THERE comes a point when issuing statements of condemnation and rallying words for unity do not go far enough. Words can never convey the devastation inflicted on those who lost loved ones at the at the hand of terrorists in Manchester and London or in other parts of the world. A quick internet search will show that there were at least 31 terrorist attacks committed in the month of May alone. These include a recent bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan which killed 100 people and the killing of 28 Coptic Christians in Egypt. It is easy to fall in to the trap of thinking that atrocities as occurred in Kabul and Egypt could not happen here. It all becomes the more terrifying when it happens on our own doorstep and we begin to imagine that this could happen to us next or to our own sons or daughters.
As the executive director of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association I have often issued statements on behalf of the Association after similar devastating tragedies. However, the issuing of statements, though important, does not go far enough. To use the analogy of bridge designers, there appear to be many people who are prepared to talk about the best design for bridges but less prepared to put the building blocks of the bridges together and even less prepared to cross it. On Sunday I listened as Shayakh Imam Hassan Rabbani delivered an inspiring Sermon to Broughton St Mary’s Church of Scotland. He shared several examples from history which showed the commitment of key Islamic figures including the Prophet Muhammad to interfaith dialogue and peace building. It is this respect for difference and enthusiasm for interfaith encounter that the world needs now.
Shayakh Imam Hassan is not only a bridge builder but one who is prepared to cross the bridge to meet others where they are at. We need more people who are prepared to move from discussing theology or the importance of good community or interfaith relations to those who are prepared to reach out and have those encounters. To be prepared to meet people where they are at.
A good friend of mine, Fiyaz Mughal of Tell Mama, the agency which records anti-Islamophobia hate crime, recently criticised interfaith organisations for not going far enough, for being too much about meeting over cups of tea. Meeting over cups of tea I believe has its place as we need to break down the walls that separate us that encourage us to think of one as the other.
However, we do need to find a way to move from preaching to the converted to speaking with those who are vulnerable to developing far-right views of any type. This could mean spending time visiting people at their places of worship to five-a-side football pitches or wherever they spend their leisure time.
There is no one single cause for the development of far-right or extremist ideologies. Some try to blame foreign policies, racism discrimination or the development of poisonous ideologies. As there is no single cause there will be no single solution. Collectively we must address the underlying causes of this sickness.
As the Edinburgh Interfaith Association we will continue to reach out across communities and schools and other areas to provide positive encounters between people of different beliefs to counter these hate ideologies. However, we cannot do this alone. We need schools and other educational establishments across the country to take more responsibility to welcome interfaith programmes from groups such as ourselves.
A sign of the desire of people of faiths to come together to promote peace was demonstrated on our recent annual interfaith peace walk across Edinburgh where close to 100 people walked the symbolic path of peace across each other’s places of worship. It culminated in the coming together at a peace service jointly hosted by the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation and the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community at the Salisbury Road Synagogue. Currently in partnership with Beyond the Veil Muslim women’s group we are hosting Ramadan meals in different communities to forge relationships and break down the barriers between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Reaching out across boundaries are important in the building of a cohesive society. We need more of these initiatives and we need more community leaders to follow the lead of Imam Rabbani and the Rev Graham McGeoch of Broughton St Mary’s to open their doors and hearts to others. Rev McGeoch has accepted an invitation from Imam Rabbani to speak at Annandale Mosque in the coming weeks. As I observed both leaders stand side by side on Sunday I was also taken to watching their wives and young children both around one and half years old play together. That made me think that if we can come together as a society in the way that these leaders and their children have there is hope for a brighter future.
Iain Stewart is executive director of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association