Hope, warm-heartedness and a takeaway: the third annual interfaith symposium, Sunday 10th September

By - Thursday 5th October, 2017

Hindus, Christians and Muslims stood as one in a memorable exploration of faith

Photo author’s own.

On a wet September evening, I find my way to the serene prayer room of the Baitus Subhan Mosque. There is a warm atmosphere of anticipation and keen conversation as people start to meet, greet and find out about each other. The event opens with stalls representing a number of community groups and a round of applause for members of the fire brigade, setting a tone of spirited, appreciative dialogue.

This is the third annual Interfaith Symposium hosted by the Croydon Ahmadiyya Community, whose interfaith work proceeds from their central principle: “Love For All, Hatred For None.” Their Youth Association (AMYA) has participated in New Year clean-ups here in Croydon, peaceful demonstrations of solidarity after terrorist attacks and fundraisers such as the recent #MercyForMankind Charity Challenge in the Lake District.

The prefix inter finds its roots in words meaning among, between, in the midst of, betwixt. We are all aware that history has been fraught with religious warfare and that in times where religious and political extremism is rife, it feels imperative to promote peaceful interaction between those of different faiths and beliefs. Our Croydon ‘community of communities’ as Mayor Toni Letts calls it, enjoys a relatively peaceful co-existence unknown to war-torn areas of the world.

The evening opens with recitations from the three faith groups represented tonight

Photo author’s own.

So here we are, amongst each other. I chat with an Islamic Consultant from Croydon University Hospital to my right and two members of a Catholic Church to my left. The heads of the five women in the row ahead of me are adorned with two hijabs, one Afro-Caribbean head-wrap and two white Western hair-dos. We are truly betwixt and between each other and, to my eyes, that alone is a beautiful sight.

The evening opens with recitations from the three faith groups represented tonight: Hindu, Muslim and Christian. This gives us a chance to hear the music of each faith flowing through the recitation of the Quran, the chanting of The Bhagavad Gita and the rhythms of the Biblical Beatitudes. Already the harmonies and contrasts are there for us to hear, experience, savour and explore.

Humanistic Psychologist Carl Rogers said “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.” The people in this room are not just open to listening to expressions of faiths other than their own, they are open to actively participating in practices such as a meditation led by MMayura Patel, Chair of Croydon Hindu Council. They are willing to discuss difficult questions such as the one posed by the conference: Religion: Path to Peace or Corridor to Conflict?

The eighty-odd people who have made it into this room are willing to put aside distrust and intolerance

Reverend Catherine Tucker tells us that comments such as ‘they are only getting you there to convert you’ were voiced by members of her congregation when told she would be addressing this event. The eighty-odd people who have made it into this room are willing to put aside the distrust and intolerance which is endemic in much of our social conditioning. We are constantly encouraged by mainstream media to ‘other’ – to project divisive thoughts and feelings towards those perceived as different.

Describing the process involved in a recent multi-faith pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Reverend Tucker said that asking the question ‘who are the ‘others?’ demonstrated that divisions are contextual. One obvious example is when we travel, we become the ‘other’ in the countries we visit and when at home, ‘others’ visit us.

What becomes clear in all of the addresses is that beyond contextual differences, there are shared principles connecting people of different faiths. Reverend Tucker describes how small acts of community bridge building can embody the Christian principle ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ and that love does not mean making everyone the same as you. Surrounded by banners with quotes from the Quran about respecting the prophets of all faiths, Iman Mansoor Clarke speaks of the Prophet Muhammad’s command to desire for your brother/sister as you desire for yourself and to offer peace, solace and love to all.

Mayura Patel makes the distinction between proposing rather than imposing one’s own beliefs

Mayura Patel states that the aim of religion is to be a better human being and to offer unconditional friendship to others, based on the Hindu perspective that each individual is on their own evolutionary journey. It is clear that these leaders are not speaking abstractly – they are all ground-level activists who encourage interfaith connection through events such as shared community clean-ups.

All three faith leaders take a clear stand on extremism and the coercive imposition of faith. Mayura Patel makes the distinction between proposing rather than imposing one’s own beliefs and feels that we must work with individuals to find out what has triggered them to commit violent acts. Imam Mansoor Clarke talks of the insanity of terrorist acts in the name of Islam, which means peace. Reverend Tucker describes how learning more about other faiths can help us learn more about our own.

Speaking from the heart, Madame Mayor tells us that her father, a Christian vicar, lived by the principle “in my Fathers’ house there are many mansions”. She tells powerful stories from her work with the YMCA and as a paediatric nurse where she experienced a deep connection transcending faith differences with those facing issues such as homelessness and the death of a child.

I leave with hope, warmth in my heart and with a takeaway lovingly cooked by members of the Ahmadiyya community

It is clear that when we reach out across perceived divides, we can connect, uplift and care for one another. Imam Mansoor Clarke tells us that the day before the Symposium, Manchester Arena re-opened – a testimony to the commitment of a community to stand in solidarity in the face of tragic events.

I leave with hope, warmth in my heart and with a takeaway lovingly cooked by members of the Ahmadiyya community. This final gesture of care for our humanity, a hot meal on a rainy evening, embodies both the profoundness as well as the simplicity of interfaith initiatives. Shared food, community events and honest dialogue can affirm our human connection in such a way that those we consider ‘other’ can become our neighbors and friends.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

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