Archive for the ‘Inter faith’ Category

The Challenge of Prayer and Peace in the Midst of Violence

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Salaam2
The hostage situation in Sydney made me, like many other people despair of seemly daily accounts of Man’s inhumanity to man.

A traumatic event which was resolved on some level for us only to wake up to the news of the mayhem in Peshawar Pakistan and this time the intended victims were mainly children. The reporter on the Pakistani news channel kept repeating the words “How can any human look at a classroom of children and want to do them any harm let alone blow them up.”  It unfortunately, is not the first time such things have happened but it is one of the worst examples of its kind and was done in the name of my faith: Islam.

The BBC religion and ethics website   tells us that Muslims perform ritual prayers five times a day. What is not common knowledge, however, is that these prayers end with a greeting of peace and blessings to all those to the right and left of the speaker. This afternoon as I finished my prayers I stopped and did this last bit very slowly thinking how incomprehensible it was that anyone with carnage on their minds could perform the same ritual with any real understanding of the words they were reciting.

Their words and actions have poisoned so many of the words and concepts that I grew up with it. It started simply with the word Qaida (the book from which we learnt to read Arabic as children), then Taliban (student) and now the article of faith and the first pillar of Islam. That very morning I had been meditating on the words written on the flag used by the hostage taker in Sydney Australia: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God”.

The greeting of Muslims everywhere is Peace/Salaam and each formal prayer ends which a blessing for people everywhere. In Islamic tradition, God has sent many prophets, messengers, teachers and guides throughout the whole world to help us live in harmony. My favourite verse in the Qur’an states that we were made into nations and tribes so we might come to know one another.

The evening of the hostage crisis in Australia I went to a Christmas Carol Service where the congregation reflected on the Christmas truce during World War 1. That is  100 years ago soldiers on both sides of a conflict stopped, celebrated Christmas by playing football on land where fighting had taken place only hours before.  Les Isaac, founder of the Street Pastors also spoke about how we need to take risks and be generous. Conscientious objectors and those that played football on no man’s land 100 years ago took a risk when they refused to fight.

It is difficult to know how to respond to the terrible news but one of my hopes and prayers for the year ahead is that we all look at stories within our own communities and faiths that inspire us to take risk and be generous when dealing with others.

Qaisra Khan

Supporter and fundraiser for Christian Muslim Forum

I will be doing a 15 mile walk between a church and a mosque to raise funds for The Christian Muslim Forum. Please sponsor me at www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/thepilgrims1

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/practices/fivepillars.shtml

[1] The Qur’an Chapter 49 verse 13Surah al-Hujurat

Reflections on Pentecostalism in Dialogue

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Reflections on Pentecostalism in dialogue with Interfaith by Rev Daniel Otieno-Ndale – Baptist Minister and PMR representative on the Interfaith Network

I have been strangely surprised to learn how long I have been involved with interfaith conversations – in which I have made friends during my tenure on the executive committee of the Interfaith Network. So what has been my experience so far in participating in interfaith activities? Two things remain very important to me as I participate in interfaith activities; the first is that the conviction to my faith remains an absolute and therefore non-negotiable; secondly, my engagement with interfaith is solely on matters of community cohesion because it is only the community that is common between myself and my Bahia or Muslim colleagues.

1 Of course the question then is how have I engaged in interfaith affairs as Baptist evangelical charismatic who speaks in tongues which some Baptists find difficult to accept let alone the belief that God is good and is in the business of doing miracles even in the now? Engaging in Interfaith relations to me has been like having a conversation with a postmodernist – as a Christian I do not come to these conversation with the anticipation that if I engage with this other person then God is obligated to do such-and-so. I only allow my motives in these conversations to emerge from the desire to give room to the mystery of my faith. This mystery of my faith allows me to accept the fact that in whatever situation I find myself I cannot defend nor am I there to protect God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I have since come to find out that God is not whimsical and untamed – at least the God I believe in is.

So, in my interfaith conversations whether on national level or our local interfaith I find myself invited to a place where I can trust a God who is beyond my comprehension – and this God is capable of taking care of himself. I am inclined to the fact that interfaith engagement is the most effective way to reveal the Christian hidden God. I want to argue that interfaith relations, wherever they are carried out, critiques the arrogance of Christian doctrine, and in so doing, offers the church one of its greatest opportunities to present the gospel. It is the opportunity to demonstrate the presence of the Christian God here and now. Paul was not afraid to engage (Acts 17), but my desire is not apologetics in these interfaith conversations, but rather the quiet demonstration of God’s presence and power to create change.

Interfaith conversations are downturns, that is to say, an overturning of the way we see and relate, a radical disruption of the way we think. Correct Christian doctrine with which to engage in interfaith conversations is essential, but correct doctrine [thinking] begins not with the assurance that I am right, but with the humility that I am wrong, or better still perhaps, there are many things in life and faith that remain a mystery to me. Jesus said we shall know the truth, and the truth that we know shall set us free. It sets us free to reach out to others with love and compassion rather than attempting to prove that we are right. I have discovered that it is possible to listen with critical ears but also with ears to hear if there is something redemptive or that needs to challenge me in areas in which I have become complacent and comfortable. Our personal stories matter to God, and therefore your individual importance is central to our faith it is this that we engage with in interfaith conversations.

2 Secondly, my engagement with interfaith has been predominantly in the area of community cohesion. Like I said above the well being of a community is one of the key areas that brings different faiths together. The former British Council of Churches summarized the WCC guidelines in four principles: Dialogue begins when people meet each other; Dialogue depends upon mutual understanding and mutual trust; Dialogue makes it possible to share in service to the community; Dialogue becomes the medium of authentic witness.

