attending a new history with advanced technology, more connections, more communications, and the societies now are more closer and getting closer day by day, more than any other moment in history. With more connections and more relations, of course, there is always understanding, and good relations are really needed. I think this is really a moment and this time we need to establish something for the future now.”

While speaking about the importance of religion in the present century, Dr. Al-Dubayan mentioned, “Many political analysts have made reports and books have been written, all saying that it will be next century that we can call “The Century of Religion”. Since the last decade of the last century, of course, everybody has realised that the issue of religion has been raised everywhere in the world.. Many countries and nations are starting to get back their identities and to think again about their faiths and their religions. This means that religion is really coming back to play its role in society and communities everywhere. I believe also the Church and the Vatican can talk about this point because they ask for more of a role for religion within societies and communities in the world.”

“But when we talk about religion, we must also say which religion and how we build interfaith discussions and dialogue for followers. There is a lot of understanding but also a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of interpretations and a lot of misinterpretations around us, in all the faiths and in all the communities, mentioned Dr. Al-Dubayan and said, “These interpretations and misunderstandings never really move from the path unless we have positive dialogue among the followers, trying to get rid of some of the stereotypes and the pressure of history, by starting a new era, a new time rather than being caged by history.”

Speaking about the role and importance of Media, Dr. Al-Dubayan mentioned, “When we talk about interfaith dialogue, only a few religious people are talking about it, such as Imams, Priests, Rabbis and Monks. But now interfaith is an issue of Media and this is good and bad at the same time. It’s good because it brings interfaith to the fore and into the public as an issue for everybody to think about. But at the same time it’s very very bad because the Media has become recently the only source of how we understand others as a reliable source. Muslim communities have really suffered a lot, perhaps more than anyone else in the Media because of interpretations and misquotations and trying to represent it as Islam.”

Dr. Al-Dubayan said, “if we, alongside the other faith followers, do not try really hard to raise our voice, there will be no way in the futurev for better understanding and for better light to come to our homes.”

Speaking about MINAB as the biggest organisation in the Muslim community in the UK, Dr. Al-Dubayan mentioned, “It’s really been a mission from day one to concentrate and give dedication to the interfaith relations; to always open doors and ways for others, to listen to them and give them a chance to listen to the Muslims.”

Dr al-Dubayan hoped this event today is a “step in the right direction to do more work and create more chances to think about interfaith dialogue.”

Communities Secretary hosted
Inter Faith Week Reception
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles hosted a reception for faith leaders and faith-based community activists to mark Inter Faith Week (22-27 November) on Thursday, 25th of November, 2010 at Admiralty House, London. The reception provided an opportunity for Ministers, members of faith communities and local activists to network, strengthen relationships and forge new links with one another.

The reception was addressed by Rt. Revd Dr. Alastair Redfern Bishop of Derby, the Co-Chair of Inter Faith Network for the UK, reminded by saying that this faith is collateral and we contribute to the society for its development. “Let me tell you the faith landscape is a very complex society. Therefore we have to work hard for the betterment of the society,” he said.

Dr. Redfern mentioned, “We have national network, regional network and of course, we have lot of local activities. Recently, National Inter Faith Week, which the Government is again supporting,. is an opportunity to make all kinds of witnesses to be made; all kinds of relationships to be explored; and all kinds of engagements with the local communities and the focus of this particular gathering is to celebrate the local work and offering some interfaith works.”

Dr. Manazir Ahsan, the Co-Chair of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, while addressing the reception, said, “This is the second celebration of the Inter Faith Week. Last year, we had very colourful seminars, conferences, courses along with interfaith dialogues and so on and so forth. This year as well I am grateful to CLG and particularly the Secretary of State Eric Pickles, for hosting today. There are varieties of activities taking place and I am delighted to say that some of them have already participated and others I am looking forward to see. These include the meetings, seminars, workshops and exhibitions and exchange of visits between places of worship and faith and food events and interfaith learning events and schools; faith trails and interfaith works, arts and music activities and civic events and etc.”

Dr. Ahsan also mentioned, “This celebration is not only a one week celebration. This gives us an opportunity to explore how we can engage in more work. The work has been done locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally so important that we learn lessons and we try to support them.”

Dr. Ahsan also said, “The spiritual wealth which the faith communities have if we gather together they can do wonders indeed. I hope, our gathering this evening will be a great source of inspiration for all of us, for all faith groups and we will like another pledge that we will one to one work together, whatever challenges we face , whatever opportunities we encounter and I do hope that we work together and in fact then we will achieve our goal.”

Dr. Ahsan also mentioned that we are going to listen not only lectures , especially the input of the younger generations which is very important and I believe there are three or four members from Liverpool, and they will be able to give us a wonderful experiences of interfaith works.

Communities Minister
The Communities Minister, Andrew Stunell, mentioned that during the Week he had the opportunities to take part in number of interfaith events and observed, “They are all of high quality and great interest to me.”

