Unique interfaith event at St George's

At a unique interfaith event at St George's, around 100 members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths said 'yes’ to standing beside one another as people of faith and ‘no’ to violence in the name of religion.

And as an act of solidarity, speakers spoke of the suffering within another's faith: Rabbi Jason Kleiman spoke of the suffering of Muslims at Srebrenica by those who considered themselves Christian, Imam Zeeshan Baloch recalled the targeting of Christians by members of the Pakistani Taliban in Lahore, and Professor Debbie Murdoch Eaton recounted examples of the persecution of the Jewish community.

PHOTO: Imam Qari Asim, Rabbi Jason Kleiman, Professor Debbie Murdoch Eaton, Jonathan Clark (Rector, St George's ), Bishop Paul and Imam Zeeshan Baloch. 

Another unique feature of the event was that the Jews, Christians and Muslims present had round table discussions about what it means to be people of faith and about the difficulties each faith group faces.

Bishop Paul Slater spoke of the leadership of Archbishop Justin Welby in saying ‘no’ to violence in the name of religion; Jewish Representative Council member Mike Fligg spoke of former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s book Not in God’s Name and Qari Asim, Senior Imam at the Makkah Mosque, spoke of his recent visit to Marrakesh where Muslim leaders from around the world drew up the Marrakesh Declaration, a document condemning violence in the name of religion.

At the conclusion of the event Jews, Christians and Muslims signed a declaration condemning violence in the name of religion, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the persecution of Christians as well as signing up to support one another as people of faith.  

In an article for the Yorkshire Post (text below) David Kibble (Reader at St George’s), Qari Asim (Senior Imam at the Makkah Mosque) and Mike Fligg (of the Chassidishe Synagogue) (all pictured left) called on all three faiths to renounce violence in the name of religion, to proclaim a God of peace, to show their traditions' compassion by serving all levels of community and to call for educational programmes to enhance religious understanding :-

First it was Paris, with 130 murdered; next Brussels, with 32 dead; and then an attack on Christians in Lahore with over 70 being killed.

In each of these three attacks, the first two by followers of so-called Islamic State, the third by a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, the perpetrators believed that they were carrying out their atrocities in the name of religion. These, and similar attacks, are committed by Islamists bent on attacking the West or attacking members of Christian and Jewish communities.

We have to acknowledge, however, that the other two Abrahamic faiths have also used violence in the name of faith: Christians slaughtered Jews in the Crusades – 800 were killed in Worms, Germany, alone in May 1096. And, as Yorkshiremen, we remember the Jews massacred in 1190 by Christians as they sought sanctuary in Clifford’s Tower in York; the massacre was preceded by mass in front of the tower by a Christian monk.

Today there are gun-toting Jewish settlers who, though not representative of mainstream Israeli opinion, can be found in Palestine.

As people of faith, we believe the time has come for members of the three Abrahamic religions to stand together against violence perpetrated in the name of faith.

Following Islamist attacks in different parts of Europe and in North Africa, we have seen Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders coming together in solidarity. Now we believe that it is time for members of churches, synagogues and mosques to do the same: to come together in solidarity to affirm that there must be no violence in religion.

Here in the UK it is time to demonstrate that Christians, Jews and Muslims together reject the use of violence against the innocent. This is our ‘no’. There may, of course, be times when a country rightly sees the need to call for a just war, but that is very different from religious believers using violence to promote what they see as their religious beliefs and practices.

But can we say ‘yes’ together? Are there things that members of our three faiths can do that are positive?

As members of the three Abrahamic faiths, we believe that together we can proclaim that God wishes people to co-exist in peace. This is something to which we can all say yes.

Of course we perceive God differently and disagree about how He has revealed Himself. Jews and Christians do not recognise Muhammad as a prophet; Jews reject the idea that Jesus is the Messiah and neither they nor Muslims accept the idea that God is trinitarian in nature. Yet that should not stop us from bearing witness together to the very existence of God.

Our second ‘yes’ is our commitment to serving our local, national and international communities with acts of service, evidencing our traditions’ commitment to compassion, justice and equity.

Christianity, Judaism and Islam all have a tradition of social responsibility, a responsibility that is embedded in our scriptures. Baroness Warsi, the first female Muslim Cabinet Minister, said that “people who do God do good”.

People of faith, as a 2014 survey demonstrates, give more to charitable projects than do those of no faith; Christians alone are giving over 100 million hours of their time each year in the service of social projects.

Our third ‘yes’ is a call for educational programmes around the globe which aim to enhance an understanding of other people’s faiths and cultures. One reason for much of the world violence we see at present is a lack of understanding on the part of one community about another. With the rise of Daesh, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Muslim religious and political leaders in the Middle East have said that Islamic State is a problem which Muslims must address.

Anyone attending the 2014 Manama Dialogue will have been left in no doubt that Middle Eastern leaders see IS as ‘their’ problem. But it is most definitely not a problem for the Muslim community alone: those of us who are not Muslims also must shoulder responsibility.

Non-Muslims need to acknowledge, for example, that there are things that the West has done which have helped to spawn its creed and practice. In some communities in the Middle East, the West is seen to be anti-Muslim: it invaded Iraq for reasons now seen as questionable and, further back, treated its lands as territory to be divided up at will. We will all need to ensure that the younger generation is made aware of how such ‘triggers’ have helped the growth of terrorism.

It is not just Muslims, then, who need to defeat Islamic State: it is all of us, not least Christians and Jews, whose histories are often inseparable from the Muslims.

Our three communities must come together to dispel misunderstanding, to develop mutual friendships and to stand together against violence.




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