I belong to the local interfaith network – Hillingdon Inter Faith Network in West London. Like all other local network while we meet to consider issues of concern to the local community every now and then we are confronted with matters of dispute between faith groups [from growing fragmentation] and other times request for support. Faith groups that once spurned inter faith dialogue now see the value of participation, making localism the place for many groups to express themselves. This freedom of expression in the local inter faith discussions and social actions raise two areas of concern for potential participants:

a) Possible motivations and agendas of other participants
It is not always the case that we are confronted with worries about the possible motivations and agendas of other participants. But, at some point we have faced the question of groups not currently nationally recognized to stand independently [Ahmadiya in our case] move to be accommodated at a local level. This kind of moves are off putting and have created tension as groups have been seen to want to foster their own agenda [perceived to be proselytizing], therefore disrespecting the interfaith wisdom of dialogue. When groups are self-defining and regard themselves as belonging to a particular world religion but are not recognised as such internally within that faith, the local inter faith becomes the place for seeking redressing of issues. This state of affair leaves the local interfaith in an awkward position, as they have no national interfaith wisdom to draw from in addressing questions regarding groups that may not have been internally recognized by their perceived overarching religion or faith. In Hillingdon, the Inter Faith executive has been responsible in addressing issues of possible motivations and agendas of other participants by inviting leaders of the group in question to a conversation. From our experience so far, if faith communities are to contribute to community cohesion, then contexts in which they talk to one another are potentially valuable discursive spaces that can have an important part to play in a pluralistic public sphere. But such context cannot be allowed to flow into possible motivations and agenda of other participants.

b) The fear that there will be a need to compromise deeply held beliefs
At the local level, the religious dimension of community cohesion has been seen as important, giving key focus to the place of inter-religious dialogue and encounter in contributing to good community relations. The fear of compromising deeply held beliefs therefore become very obvious, making any potential participants recoil on being involved. To remove such fear, one way that Hillingdon Inter Faith has acted is by spreading community activities across the faith groups involved. For example, during the introduction to the local community of the new police corporals the event was carried at a local mosque with all other faith groups invited, and each group present was given space to talk about activities and events in their own faith community. During interfaith week although the event was held at the civic centre a specific faith group from the Hindu religion was given the opportunity to serve refreshment while other groups were given an opportunity to address a specific local issues from the their faith perspective. The most recent event is the Hillingdon Dementia Awareness, a programme offered by the local authority to local groups, this time the event was held at a Christian church, at which all the faith groups in Hillingdon were welcomed and given opportunity to notify participants of any events of interest in their own faith group gatherings. Hillingdon Inter Faith also provides a single space for all faith groups when it comes to events like the local Uxbridge carnival or the Hayes carnival celebrations. All faith groups are given space at the interfaith stand to display their activities and literature, suggesting a sense of fairness. The simple ethical requirement underpinning this spread out interfaith events at different local faith centre is to respect others, particularly those who tend feel or are actually marginalised.

Concluding remarks:
In order to be able to encourage people to participate in faith discussions and multi faith social actions the two issues raised must be eliminated first. To eliminate a sense of possible motivations and agendas of other participants as well as addressing the fear that there will be need to compromise deeply held beliefs; faith groups will be the better off entering into bi-lateral or multi-lateral dialogue.

From our experience in Hillingdon Inter Faith, bi-lateral dialogue is concerned with building good relationships and more particularly exploring areas of common ground. In such dialogue, participants often speak of their spiritual transformation in sharing their faith with someone of a different faith. On-going bi-lateral dialogue consequently assumes recognition of a degree of ‘value’, even ‘truth’ in ‘the other’. And a part from that the only value in bi-lateral dialogue would be to correct error and presumably ‘convert’. Importantly to note is the fact that, bi-lateral dialogues tend to take place in a different ‘space’ to the multi-lateral dialogues that are in the ‘public domain’.

This ‘public domain’ is where people of all faiths and none engage with one another. The multi-lateral local inter faith organisation is clearly an aspect of the ‘public square’ where different religions encounter one another. At this point it is not expected of them to recognise each other’s own self-understanding, nor to accept that they necessarily hold beliefs that should be accepted or approved. The multi-lateral inter faith body is merely the space in which different faiths and belief systems engage with one another in the public domain. In our experience in Hillingdon Inter Faith group the bi-lateral conversation takes what were multi-dialogues conversations beyond that public domain into a deeper engagement where the value of the other is recognised.

In light of Pentecostal culture will the Pentecostal churches have the courage to engage in interfaith conversations and listen to others unlike them? It seems to me to understand interfaith we need to listen well to people’s starting points. Belief today is a matter of personal encounter not dogmatic assent. If this is the case does our faith matter subjectively or is it solely a matter of objective truth? As Pentecostals can we hear and speak of faith in ways that shape our story and show that God is intimately involved in all we do? Notwithstanding all else, our faith informs our interpretation and our willingness to dialogue with a multicultural, relativist age.

Focolare Centre
Welwyn Garden City
October 2014

Building bridges with Brondesbury Park Synagogue

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

al kheoi 3

On Sunday 22nd June members of the Al Khoei Foundation and the Brondesbury Park Synagogue took part in an exchange visit to their respective places of worship, introducing each other to the basics of Islam and Judaism.

Members of the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre received a whistlestop tour of the main elementsof the synagogue service and Jewish life by Rabbi Baruch Levin, and were told about the history of the Jewish presence in Willesden, as well as hearing about the rejuvenation of today’s community by Brondesbury Park.

Brondesbury’s congregants heard that the Islamic Centre previously served as the Brondesbury Synagogue on Chevening Road, before closing down in 1974 and being converted into a Mosque in the 1980s.

Speeches at the Al Khoei Centre included a welcome by Sayid Yousif Al Khoei, a presentation on the introduction to Islam by Sayid Jafar Milani,a description of local interfaith work of the Al Khoei Foundation, a description by pupils from Al Sadiq and Al Zahra Schools on the meaning of the Khoei logo, a presentation from Jo Winsloe from the London Interfaith Centre, Catriona Robertson from the London Peace Network and a talk by Charlotte Fisher from London Citizens. Members of the synagogue had their names written in traditional Islamic calligraphy by renowned calligrapher Samir Malik.

Rabbi Baruch Levin said: “Events of this kind are hugely important as they break down perceived barriers between faith communities at a local level, thereby enriching the sense of social cohesion and highlighting the range of common interests that we share”.

Daniel Turner said: “Learning about each other’s religious customs and practices made for a wonderful day and it was thrilling to see how keen ourvisitors were to find out about Judaism. For our part, learning about Islam was truly fascinating, and the excitement of visiting the old Brondesbury Synagogue, as it once was, was a memorable experience. I am looking forward to continuing to build our friendship with the foundation.”

Sayid Yousif Al Khoei said,”The reciprocal meeting between the Brondesbury Park community and the Al Khoei Foundation was an inspiring event which demonstrated a deep commitment to good community relations. It was heartening and wonderful to learn that everyone enjoyed an informed perspective on both faiths contributing to significantly to community cohesion. Good community relations are at the heart of a society where people can live together harmoniously as neighbours.”

Aliya Azam said, ” The reciprocal meeting between the Al Khoei Foundation and the Brondesbury Synagogue was a spiritually uplifting event. It is recognised that contributing to community relations is only one dimension of Religious Education. RE can be a strong contributor to good community relations through enabling students and adults to acquire systematic knowledge and conceptual understanding of religions. We all learnt about our beliefs from each other during this visit and visitors through personal encounters. The encounter enabled people to articulate their own opinions while respecting the right of others to differ. Students who participated were empowered with confidence and openness in dialogue. Overall the event had an extremely positive impact on the community.”
Aliya Azam, Al-Khoei Foundation and President, Christian Muslim Forum

 

IS THIS ISLAM?

