09 / 11 / 20
By Phil Champain, Director of the Faith & Belief Forum
This week is Interfaith Week. For me, a chance to reflect on and talk about the importance of celebrating what binds us together no matter our faiths or beliefs, and to practice the art of disagreeing well.
It is also fitting to pay tribute to a leading figure in the interfaith world who died this week. In his important book ‘Not in God’s Name’, which tackles religious extremism and violence, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asserts ‘it is not our task to conquer or convert the world or enforce uniformity of belief. It is our task to be a blessing to the world.’ His authoritative and scholarly presence will be missed by many in the interfaith field where opportunities to celebrate the multitude of examples of people working to be a blessing to the world play such a vital role in giving meaning to and improving lives.
What does it mean then to be a blessing to the world? For me, it means giving a voice and a platform to those who are neglected and excluded – to those living in poverty, without access to a good education, more vulnerable than the majority to covid-19, discriminated against because of their identity. Our faiths and beliefs nurture the values, attitudes, and behaviours we need for this task, though they can also block our imagination if we do not remain open to the ideas and perspectives of others. Interfaith week offers an opportunity to engage with those who may be unfamiliar to us – to share and stimulate new thinking, generate new ideas.
This week and through the remainder of November, we are organising several interfaith events. On 11th November we host an online space for LGBTQ+ people from different faiths and beliefs and backgrounds to reflect, share and be together; on the same day we are part of an interfaith service honouring the emergency services in Birmingham; on 17th November we hold our second national roundtable exploring the role of faith & belief in social cohesion; and please do join us for the 4th London Faith & Belief Community Awards on 30th November.
The purpose of these events and our work more broadly is to both celebrate and challenge. To celebrate the richness of our different faiths and beliefs; and to challenge injustice and inequality. We believe that both are best done by bringing people of different faiths and beliefs together through interfaith encounter.
We are, unfortunately, continually reminded of destructive division and violence in our societies. Interfaith week offers an antidote to these narratives by illuminating the creative force of different faiths and beliefs dialoguing together. Yes, this is rightly celebratory. It is also challenging and as such has the power to change the way we see the world and through this to be the blessing that the late Jonathan Sacks encouraged us to be.