Inter Faith Week runs nationally from 15-23 November, and is being recognised locally by the Faiths Together in Lambeth group with a series of community events. Contributor Gargie Ahmad reports back from the first event this week.
News and social media this weekend was awash with heated, and often hateful, comments against Muslim, migrant, and refugee communities, in reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November. On such a devastatingly poignant note, across Britain, faith communities were marking the beginning of Inter Faith Week.
Events from 15-23 November will seek to promote understanding and respect between people of all faiths and none. I went along to the Hyderi Islamic Centre in Streatham this Sunday, for the event ‘Conversations for the Soul and Remembrance Prayers for Peace’, organised with South London Inter Faith Group and Faiths Together in Lambeth.
After words of welcome from organiser Rizwan Alibhai, two young members of the Hyderi Centre recited some verses of the Quran to begin the afternoon. Holding an interfaith event around Remembrance Sunday was started by these Lambeth groups in Brixton in 2000.
Group member Sarah Thorley then lit the candle they have been lighting every year since, and we learned more about the Hyderi Centre from its president, Sarfraz Jeraj: the building used to be a synagogue, and before that, an army barracks. Their vision is to become a broader community centre, and more of a place for dialogue, unity, and peace.
The prayers and readings for peace began with Reverend Alan Gadd, who read from Matthew’s Gospel in the Bible and offered some poetry and a prayer as a Christian contribution. Betty Singh, from the Caribbean community, chanted Hindu mantras for the souls of the departed.
Sheikh Jaffer Ladak, imam of the Hyderi Centre, then offered a Muslim supplication as a prayer for peace, noting that whatever our community, and whatever our words may be, the essence of our prayer is the same, as we are all from the same human community.
Bhikkhu Nagase, from the Buddhist community, then offered an incantation for peace, to the soft sounds of a ritual drum. Rabbi Janet Darley then reminded us that it is not enough to pray for peace, but to also work for it, challenge those who foster conflict, and denounce injustice, ending with the Hebrew blessing of Sim Shalom.
Balbir Singh Bakhshi, from the Sikh community, recited a hymn from their Holy Book of Guru Granth Sahib, in Punjabi and English, speaking also on multi-faith aspects to Sikhism, offering an inclusive Sikh perspective on community cohesion.
A minute silence was then held for victims of the terrorist atrocities from the past week, not only in France but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. Conversation then explored the responses of faith communities to the refugee crisis in Europe, and the wider threat of terrorism that has been brought home by events in Paris. Contributions from the panel were joined by contributions from the audience, condemning the violence and hoping for change.
From the wider discussion, we broke away to have some conversations for the soul with our neighbours. John Woodhouse of Westminster Cathedral Interfaith Group, who organises such meetings regularly with the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International, gave us some guidelines: talk to someone from a different tradition, respect different perspectives, and listen. Maghrib prayers, which Muslims offer at sunset, then began. Those who were new or unfamiliar to Muslim prayer were welcomed to observe.
The afternoon brought home the importance of talking to one another, raising awareness, changing attitudes, and working together towards a more peaceful society. Of course, delicious snacks were served to refresh us before we made our ways home; food for thought, and perhaps fuel for the change we need in our communities today.
Next up in Brixton on Wednesday 18 November at 6pm, We Stand Together, an event with interfaith groups and police is happening at Corpus Christi Church, off Brixton Hill.