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua*

Shortly after the release of the video of the Chibok abducted girls by Abubakar Shekau, Mallam Sikiru visited me in the office. Sikiru understands Arabic. He is also vast in Islamic theology. He has travelled to Egypt, Medina, Yemen, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. He quotes the Bible in a religious conversation to show that he likes inter-religious dialogue. I told him that I have some of the videos of Shekau in Arabic and English. He was excited and requested to listen to them. After watching four of the video clips, he exclaimed almost in a rage as if he could kill Shekau the next minute. “Stupid, rubbish, is this Islam?” He continued, “the terrorist activities of this lunatic is capable of causing ‘islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) in Nigeria.” “Why do you think so? Is it not true that the Muslims in Nigeria have denied that Shekau and his terrorist group are Muslims?” I asked.
“Father”, he said, “let us critically look at this videos in the context of the teaching of Islam. In the first video we just watched, Shekau said that the Christians sent somebody to Egypt to learn the secret of Islam. The person came back and revealed the secrets of the Qur’an to every body. Since then, people do not respect the Qur’an again. Because of that many Muslims in Nigeria have lost their Islam all in the name of Western education. “What is the secret of Islam? Is the ‘Islam’ of Shekau a secret cult? It appears that Islam for Shekau is violence and death. True Islam is peace. If any Muslim has lost Islam in Nigeria, it is Shekau and his men / women who have lost their Islam. The Islam I know is peace. If Shekau has peace, why is he living in the forest?”
To Shekau’s assertion that his war is against Christians, Sikiru recalled the early relationship between the Muslims and the Christians (people of the book). He reiterated that the action of Boko Haram is simply criminal. He regrets that when the seed of hatred for other religions was being sown in the minds of children in some part of Northern Nigeria, some traditional, religious and political leaders did not know that a time would come when a group of terrorists beyond their control would emerge. If they had the premonition, they could have nipped from the bud, any form of religious intolerance. The challenge now facing every orthodox Muslim is how to correct the false perception of Islam that Shekau has presented to the world.
On the video where the kidnapped girls were reciting the Qur’an, here is the reaction of Malam Sikiru. “Where in Islam are people converted with a gun? These girls wearing full veils and praying in an undisclosed location is an abuse of hijab. If Abubakar Shekau is a true Muslim, why should he, wearing military uniform and holding an AK-47 chant ‘God is great’ and appears confident laughing to show that human trauma means nothing to him. This man is heartless! Boko Haram militants claim to be fighting for an Islamic state. Perhaps, the terrorists group believe that through the Boko Harram terrorist operation, Nigeria one day will be like the modern Islamic nations that were once upon a time dominated by Christians.”
Sikiru was very disturbed with this Shekau statement: “All I am saying is that if you want us to release the girls that we have kidnapped, those who have not accepted Islam will be treated as the Prophet treated infidels and they will stay with us. We will not release them while you detain our brothers.” Sikiru interpreted this statement as an insult on the prophet of Islam. He wonders why the Muslims among the girls needed a second conversion. He said that the Christians among the girls who have been forced to wear hijab can never be true Muslims because it is forbidden to force somebody to convert. Is this Islam? Sikiru queried again! If you understand Arabic, you would laugh when Shekau says that he will kill Goodluck Jonathan, Barak Obama, and destroy all the Western technology. Yet he is holding a gun that he did not manufacture and used a vehicle he did not manufacture to transport the Chibok girls to unknown destination. Shekau said that no one can defeat him because Allah is with him. Sikiru wondered if Shekau’s Allah is the same God that every body believes in!
While Sikiru was still talking, Jibril knocked and entered. Jibril happens to be a friend of Sikiru. He came to tell Sikiru that somebody was waiting for him, but he too suddenly got involved in the conversation. Jibril introduced another dimension to the discussion. His problem was that many Christians are now thinking that Muslims cannot be trusted. Some Christians according to him now think that some Muslims are comfortable with what Boko Haram is doing to create an Islamic state. Jibril almost changed the topic, “You see, what Christians do not know is that there are many sects in Islam.” He wanted to lists the sects but Sikiru was not patient with him.
He responded immediately, “Is Boko Haram a Sect? Tell me which sect of Islam preaches this type of violence and terrorism? Boko Haram is a sect of criminals and not Islam, period! You talk of trust. Is not Trust a virtue that is cultivated and built over a period of time? Why is Borno and the other states that have become the citadel of Boko Haram different from other States? It will take another generation before Borno will recover itself again? If not for the effort of the military and the security agents, by now Borno would either be forgotten or converted to a terrorist empire with Boko Haram system of government.” Jibril kept quiet for a while and then submitted that Boko Haram is waging war on Islam. He supported this position with the following reason, “When all the electronic and social media were playing Shekau’s video with the girls chanting the Qur’an, one can conclude that the fear of many non-Muslims is justified. Many had believed that Boko Haram has an agenda to create an Islamic State. But the question is, what kind of Islam would be practised in such state.
I told Sikiru and Jibril that there is no need to cry over spilled milk. If there is a will to change, there is a way. I drew their attention to the Second African Synod of 2008 that emphasized the need for a collaborative effort between Christians and Muslims. The Synod identified the need of “Joining our Spiritual Forces” to remind Africans of their inner spiritual force to address common concerns. What we need actually now should not be an argument about whether Boko Haram is a religious sect or not. The point is that evil has befallen our nation.
What matters now is that the victims of these terrorists are human beings. “We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the high places (Ephesians 6, 12). The devil is incarnated in our land and we must do something very fast. We must pray more now than ever before. This is the time to put aside our political differences. Very soon the flames will consume the person who made this fire. We need to save Nigerians and Nigeria. Otherwise, those who think that they must rule Nigeria by hook or crook may end up only as leaders of the cemetery. I do not have the answer to the question, “Is this Islam” that Boko Haram is propagating? If you have the answer, I will be happy to learn but for now, let us put all our spiritual resources together to save our children and our nation.

 

*Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City comonokhua@hotmail.com).

 

 

Pedalling Pilgrim 2

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Following on from 2012′s sponsored ride which raised £1130 for our women’s projects I am riding again, in London this time, on a ‘Boris bike’. Read the blog from last time here.

