Comment: Common ground was never more important

The Dalai Lama wearing the World Peace Tartan during his visit to Scotland.
The Dalai Lama wearing the World Peace Tartan during his visit to Scotland.
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As we live in a world today with so much conflict and hate, there has never been a greater need for people of different cultures, beliefs and religious communities to reach out and to try to better understand one another.

That is what the Edinburgh Interfaith Association (EIFA) has been helping to do in the city for the past 25 years, showing other organisations how they, too, can follow a similar path.

On October 26, 1987, a meeting was called by Professor Frank Whaling at the Crosswinds Community Centre in Earl Grey Street to officially launch EIFA, hoping to create better understanding between people of faith and to counteract the feeling that there were growing levels of racism and intolerance in the city.

The original group had the modest aim of organising two main events in the year. The members met regularly in one another’s homes. One of the first steps taken by the group was to convince The Scotsman newspaper to open up its This Morning feature to include other groups other than just Christianity. This was followed by EIFA’s pioneering schools programmes, where different faith representatives were invited into schools as part of multi-faith panels to share something of their culture and to answer any of the questions that the children might have for them.

These programmes have grown from strength to strength throughout the years. The fact that the religious leaders are sat next to people with different values and beliefs from their own set an excellent example for students. The panels allow students to see the very human and personable side of people of faith. These are often people from a different culture and faith with whom for some students it would be their very first conversation. It helps to shatter any harmful stereotypes that students might have and to begin to see people as individuals with their own different ways of looking at and understanding the world.

EIFA looks to build friendships and understanding between different communities and hosts many events bringing people together. It continues to host a free monthly community meal at St John’s Church, Princes Street, where people come together beforehand to learn something about the others’ faith and culture before enjoying each other’s company over some delicious food. EIFA also runs many key events throughout the year from Gandhi Day, which will be celebrated on the 30 September in Edinburgh, to a week-long programme of events from the 30 November exploring faith and spirituality related issues. This is the largest programme of its kind in Scotland. It also host the Religious Leaders and Faith Representatives Conference, where key issues to each community are explored which range from concerns for global issues to social issues in the UK.

EIFA is also often consulted by the police and local and national government representatives on best practice in responding to sensitive faith-related issues.

Nationally and internationally, the organisation is critically acclaimed for its visits of high-profile religious leaders to the UK such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. The theologian Hans Kung once said that, “there will be no peace in the world until there is peace amongst religions”. EIFA continues to play its part in promoting that peace and invites you to be part of that change.

Iain Stewart is general secretary of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association.

For more information about the Edinburgh Interfaith Association or to find out how to get involved email