The Minister also mentioned that we are looking at various opportunities to work with faith groups as being some kind of problem-solving forums. “We are very keen to make sure that those links are strengthened and we have very positive relationships with you and elsewhere.

Speaking about engaging fully with the faith groups, the Minister said, “We want to show very clearly that we do appreciate the works the faith groups do.” He also added, “It is not just the Churches, Mosques or Synagogues or Temples; it’s the people go to them and make contribution to the civic society and we hope that to be valued, appreciated and developed. So we are looking forward to develop that relationship between the government and the faith communities.”

“Of course, faith communities do a tremendous amount of spiritual work for their local communities. Of all the work you do individually as individual or religious institution, we can get more, we can do more; or we would be more effective being together,” Mr. Andrew Stunell, M.P. said and added, “We need to share our understandings, we need to share our experiences, and develop, knowledge and friendship with each other. But it is also very important indeed that we work together in our approach in society and the government together is very keen indeed to help you to play an active party what we call it a Big Society.”

Speaking about the Big Society, the Minister said, “We have got a Big Society in places. But what the Big Society is all about? - The best of society in civic action. We do available and active throughout the country. It is about to make sure that every community can prosper; every community can sense participation and fulfil it.”

“So Inter Faith Week is a very opportunity to celebrate the work you have done. It is going two years and done excellent work and looking forward what happened in the future. It gives chance to recognise our common values and develop partnership and get on with things together and I am looking forward very much to see some of the presentations which will follow illustrate and give us few surprise to the future,” the Minister concluded.

Interview with Communities Secretary
I have the opportunity to interview Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, M.P. who said, “I was brought up in a large Muslim community in the area. I do not believe that certain bombers; they are not typical of your children, not typical of Muslim with whom I grew up with, still common friends.” The Communities Secretary also mentioned, “What we have to concentrate now is that we have to look to those things which unite us.”

“If we see every Muslim as a potential terrorist, that route leads to madness,” observed Communities Secretary.

“Big societies take part in faith communities, but goes beyond that faith communities;” said the Communities Secretary in an interview with me and added, “I want to tap into the pastoral side of the religious communities and to try and get into a kind of inter lapping way in which we can address a number of social issues together.”

Replying to my question about Big Society, Communities Secretary Mr. Pickles, M.P. said, “Our role is to look to the pastoral side and also to remove boundaries and barriers; and barriers to cooperation, barriers to creativity.”

“We want to ensure that your whole creative efforts can go into those things that they are important in the pastoral side about delivering and sister helps to the wider community and in particular to the vulnerable world,” said the Communities Secretary.

MCB celebrated Inter Faith Week
The Muslim Council of Britain held a Seminar on Inter faith dialogue and engagement on Wednesday 24th November at the House of Lords in Westminster as part of the National Interfaith Week 2010 celebrations. Dr Manazir Ahsan, Chair of the Inter Faith Relations Committee of MCB stated that “Partnership should not be only face to face and side to side, but heart to heart as well”.

Lord Sheikh of Cornhill, who hosted the event, said “Let’s have a nice civilised discussion and dispel misunderstanding”. He highlighted the importance of inter faith interaction and went on to say “I believe there is more similarity than difference between faiths”

Mr Brian Pearce, Former Director of the Inter Faith Network for the UK expressed his deep appreciation of the Muslim Council of Britain’s commitment and contribution to inter faith work. He also commended MCB’s excellent brochure ‘Celebrating Faith’ publicised to mark the event and the week. His talk was followed by a speech by Mrs Trupti Patel, Vice Chair of the Hindu Forum of Britain who said “Treat as you would like to be treated and respect as you would like to be respected. Let us work together and let us pray together, let us accept what God gave together”.

Professor Tariq Ramadan ended the evening by delivering the keynote speech on “Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Role in Inter Faith Relations”. He highlighted many occasions during the Prophet’s (pbuh) time where he showed equality and fairness in diversity. The Prophet (pbuh) “taught us about diversity”. Tariq Ramadan stated that “Through this life, tolerance is not enough, tolerance is a rational positioning. The very meaning of tolerance is suffering the positioning of the other” (For the elaborate keynote speech of Professor Tariq Ramadan on Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Role in Inter Faith Relations, see the earlier despatch in this blog).
Dr Harriett Crabtree, Director of the Inter Faith Network, who rushed all the way from North England to join the meeting, highly commended the MCB’s contribution in the Inter Faith Field.

Farooq Murad, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said “Creation is the family of God. We need to take care of all the things as it is very much our responsibility”. He encouraged discussion as a ‘faith community’ and added “Lets work together on all our communities”. He stated, “Let us all close our eyes and realise one thing, that we are all part of the same family”.

To commemorate the event, the MCB launched a special publication under the title, Celebrating Faith, which highlights the MCB’s continuous work towards developing inter faith relations and also includes narratives of MCB affiliates about their contribution towards inter faith activities.

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