I will be riding 42 miles around the Barclays hire zone (roughly Zone 2) on Thursday 29 May. I will begin at Euston station, then via Camden Town, Hackney and Bethnal Green to Mile End, then Isle of Dogs, Southwark, Imperial War Museum and out to the West. Then on the Westway, round Regents Park and back to Euston. At roughly 5 miles per half hour (factoring in London traffic lights) my target time is around 4 hours. I hope to start at around 7 am.

I will be docking the bike within each 30 min free hire period then walking/jogging to another docking station (5 min access reset period). This will give me time to log my location on Twitter with a photo, hopefully including places of worship along the route. Do let me know if you think I will be anywhere near your church or mosque (or synagogue, temple or gurdwara).

I am aiming (ambitiously) to raise £4200 – £100 per mile. The amount raised will go towards our dialogues programme around London, dialogue locations so far have included Finsbury Park, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Old Kent Road, Streatham, Brent. We aim to do more in Feltham, Southwark and other places.

Donations via Virgin Giving Pedalling Pilgrim 2 page or our website’s Donation page.

Julian Bond
Director (and biker)
Christian Muslim Forum
#PedallingPilgrim2 @julianbond12 @chrismusforum

Some of our dialogues:

In my home town of Leighton Buzzard on 28 April ‘Forgiveness’

Lunchtime Dialogue in Whitechapel, 13 May

‘Jesus and Muhammad’ – Reflections or Distortions, 16 June, Westminster, part of our ‘Near Neighbours 2′ programme

‘Multiculturalism – Problem or Solution?’, 26 June, Whitechapel

Pedalling Pilgrim 2012

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

I set off at around 06.00 on Tuesday morning (8 May 2012) in light rain. I arrived at Aylesbury just before 07.00 having unexpectedly met one of my former colleagues from Customs and Excise who I hadn’t seen for around 15 years. Aylesbury Mosque was closed (as was St Mary’s Church) so prayers (I was marking stages of the journey with prayer) were outside, there’s a good picture of the front door of St Mary’s on my own Facebook page.

St_Mary_Aylesbury
By the time I got to Stoke Mandeville it was raining again, then off to Oxford.

There was a very long queue of traffic at the roundabout on the outskirts of Thame which I was able to overtake, one of the advantages of a bicycle. Ran out of steam (I am an analogue cyclist) at Wheatley, so here is an advert for ‘Kendal’s Mint Cake’! Very good cycle track alongside the A40 on the Oxford ring road, as wide as a road and of road quality. I was beeped by the inevitable motorist later when I was back on the A40 who probably thought I should be on the cycle track. The weather had dried up on reaching Oxford. I was very surprised to find that by the time I met up with Heather Al-Yousuf in rural Oxfordshire I had already done 47 miles and was over half way to Cheltenham. I felt much refreshed after buns and a stroll in the bluebell wood and a visit to the parish church.

I continued along quiet country roads near the A40, taking a few pictures of churches. I took the wrong turning at Windrush and ended up back on the A40 instead of continuing along the minor roads. About 10 miles out of Cheltenham one of my spokes snapped and my back wheel buckled, about the same time as my Achilles tendon did something similar. This began to slow things down a little. At Charlton Kings on the outskirts of Cheltenham another spoke snapped (I had my bike serviced last week) the back wheel buckled some more and was now totally useless. I walked through the High Street until I got to the bike shop, which by some coincidence (?) was next door to Madina al-Masjid. They agreed to fix my bike for the next morning.

I attended Asr prayers at the Masjid and had a chat with a couple of the members afterwards. I told them about the work of the Christian Muslim Forum and that, although for them it seemed natural that Christians and Muslims should get on, it wasn’t always the case and there was a great deal of negativity towards Muslims in wider society. I immediately hurried along to the Alpha course starting at Trinity Cheltenham (Evangelical Anglican), I was soon telling one of the members that I had just been to prayers at the mosque round the corner. It was interesting that this Alpha didn’t use the videos featuring Nicky Gumbel. I was also joined by a friend from Gloucestershire University who had never been to Alpha before, we both shared that we had been to college together 25 years previously. I also shared with the group the Pedalling Pilgrim mission and mentioned visiting mosques and churches. The presentation was quite long and there were a lot of people in our group so the discussion was quite short. I had an interesting conversation with one of the members who had previously had a Muslim girlfriend.

Day Two of ‘Pedalling Pilgrim’ (9 May 2012)

The bike shop were very good with their service and my bike was repaired in the morning. The weather was good too, in Cheltenham at least, Oxford however was a different matter, very wet again. I missed the Bath Road masjid as I cycled up Cowley Road but dropped into Manzil Way masjid instead, it was before zuhr prayers when I arrived and I didn’t feel like hanging around for another 30 mins waiting for the prayers. I didn’t attempt to visit a church as I was keen to get back. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos on day two as Facebook on my phone had exhausted my battery, very disappointing, if I do anything like this again, even though I like travelling light I will take my charger. Also padded underwear as a friend strongly recommended afterwards.

From Oxford it was about 35 miles of soggy cycling, though even on a rainy day it doesn’t rain all the time. I had a pleasant route through the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire countryside and took a recommended route on the outskirts of Oxford that I had decided against on the way there, the gradient was very good and cycling was smooth, unlike the A40 and A418.

The last part of the route is a long downhill run from Wing to Leighton Buzzard, an encouraging end to the journey. It was good to be home after two days of cycling. I don’t think I’ll be doing anything like this for a while but am seriously considering better equipment and even a better bike.

Many thanks to all those who supported me with sponsorship and in other ways too. The total raised was £1130. I am publishing this now (originally posted on Facebook in 2012) as I prepare for Pedalling Pilgrim 2 – Boris Biking round London – in May 2014. Join me and help raise more?

The money raised was used for our Women’s Programme ‘Come to the Edge’ which was mostly funded by Near Neighbours, we were able to allocate additional amounts for consultancy and publicity, including video and website improvements.

If you like our work, or our articles and blogs, you can make a donation here

Julian Bond
Director (and biker)
Christian Muslim Forum

Day 7 – Holy space misery

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Dome of Rock

Ajmal Masroor’s Diary of Jerusalem

My day begun with my own internal conflict, I could not reconcile the most obvious questions – who should have the right to rule this place and why should anyone have the right to exclusively possess this land?

The entire demography of this land has been forcibly changed. As I walk through the Old city of Jerusalem I noticed the obvious signs of forcible alteration of the ethnic and religious make up of this Holy Land. It was not that long ago that the city had a very vibrant and well established Christian and Muslim population. But looking at the faces of these two communities in todays Jerusalem, I often had tears in my eyes. They both look defeated, deflated and tired of the daily struggles just to live. Is this all worth the miserable existence?

