Interfaith Relations in the UK Today
Our first Networking Day of 2021 was attended by 66 participants via Zoom, many of whom would probably not have been able to attend in person due to distance. One of the very few benefits of this pandemic is that most things are now possible virtually!
The NJPN Chair, Paul Southgate, welcomed us all, and the meeting opened with prayers from Fratelli Tutti
A Prayer to the Creator
Lord, Father of our human family,
you created all human beings equal in dignity:
pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
dialogue, justice, and peace.
Move us to create healthier societies
and a more dignified world,
a world without hunger, poverty, violence, and war.
May our hearts be open
to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty
that you have sown in each of us,
and thus, forge bonds of unity, common projects,
and shared dreams. Amen.
An Ecumenical Christian Prayer
O God, Trinity of love,
from the profound communion of your divine life,
pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
in his family of Nazareth,
and in the early Christian community.
Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
discovering Christ in each human being,
recognizing him crucified
in the sufferings of the abandoned
and forgotten of our world,
and risen in each brother or sister
who makes a new start.
Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
so that we may discover anew
that all are important and all are necessary,
different faces of the one humanity
that God so loves. Amen.
Paul then went onto talk about how important Interfaith relations are to Pope Francis and to talk about his upcoming visit to Iraq. He quoted from Fratelli Tutti and said that ‘Pope Francis will try and see Iraq with his heart.
“Why Inter Faith – because it covers out activities with migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, human trafficking, the Palestinian situation, climate change, hate crime, prejudice, the common good – how we make societies better and more harmonious. About 85% of the world’s population identify with a faith community.
Being in a relationship with other faiths is authentically Catholic, and as the church speaks with every tongue on earth and in every culture, we have a responsibility and gift to do that.
Ten years ago, the Bishops produced a document ‘Meeting God in Friend and Stranger’, which encouraged us to connect with those of other faiths. “
Dr. Harriet Crabtree – Executive Director of the Interfaith Network for the UK
Dr Harriet Crabtree has served as The Executive Director since 2007, after being their Deputy Director. She has been working in Interfaith in the UK since 1990, after she returned from Harvard where she began her journey that led her to work with people of many different backgrounds in common pursuit of a world marked by living out of shared values, where peace and justice are two.
Inter-faith Relations in the UK Today
Dr. Harriet talked about the word Interfaith. The Catholic Church in this country tends to use the term Inter-Religious, which does not include Humanist and non-religious groups, whereas in the US, they include all the non-religious groups in the term Interfaith.
Interfaith issues, according to Harriet, should include relationships at every level – rather than just at high level, even down to the day to day encounter of ordinary people, as well as groups. We are all part of interfaith relations. She went onto say: –
‘We are all very interconnected throughout our very diverse world, and good interfaith relations are vital – how we live together, work together, volunteer together, how we make a difference to the world; all of that is affected by how we are rooted in our own tradition firmly, but also able to engage with others with integrity, and this needs to be a genuine learning and coming together in our relationships – not just in the UK but globally.
History of Interfaith Relationships in the UK
The Interfaith Network in the UK is based on the premise that it is about faith communities and interfaith engagement, through all those who come together, not just those in the public eye.
Before the 1960’s there were a few groups such as the World Congress of Faiths, the International Association for Religious Freedom, the Council for Christians and Jews – all came out of very specific contexts, such as the Holocaust, and the International Exploration and Consideration of Spirituality.
From the 1960’s there were some small informal groups set up, including the Wolverhampton Interfaith, many of which came out a diverse population, the rise of racism. and the desire for greater racial justice. (check out the Wolverhampton Interfaith website. )
In the eighties there was a big shift, prompted by the Rushdie affair. Prior to then, the Government was seeing people through ethnicity rather than religion. The Rushdie affair changed that and after that the Government paid more attention to religious identity and the contribution that faith groups made to society.
The Inner Cities Religious Council emerged in the early nineties. A lot of faith groups (such as CBCEW and CTBI) developed their interfaith committees and groups They all developed their outreach.
In 1987 the Interfaith Network for the UK came into being. Brought into existence by national faith community bodies and interfaith organisations, it has always been an organisation of organisations, which is really important as it helps embed things.
The CBCEW and other faiths have played important parts since it began, helping the Government develop the Inner Cities Religious Council and working closely with Government across the decades.
The key moment was the Millennium Celebration and the House of Lords event the ‘Act of Commitment by the Faith Communities of the United Kingdom.’ It was the first moment that an official Government event had brought together the faith communities of this country, and they came together and made a Statement of Commitment rooted in values that they shared.
Things changed again in 2001 with the disturbances in the North and the problems in the cities and there was worry about the lack of social cohesion, plus the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States, and successive terrorism.
The terrorists drew on their own religious traditions but distorted them to provide a basis for some of their arguments. This triggered public awareness of the importance of diversity and gave them common cause to come together to prevent division of communities when terrible events happened. This gave rise to a growth in local and faith groups and the Government’s engagement with faith communities.
2004 – 2011 – The Government brought out successive grant schemes, the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund and the Faith in Action Programme, supporting engagement by faith communities with civil society including social action, and interfaith learning and action.
The Faith in Action Programme was linked to ‘Face to Face and Side by Side: a framework in for partnership in our multi-faith society. A policy document as the Government’s response to the Commission on Integration and Cohesions Report after the London Bombings. Dr Harriet was on that commission and had the responsibility of outreach to religious communities to help develop that report. This helped accelerate the response as to how we come together.
One of the aspects was the support of regional faith forums, most of which have now sadly gone by the board due to lack of funding. Unfortunately, when you fund initiatives, they grow, take staff on, do great work, and then the Government pull the plug. This happened after 2011 as the local groups could no longer afford to employ a Development Worker.
