A (Chief) Rabbi, a Cardinal and the Muslim Mayor of London walk into a room. But what could have been the set up for the world’s worst joke was actually a pretty powerful opportunity for dialogue and collaboration.
On Tuesday night I was fortunate enough to be one of 80 young people (under 30) of all faiths and none from across London invited to Archbishop’s House in Westminster for an interfaith Iftar run by the Naz Legacy Foundation. Ramadan is a time of self-development and consideration for Muslims around the world, and the Chief Rabbi, Cardinal Nichols (both of whom are Presidents of CCJ) and Sadiq Khan all reflected this in their opening remarks. The Chief Rabbi particularly built on Talmudic discussion that just as the moon (an important symbol in Ramadan and for the Jewish lunar calendar) can only reflect the light of the sun, so too must we try to reflect the light of those around us.
As well as breaking the Ramadan fast with Muslim attendees, we were able to reflect in small groups about what we can do to bring different communities together to benefit London and our wider society. Groups came up with plenty of different ideas that can be implemented locally, including shared homework or after school clubs between local schools (faith or non-faith), sports groups for people to get to know one another in informal settings and open up places to ask questions about faith or belief, or other events like the one that we were all attending. Indeed the growth of community initiatives like the Big Iftar or Near Neighbours funded grassroots social action and interaction have created spaces for conversations about faith and society to happen, and these are increasingly discussing big issues (like terrorism, or Israel, or the refugee crisis). We have a long way to go to rebuild trust between communities, but it looks like we are moving in the right direction.
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) June 13, 2017
Working in the interfaith world, I’m often asked what the point is. Why do we stand around in a circle sharing food and talking about the things we agree about (or even the things we disagree about)? Why bother with these happy fluffy conversations that seem to happen endlessly when people still use religion to justify killing random innocent people in our cities, and our Capital? I think the only answer I can give is that you should try it. If the problem is that these events only attract the same people (a criticism that I don’t have of this iftar which attracted people who had never engaged in intercultural dialogue before), and you “aren’t the kind of person” who gets involved in this kind of initiative, ask yourself why. Events like the interfaith iftar this week are an opportunity to step outside of our own circles and comfort zones, to ask and answer questions. There is no point talking to me, as a Jew, about what the Muslim community might be doing to tackle extremism and/or terrorism. Meeting Muslims who are actively working in their community to challenge extremism and who feel the same pain and shame that I do that anyone could murder someone else in the name of any religion is the only way to begin rebuilding our communities and trusting that the person on the other side of the room is having a similar response to you.
Before discussing our own ideas to bring communities together, a young Muslim participant called Amira spoke about why she was there and said “in this room, I see hope”. If the iftar is anything to go by, young people across London have a real desire to connect our communities together and find strength in our differences rather than division. All of the participants left with a sense of having had their voices heard by people leading our society, and with new connections and ideas to bring back to their own contexts. The most beautiful thing about the event was the range of people in the room: people working to be leaders in their faith communities together with people who don’t affiliate to a community at all; people for whom this was another iftar out of many together with people for whom this was their first. It represented a cross section of normal, active young Londoners all doing different things but who all agree that the first step to building the society we want is getting to know each other better. And for that, I too see hope for the future.