I met one Jerusalem house owner who had applied for permission to renovate his house and add an extension to his generation owned property but has been refused every time. Subsequently the local municipality prosecuted him for living in a house that did not comply with health and safety laws. They issued orders to demolish his house and confiscate his land. He is living on his own land waiting for it to be stolen by the state of Israel any day. I could only empathise with is plight but I know what I would do to protect my property if someone attempted to steal it from me.

Another prominent Muslim leader in Jerusalem waited for twelve years to gain permission to build his house so he could provide adequate space to his family and growing children. Over the last sixty years the Zionist state of Israel has systematically decanted the city of the Muslims and Christians population by stealing their land and confiscated their properties. The idea is to have Jewish majority in the city as soon as possible in the same way as they have achieved in the rest State of Israel. Palestinians have less that 10% of the land and before 1967 they had approximately 50%.

The signs of ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Christians from the holy city of Jerusalem was clearly visible at every turn you took. New illegal settlement was sprawling every days. When I looked at the Jewish people in Jerusalem, they did not look happy. They too were tired of living in constant fear. Despite the naked display of machines guns, military presence, check points, regular and arbitrary arrest of Palestinians, Jewish population were watching over their backs every minute. I saw a group of Jewish young man walking through the old city’s Muslim quarter. They were literally running. I caught up with one of them and asked him why was he running and looking so fearful. What he said had cold shiver run down my back. He said, “The Arabs are looking for any opportunity to kill us but this is our city, God gave it to us and we will stay here”.

Contrast that with what a Palestinian young man told me. I was equally shocked to hear his words and even more concerned by his resolve. He said, “The Jews are extremely afraid to die but they want to fight with us, we are very happy to die while fighting for our home, how many can they kill”. The attitudes summed it up for me. I realized the profound reality – this land and its inhabitants are not ready for peace and it will remain like this for as long as the occupiers remain.

“This is the holy Land and is clearly designated as such in the Torah, Bible and the Quran”, don’t all parties make that claim? However, I ask can someone please tell me where does it is say that it cannot be shared? I have been pulling my hair out for the last seven days looking through various scriptures and speaking to experts and scholars, no one has been able to show me a single shred evidence that corroborate the exclusivist view.

Probably it is also one of the most conflicted parts of the world. Over a small rock so much death and destruction has been inflicted on the local inhabitants throughout time. Does God truly want us to wage wars, squabble and cause so much misery over a piece of land? I think not, yet all parties Jews, Christian and Muslims, have fought each other over who should have the superior right to dominate this land. In my view they fought using flimsy excuses, certainly disastrous for the humanity and unacceptable to God!

My Christian colleagues from this programme wanted to visit Haram Al-Sharif. They have been watching us go in and out for prayers and have been longing for an opportunity to see it with their own eyes. The Haram is open to the non-Muslims at designated time especially in the mornings. The Jordanian Awqqaf (Islamic Endowment), who has been the custodians of the Haram, invited our group for the special visit. This precinct is steeped with history and every inch of it has marks from prophets of thousands of years.

Al-Aqsa Mosque looks humble from the outside but inside it is truly magnificent. It was built around year 15AH (After Hijra, the Muslim calendar indicating the number years after the migration of the blessed prophet from Makkah to Madinah). The Romans exiled the Jews from the city when they were ruling Jerusalem but Omar, the second Caliph of Islam, invited as many as seventy families back into the city. Muslims restored the rights of return for the Jewish refugees but sadly the Jewish people of Israel today have forgotten the generosity of the Muslims. They have refused the right of return of the Palestinian people that they expelled and who have been refugees for the last 65 years. Under the Islamic rule the entire region and the Holy Land has seen peace, prosperity, safety and security for all its inhabitants but Israel only protects its Jewish citizens!

Our guide told us the story of Al Aqsa Mosque but he also reminded me to give him some “baksheesh” – backhanders. Unfortunately the culture of bribery is rampant in many parts of the developing world. I was upset with him for seeking bribe and I told him discreetly that while he was receiving a reasonable salary for his job he should not demand bribes. If people want to give him a tip because of his service that is a different matter. He did not look pleased.

The people who defeated the mighty Persian and Roman empires sent its Caliph Omar to receive the keys of the city from the Christian Patriarch Saint Sophronius. Omar’s humble appearance and disheveled clothes struck the Christians of the city as odd and embarrassing. They were dressed in exquisite cloaks made of silk, gold and silver. They adorned hats that had fine ornaments and embroideries and carried their holy staff made of even more expensive metal. Omar was wearing a dirty rag that had become even more stained by his long and arduous journey.

Historians have noted the fact that Omar was not just humble but he was free from material greed. When the patriarch offered Omar majestic clothes he refused saying, “It is not right for a man to take from another what God has not decreed for him, for God has given to each and every one of humanity from His Divine knowledge, and he who desires to receive something from his companion exceeding that, does so against God.”

The local Christians were extremely embarrassed and Omar noted their feeling of humiliation due to his attire so he reluctantly agreed to borrow the clothes they were offering. Omar said, “Because you request it of me, and have shown me such great honour, please lend me these clothes and I will wear them while you wash mine. When mine are returned, I will return these clothes to you.”

The 12th Century Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Michael, says about Omar, “He was certainly just and removed from greed, to the degree that from all the empire that the Arabs ruled, that is, from all the wealth and treasures of the Romans and Persians, he took nothing for himself. He did not change the simplicity of his habits, not even the piece of hide that was placed under him when he rode by camel and that he used for sitting on the ground or sleeping on.”

The site of the current Al-Aqsa mosque was a rubbish tip under the reign of the Romans. They kept the space dirty and derelict almost deliberately to deride the Jews and prevent them from returning. After liberating the city Omar himself got his hands dirty, clearing the land of dirt and debris; along with his companions they lay down the foundation of the Al-Aqsa mosque at the Southern part of the precinct. Some of the companions wanted the mosque to be build closer to the rock but Omar insisted on the southernmost part of the mount. It was a simple structure made of wooden trusses and designed to accommodate 3000 worshippers.

I stood at the site of the Mosque that was founded by Omar and my mind raced through hundreds of years back in the days of the great companions. I could imagine how their bare hands must have torn through the rubbles, how the rotten garbage of the Romans must have soiled their clothes and how the stench of the decomposing waste would have suffocated them. They were determined to ensure that the future of this Holy precinct had a permanent Islamic landmark. If it was not of the great insight of Omar, the first Qibla of the Muslims and the 3rd holiest site in Islam could have been permanently lost. I was grateful to Omar and his companions and thanked God for such a brilliant leadership.