We have now entered a period where there has been less funding and a different Government approach. This Administration is doing some good things, such as the Faith, Race, and Hate Crime Scheme last year, supporting the Near Neighbours Programme, and encouraging much deeper thinking about what integration means and how faith and integration work together.
The world is very much now shaped by the pandemic, but people are beginning to relate differently, and faith communities are often coming together through their own initiatives and social action. Engagement through organisations such as CAFOD, Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid – the practical aspects and dimensions of interfaith have come to the fore.
At present we are living in a much more ‘muddly’ climate where there are no clear structures. There is an explosion of good initiatives but a lack of funding. Everything takes more time as it is difficult to know who to talk to. On the other hand, Social Media has made a lot of difference.
What underpins good interfaith relations?
People need to feel valued and included – and social justice is very important. Young people need to be involved, and learn skills and dialogue.
Thanks to the Media and Social Media, many people feel detached and hate crime goes up.
You cannot underestimate the importance of contributing to good relations, as well as knowing that the building of relationships takes years.
Many dimensions help us develop good strong interfaith relations; such as Grenfell and Climate Change.’
Questions for Discussion
- What do we see as the fundamental values that underline justice and peace work?
- Where we share with those of other faiths a commitment to the common good – and have values in common – what are some practical steps might we take to build inter faith connections and partnerships that could give our work even great impact?
Going to God Together
Barbara Butler of Christians Aware introduced Jon Dal Din, Deacon of the Southwark Diocese, and the Interfaith Representative of the Focolare Zone of Western Europe, who are also members of the Interfaith Network in the UK.
Jon has diversity in his own family; 7 children and 12 grandchildren, of which they are Dutch, English, Asian Muslim and Afro-Caribbean.
As a teenager, Jon investigated other religions. Later he had a year abroad at Marseille University, and ended up working with Muslims during the grape harvest, which was during Ramadan. As a Lecturer, he negotiated prayer facilities and helped the Islamic students set up an Islamic Society.
Jon believes it is the will of God for humanity to go together. Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti invites all peoples to live together as brothers and sisters as one human family, irrespective of their backgrounds. He emphasises developing a culture of encounter and dialogue to achieve universal fraternity. Three words – nearness, compassion and tenderness, which is partly the Justice and Peace motto.
Focolare was founded by Chiara Lubich in Italy in 1943 – aims to bring peace and harmony among individuals, groups and nations and help to build a more united world. Spirituality is based upon Jesus’ new Commandment –‘ love one another as I have loved you’, and Jesus’ prayer for unity ‘That all may be one.’ Focolare covers 182 nations and people of all religious and none. They believe that they do go to God together and collectively, and we are called to love all people, including their enemy. God loves every person immensely and infinitely.
Jon shared an image of the Sun and its Rays. The Sun is the symbol of the will of God, which is God himself, and always shining on us. The rays are the will of God for each individual. We walk towards the sun in the light of our ray, and there are an infinite number of rays from same sun, with a single will which is particular for each person. The closer we come to God, doing the will of God more perfectly, the closer we come together until we are all one.
This can be summarised with one word – ‘Love’
The Idea of Love – expressed in different ways
For Buddhists, it can be benevolence of compassion
For Muslims, it can be summed up as mercy
For Hindus, it is respect for all beings
For Jains, it is ahimsa or non-violence
For Sikhs, it is kindness and selfless service
For those who profess no faith, it can be philanthropy, solidarity and non-violence
The Hindu greeting ‘Namaste’ – acknowledges the presence of the Divine in everyone.
The idea of Love can be summed up by the Golden Rule , which is found in the Bible, and in the writings of most religions and traditions. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. People of all cultures can become partners.
Jon then shared a video called Transcending Boundaries, showing the work of Chiara Lubich and the work she did around the world, with people of different cultures and religions. She is shown as a woman of dialogue and encounter. In the 1960’s she felt that we should have more inter-religious dialogue.
Chiara Lubich believed that the Art of Loving has several components:-
- Love everyone, irrespective of race, gender, age, class, culture or belief. It involves loving the other person’s country, culture, religion or belief as we love our own.
- Love each person one at a time. Everyone is special. We are all members of one human family, made in the image and likeness of God, who is Love.
- Recognise the presence of that love of God in each person. We would say, see Jesus in everyone.
- Be the first to love and not wait for others to take the initiative.
- Crucially, we need to make ourselves one with others.
- When we love in this way, love becomes reciprocal, and we journey together and live as brothers and sisters of one human family.
- Almost always love is suffering.
Jon went onto talk about putting ourselves into a nothingness of love, whereby we put ourselves into a state of active listening and learning, and by being empty we enter the world of the other person. Together we can build unity and peace, and in the words of Jesus ‘All will be One.’
He discussed ‘The Cube of Love’ – a path to peace education. His graphic cannot be reproduced here but the gist is:
- Be first to reach out to others
- Treat each person with respect
- Share each other’s joys and sorrows
- Discover the good in others
- Treat others as you want to be treated
- Forgive those who hurt you
Jon singled out Brother Daniel as an excellent example of building good interfaith relations. A lot of Focolare members have been involved with Brother Daniel in Southall. In 1979 he went to work in Southall and went around knocking on doors and bringing people of all faiths together, thus reducing tension in the area. In 1981, Cardinal Hume invited him to do the same for the whole of the Diocese, and Br Daniel set up Westminster Interfaith. He promoted different faiths through dialogue and action. He also organised a pilgrimage to Rome for people of different faiths to meet Pope John Paul II.
Jon also posed various questions discussed in the Breakout Rooms.
Religion – Life Itself
Barbara Butler then finished the Networking Day with a power point presentation and prayer.