The future of interfaith in worrying times

As we take part in Inter Faith Week and look ahead to Mitzvah Day – the UK’s largest faith-based day of social action – it hardly needs saying that these are worrying times for people of faith.

The rise of the far right, and indeed far left, has seen a corresponding rise in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, racial hatred and misogyny.

The rhetoric behind Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the success of hard right parties in France, Poland and around Europe has all left faith groups feeling very vulnerable. As a Muslim woman, I know that many feel more vulnerable than ever.

One answer is to go and hide. To surround ourselves with people just like us and ignore what is happening in the outside world. But to do that would be to concede defeat. We must be people of hope, we must remain optimistic.

People of faith need to come together more not less. We must go and meet each other. Discover what unites us and makes us stronger.

Muslims can learn lots from our Jewish brothers and sisters. You were immigrants, 50 years ahead of us, and have created thriving communities, charities, businesses and media. You have also overcome many of the issues we are facing today.

But how many Muslims are genuinely meeting Jewish people: sitting down for dinner with them, going for a coffee or working side by side on a project?

Conversely, how many Jewish people reading this article can say they genuinely have Muslim friends? Not a colleague, Facebook contact or someone they used to go to school with, but a true friend?

If we want to defeat this new wave of racism, the only solution is by talking to people and realising that we have the same goals, aspirations, problems, customs and even taste in film and music.

This is where traditional interfaith work has sometimes failed. Too often it’s the same groups of male leaders meeting over and over again, having the best intentions but never achieving anything beyond their closed circle.

That’s why I am so proud of Muslim participation in Mitzvah Day, which works in the opposite direction – from the grassroots up – as well as Nisa-Nashim, the Jewish Muslim Women’s Network which I co-chair with Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks.

I would urge everyone reading this to get even more people involved in Mitzvah Day, which takes place on and around Sunday November 27, whether that’s by bringing friends and family along or reaching out to your local church, mosque, temple or gurdwara.

There will be almost 100 interfaith projects running around the country this Mitzvah Day, including eight under the auspices of Nisa-Nashim. These include everything from cooking for the homeless to making teddy bears for refugees.

But even more important than the food and the teddies, as vital as they are to those they help, are the relationships that will be formed.

In the decade Mitzvah Day has been running, and the two years since Nisa-Nashim launched, genuine friendships between people of faith have developed.

We are seeing that our communities are now there for each other, not just once a year, but for Pesach Seders and Big Iftar meals during Ramadan, in times of trouble and in times of celebration.

This is what the future of interfaith work must be.

Interfaith can no longer mean the same people saying the same things to each other. Instead it must engage real people in real projects to form real relationships that will last longer than Donald Trump’s Presidency.

About the Author
Julie Siddiqi is a mentor, consultant and activist with a focus on gender issues, Jewish-Muslim relations and social action. Julie was the Executive Director of the Islamic Society of Britain from 2010-2014, Founder and Director of Sadaqa Day, a one day Muslim-led focus on social action, and is co-chair of Jewish and Muslims women’s network, Nisa-Nashim.
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