The Dome of the Rock is the most visible landmark from every part of Jerusalem. The story of this rock is equally fascinating. The Umayyad Caliph Abdul Malik Marwan ordered the construction of the golden dome on the highest spot in the precinct around Al-Aqsa Mosque. He assigned the task to two prominent and trusted confidants and ordered the construction on the years between 71-72 AH. It was reported that Abdul Malik Marwan felt that the Land of Shaam – Syria, as it was known at that time consisted of current Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon and had Christian and Jewish buildings of magnificent splendour and grandeur. He felt Islam’s presence in the Holy Land must be more striking than its competing religions.

He certainly achieved that.

As we walked around the Dome of the Rock enjoying the breathtaking architecture and the serene peacefulness of the space one of the priests asked me, “Is number eight a significant number in Islam?” I was rather surprised by his question. I asked him why he was interested in number eight. He told me that the number eight is significant in Christianity as it represents the entrance into the Covenant of God. This understanding comes from God Himself who commanded Circumcision – the Sign of the Covenant – to be performed on the Eighth Day. He wanted to know if the Dome of the Rock had any Christian influence. He was not totally wrong with his premonition. A quick look at the books of history revealed some amazing examples of coexistence and shared perspective of the Holy Land under the Muslim rule. Abdul Malik appointed two engineers as in charge of the project. They were Raja Ibn Haywah, a theologist from Baysan and Yazid Ibn Salam, a Christian slave of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and a native of Jerusalem. The octagonal shape must have originated from and influenced by the shared perspective to most things in the Holy Land.

The magnificent Dome of the Rock was built and presented to the Muslim world as a wonder and unique space but the adjacent Al Alqsa mosque was too simple for Abdul Malik. He ordered the building of another stunning space that would include the Mosque Omar had built. Unfortunately Abdul Malik died but his son Walid took up the challenge to complete his father life’s mission. The existing mosque was replaced and enlarged to accommodate over 50,000 worshippers. The subterranean part of the mosque also known as the Marwani mosque alone could accommodate 15,000 worshippers. Various Muslim rulers throughout the years have added their own hallmark on the buildings and made it even more impressive. Every time I went there to pray I was awestruck by the breathtaking beauty of this place and the peace it gave me in my heart. I felt happy on the Holy precinct.

I have a very raw nerve that is easily pulled when I witness or hear about injustices. I have a deep level of anger and hatred against the Crusaders. When they captured Jerusalem in year 492 AH or 1099 CE the Dome of the Rock was given to the Augustinians, who turned it into a church while the Al-Aqsa Mosque became a royal palace. The basement was converted into a stable. They killed more than 70,000 men, women and children in the vicinity of Al-Aqsa all in the name of Jesus. I could not imagine Jesus would ever condone these rivers of blood in the Holy Land.

As I walked over the stones I could picture the warm blood of those slain by the brutal crusading army gushing out and rolling over the land and staining it. I could hear the cries of the innocent women who were raped and left to die or simply beheaded. I could hear the screams of those children who were executed for being born in Muslim families. I am not sure if I would ever be able to forgive or forget the crusaders. They perpetrated evil in the name of religion.

One old man took me by my arm in the Haram and said, “Come with me”. I followed him and he took me to a place that made me feel horrified and sick to the core. He said, “This is the base of the biggest cross the crusaders had erected in this exact spot and they crucified hundreds of Muslims right here”. They watched these Muslims bleed to death in agony and pain; the crusaders celebrated and demonstrated their satisfaction that they have rid the Holy Land of the infidels. They felt they had won their holy war.

I stood there, numb and tears streaming down my cheeks. I contemplated God’s justice will prevailed one day and certainly on the Day of Judgment those who are responsible for the murder and mayhem will be brought to face the ultimate justice.

The famous Muslim leader Salahaddin liberated this land from the Crusaders and delivered a free Holy Land for Muslims, Jews and Christians to share, worship and enjoy. He could have cut down every Christian in the city but he didn’t. He was a true leader and was able to heal the communities through forgiveness and encouraging the shared perspectives.

British historian Karen Armstrong describes the second Islamic capture of Jerusalem in these words:

“On 2 October 1187 Saladin and his army entered Jerusalem as conquerors and for the next 800 years Jerusalem would remain a Muslim city… Saladin kept his word, and conquered the city according to the highest Islamic ideals. He did not take revenge for the 1099 massacre, as the Koran advised (16:127), and now that hostilities had ceased he ended the killing (2:193-194). Not a single Christian was killed and there was no plunder. The ransoms were deliberately very low…

Saladin was moved to tears by the plight of families who were rent asunder and he released many of them freely, as the Koran urged, though to the despair of his long-suffering treasurers. His brother al-Adil was so distressed by the plight of the prisoners that he asked Saladin for a thousand of them for his own use and then released them on the spot…

When Imad ad-Din saw the Patriarch Heraclius leaving the city with chariots crammed with treasure, he urged Saladin to confiscate it. But Saladin refused. The Koran said that oaths and treaties must be kept to the letter and it was essential that the Muslims should observe the legalities… Heraclius paid his ten-dinar ransom like everybody else and was even provided with a special escort to keep his treasure safe during the journey to Tyre.”

At the order of Salahuddin the entire Al Aqsa Mosque as well the Dome of the Rock and all its adjacent buildings were comprehensively renovated and restored. Salahuddin bought stability in the region and provided great governance. He brought the warring nations together.

I asked one of my colleagues, “What price do we pay for the loss of thousands of innocent lives at the hands of the crusaders? Can revenge ever be a befitting tribute to those whose lives have been abruptly brought to an end? Can people ever extend their love even to their enemies?”

I was told my a local Palestinian that in the 1967 war a Jewish soldier desecrated the Dome of the Rock by climbing up to the top of the dome and placing an Israeli flag, which was taken down swiftly. The political leadership of Israel realized the grave consequence of his action and the potential global reprisal. While Israel took Jerusalem from the Muslims hands, the Al-Aqsa precinct was handed over to the Jordanian government for custodianship. It still remains with the Jordanian Awqaf (religious endowment). When the Israeli security forces control everything in the area, a tokenistic Jordanian custodianship of the Haram is a crumb not worth having!

In 1969 A Jewish extremist set fire to the mosque pulpit burning down not just the wooden pulpit placed there by Nooruddin Zenghi but it burned down the entire mosque. The fire spread very quickly and the entire building was destroyed. However Muslim countries from all over the world woke up to the ashes of Al-Aqsa and pulled together funds to help rebuild the mosque. The Hashimite King of Jordan sold his own assets to fund the restoration project.

My daydream was shuttered. I was brought to this world from the memory lanes I was exploring by one of the worshippers. He smiled and greeted me asking me where I was from. I told him, “I am Palestinian”. He Smiled and said, “you are welcome” and hugged me. The people who suffer so much misery at the hands of the Israeli army still had enough warmth to hug even a stranger. I was very moved by his action.

The current mosque is very beautiful and was designed in a way that would standout. The vertical columns formed a unified yet symmetrically aligned space from every angle. The height with several layers of arches provided the perfect illusion of space and reverberated the sound from one end of the building to the other. The dome, mihrab and the pulpit all fit perfectly in the grand and yet humble design. They remind the worshippers of the infinite beauty of God. For God who created the brain of those craftsmen to produce this wonder must be more beautiful. There were Arabic inscriptions everywhere, some were Quranic verses and some were names of prominent companions of the Prophet.

The space was illustrious and breathtaking. Every time I walked inside my entire body directed me to do one thing – prostrate. My mind could not fathom his sublime beauty and power, my heart longed for a moment of heavenly inspiration and when I placed my head on the ground to prostrate my entire being was in total submission. No wonder the Arabic word for mosque is Masjid, which literally means place of prostration. I find great pleasure in prostration and felt humbled that I was able to place my head on the ground where many prophets have prostrated.

As I entered Al-Aqsa mosque I noticed one striking difference between the cultures here in Palestine and the cultures in many Muslim countries. Here men and women pray in the same space. Women are not banished in a broom cupboard somewhere. They are not isolated from the main part of the mosque. They prayed at the back of the main hall and could feel and experience the togetherness in prayer. Compare that with the UK where gender segregation has become a major issue in some Muslim communities. There are mosques that do not have space for women to pray. There are mosques that do not allow the women to attend even a public function. There are mosques where men go mental if they see a woman inside. I was extremely pleased at witnessing the gender equality and balance brilliantly maintained in the collective space of prostration – Masjid and in the 3rd holiest site in Islam.

I pointed it to the Christian and Muslim members of our group that Palestinians have understood the true meaning of gender harmony and interactions. I prayed to God for the UK Muslims to wake up and realize the backwardness of some of them who so strictly adhere to these alien ideas and often confuse them with cultural preferences. A mosque must have space for women and must provide the space in the main hall of the mosque. Muslim women should stand for their right and demands a fair and adequate space or stop giving the mosques their donations. In my view it is simple – those who insist on denying women the right to access and space in the mosques must come to Al Aqsa mosque and see it with their own eyes how the Prophetic model of gender segregation works. It is about shared perspective, if Muslim men and women cannot share their sacred space, how could I expect others to share?

The entire precinct felt peaceful until I heard loud shouts from a group of women. They were chanting “Allahu Akbar” repeatedly and in chorus. At first I didn’t understand what was happening. But very soon I realized the reason behind the angry outburst. A group of Jewish visitors, mainly young man, wearing their skullcap, were walking around the Haram. As a means of protest mainly the Muslim women take a vocal stance. Usually for such low-key protest the Israeli security would not harass the women but men would normally get taken away and locked up. They are held without charge for weeks.

I stood there watching the coming and going of many visitors. Those who did not wear any clear mark of their religious identity such a cross or Jewish attire did not attract any attention. In fact I had eight Christian priests around me and no body bat an eyelid. One person took me aside and whispered to me in Arabic, “visitors are welcome to visit the Haram, take pictures and interact with us but we don’t want any Jewish people to come here. They bring trouble to our mosques.”

By the time we finished our tour the place was heaving with visitors who were respectfully and happily taking pictures and listening to many tour guides. I was looking for an old man who I have heard in my previous visits reading the Quran loudly and with a beautiful melodious voice but I did not hear him nor find him this time. I was very sad and disappointed; I really liked his recitation and was looking forward to hearing him again. I asked a few people about him but no body had any clear information. He may have been ill but I feared the worse may have happened to him, dead of detained! The inhabitants of the Holy Land live with this possibility more than any other people on this earth. I prayed for his success wherever he was.

We walked around the courtyard to the South Eastern part and found small vents cut out in the massive stones that were used to build the perimeter walls of the Mosque. If you carefully looked though the small gap what you see is mark of clear discrimination and desperation. I showed one of my Christian colleagues the dilapidated houses of the Palestinians dotted around the Eastern side of the valley. Their houses were not renovated by the state of Israel unlike the illegal settlers homes. Their houses were crumbling but Israel would refuse to give permission for renovation and if it did give such permission it would have been exorbitantly expensive process that would include architect’s fees, lawyers’ fees, court fees and even trail fees. Most Palestinians would face financial ruin in the process. Some simply didn’t bother as they were struggling to make ends meet in the first place.

I was told that there are Zionist charity organisations in America that supported Israeli illegal settlement building programme and gave grants to Jewish people renovating or buying Palestinian properties. They operate openly and even advertise their generous grants in the Western countries. Imagine setting up a charity in the UK or the USA that supported Palestinians reclaiming the illegal settlements, renovating homes or buying land from the Jewish neighbours. There would be outcry and newspapers like the Daily Mail and Telegraph would run headlines stating “UK Muslims fund terrorism in Israel!”

There are many militant Zionist lobby groups that operate ruthless intimidation and character assignation strategies in the West. They would be quick to impress upon the government and the media to label these charities as funding terrorism. Even mastermind the closure or asset freeze of these charities. We know of a few that had their accounts frozen simply because they were supporting Palestinians families.

I left the Haram Al-Sharif to walk around the western parts of Jerusalem. This is also known as the Jewish quarter. I went through the security gates – metal fences with scanners and detectors, when making my way to the Waling Wall. I came here a couple of days back but didn’t have the time to explore the place. This time I had a lot of time to walk around and feel the area and watch with my own eyes the Jewish communities homes and places of worship.

The Waling Wall is in the western outer wall of Haram Al-Sharif and according to the Jewish traditions this is the closest to the holiest of the holy spot to the Solomon’s Temple. It has been a bone of contention between Jews and Muslims for years and many people have lost their lives and properties. Jewish scholars have claimed that Solomon, son of prophet David, built the temple to house the Arch of Covenant some 2000 years ago. In 1967’s Arab Israeli war Jerusalem was annexed by the Zionist state of Israel. They bulldozed the 700 years old Moroccan quarter in the area immediately to create the courtyard, which would accommodate the Jewish people when they come to worship at the wall.

Many historians oppose the Jewish claim sighting archeological and historic evidence to show that Solomon never built the second temple at this site. Whatever is the claim, why would God ask to subjugate other people in order to simply expose a piece rock? Is a piece of Rock more important than the honour of another human being? How many lives and how much blood needs to be spilled for a rock?

In the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem what immediately strikes you are the following factors: the streets are incredibly clean, developed and well maintained and the entire area is extremely organised. There were street lamps, dustbins, leveled pavements and even Mediterranean style cafes and restaurants. The Arabs of Jerusalem pay their taxes too but why are there obvious anomalies? The Arab quarters have been left to wrought.

There is no peace without true justice, these are Gods words and the words of thousands of great people who have come and gone. Palestine needs justice and this will pave the way to peace.

Day 8 will be published  … tbc

© Ajmal Masroor March 30, 2014

Being Interfaith Literate: A Guide To Online Interfaith Etiquette

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Netiquette für einen freundlichen Umgangston im Netz (Bild: Thinkstock)

One criticism occasionally directed at Interfaith Dialogue is that it has the potential to involve a lot of theoretical chit-chat with little substance or practical application in the real world. Open and constructive communication is, however, the foundation of good relationships between people of different faiths. It is the basis of everything that follows. If we’re not able to speak to people who uphold different beliefs without getting red-faced and in a huff then any sort of joint Interfaith event or venture will be rendered impossible. For that reason we have to become Interfaith Literate. This means understanding the potential effects of the words we use, learning to use inclusive language, and developing ways of diffusing negatively-charged conversations.

This article focuses on the etiquette of interfaith conversation, particularly within an online setting, as many of us are introduced to interfaith dialogue through social media or organisations such as the Christian Muslim forum.

1. Be prepared for disagreement.

Before we start, we should acknowledge the fact that Interfaith interactions are going to be uncomfortable and awkward at times. The stereotype of cosy meetings with tea and biscuits is often a far cry from the reality. When disagreements happen (and they certainly will), we shouldn’t panic, declare the situation a hopeless cause, and simply give up. Disagreement is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, a debate where everyone has the same view is essentially a mutual appreciation society. When we all agree, we have a tendency to become rigid and self-congratulatory; smug even. Being among people with different beliefs can actually help us in our personal attempts towards humility. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own beliefs and hopefully become more flexible and understanding as a result.

2. Be positive.

Whether we are speaking face to face with someone or communicating via social media, we should aim to create a space where people can be open and honest. We should acknowledge the fact that the other person is allowing themselves to be vulnerable as they share their experiences and we shouldn’t abuse that position. As such, blunt statements like ‘you’re wrong’ should be avoided. Accusations like these make us defensive and reluctant to share.  As a way of avoiding such direct comments, Interfaith worker Peter Adams recommends that we, ‘look for the good rather than something to disagree with.’ In this way we promote positive dialogue rather than confrontation.

3. Be inclusive.

Interfaith is as much about self-exploration and the individual as it is about larger groups of people getting along. As interfaith participants we should recognise that no two individuals interpret religious doctrine or experience the world and/or God in the same way. Therefore, we should avoid using sweeping statements like ‘we believe this’ or ‘you believe that.’ Both create and promote a counterproductive dichotomy of ‘Us and Them’. Rather, it is often more useful to speak about our own personal beliefs using ‘I believe’ or ‘I think.’ In this way, as Imam Jamal Rahman (one third of the Interfaith Amigos) says, we can ‘get to know each other on a personal, human level. That’s the best way to overcome the divide of different theologies.’ (view full video) Interfaith starts from within – opening up our hearts and then reaching out to others as fellow individuals.

4. Be mindful.

Adopting inclusive language goes hand in hand with an increased awareness of how our words can be interpreted or misinterpreted. We might think that using a nifty war metaphor such as ‘go into battle’ or ‘confront the enemy’ will pack a powerful rhetorical punch but it will probably just be interpreted as unnecessarily aggressive and undermine anything positive that we wanted to say. In particular we should avoid “loaded” words such as ‘infidel’ or ‘kaffir.’ Strong verbs like ‘deny’ or ‘reject’ are also common culprits of discord and are counterproductive to interfaith discourse.

4. Be responsible.

Becoming interfaith literate means that we develop an acute sense of responsibility when we interact with others. Whether we are in a closed group, private conversation or public space, we should conduct ourselves as if anyone can hear or read what we say. That could include friends, people from the same denomination, and crucially, those who don’t share our views. Therefore, we have to think, do our words target or ridicule people with different beliefs? Are they a ruse to unite certain groups against another group? Any divisive tactic goes against the very essence of interfaith which is an all-encompassing and inclusive way of interacting that allows us to transcend human-made boundaries and make personal connections with people from all faith and non-faith backgrounds.

5. Be clear.

We’ve all had arguments where one person is upset about what was said while the other was angry about how it was said. No matter how long the argument continues, the two people are never going to be able to resolve the problem unless they recognise that they’re talking about entirely different things. For that reason, it’s important to make it clear which aspect we’re commenting on during interfaith interactions. Are you challenging certain ideas or the way those ideas were expressed? This pre-emptive clarification is particularly useful in online conversations which are particularly prone to misunderstandings.

We should also bear in mind that English is not everyone’s first language and so we should allow for translation issues. If someone isn’t a native English speaker, they’re not necessarily going to able to express nuance. Words like ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ might be used interchangeably or strong words like ‘must’ might be used in the place of a softer ‘should’ for instance. If we keep that in mind, we can avert unnecessary upsets.

6. Be kind.

When someone makes a faux pas, we should be kind rather than pouncing on that person
They might not have realized how their words would be interpreted or they may still be getting to grips with the concept of Interfaith.  We’ve all said things in badly phrased ways or completely misjudged a situation. This is how we learn. If we all knew how to communicate perfectly with each other from the get go, they’d be no need for interfaith dialogue in the first place! Mistakes are an opportunity for everyone to learn: for the person who made it and for those who respond to it.

7. Be thankful.

There’s always a part of us that wants to have the final word when we leave a discussion. Our ego creates a desire to ‘win’ at all costs and it tries to achieve this by putting others down.

Instead, we should show gratitude and thank the other person for the opportunity of speaking together. Perhaps you had polar opposite views and things got a little messy. But there’s no reason to end a conversation on a low. Showing gratitude is one way, in Peter Adams words, of ‘treating each other seriously, even when we don’t agree.’ Even ‘disastrous’ conversations give us something to reflect on and alert us to areas where we can improve.

We can also take the opportunity to apologize for any misunderstandings or wrong assumptions. Showing gratitude and offering apologies are great ways of showing mutual respect and mean that everyone leaves the discussion feeling appreciated.

@SaritaAgerman