Interfaith Meeting held at the British Parliament
Dr. Mozammel Haque
The Forum for International Relations Development (FIRD) organised an event at the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, the 13th of November 2018 to celebrate UK Parliament Week and Interfaith Week. “Faith is a great starting point for politics – perhaps the best starting point there is. Because religious faith is the source of the values, we need to make politics work: responsibility, solidarity, patience, persistence, compassion, truthfulness. The erosion of these values has led to an erosion of trust in politics. To rebuild trust in politics, as we must, we need to rebuild those values – and religious faith is a very promising source from which to do so,” said the Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP for Newham and the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Faith and Society.
He particularly extended his thanks to Umar Mahmood from the Forum for International Relations Development for organising the programme. The distinguished panel of speakers included Dr Harriet Crabtree OBE, Executive Director, The Inter Faith Network, Afzal Khan CBE MP, Shadow Minister (Home Office – Immigration), David Clark – Head of Education and Engagement, The UK Parliament; Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP – Shadow Minister (DCMS) and Jehangir Malik, CEO Muslim Aid.
I had the opportunity to be present at the event on behalf of Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan, the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre & London Central Mosque, as one of his Advisors.
During his speech Mr. Timms said: “We drew up something we call the Covenant for Engagement. Eleven local authorities have adopted it. It hopes to be a vehicle for building trust between faith groups on the one hand and local authorities on the other. I’m hoping that model will be adopted across the country as increasingly Councils recognise the value and the potential that faith groups can make.”
Commenting about his own constituency, he mentioned: “I represent a very diverse community in the East End of London. People who are not familiar with communities like the one I represent assume it must be fragmented. But this morning I met a young civil servant who has just moved in to our community who was commenting on how cohesive she is finding our community to be.”
He continued: “I think the way it works is that almost everyone in our community belongs to a faith group; and, as long as each of them is clearly part of our wider community, belonging to one of them extends to a sense of belonging to our community. Fragmentation doesn’t happen because people all belong to lots of different things. Fragmentation happens when lots of people doing belong to anything at all.”
“It is often said that you shouldn’t mix faith and politics. Those who say it point to trouble in any number of parts of the world to explain their argument. And you can see what they mean,” said Mr. Timms. He further added, “But I think they are drawing the wrong conclusion. The truth is that faith is a great starting point for politics – perhaps the best starting point there is. Because religious faith is the source of the values, we need to make politics work: responsibility, solidarity, patience, persistence, compassion, truthfulness. The erosion of these values has led to an erosion of trust in politics. To rebuild trust in politics, as we must, we need to rebuild those values – and religious faith is a very promising source from which to do so.”
Speaking about Britain and Faith communities, Mr. Timms mentioned: “Britain tends to think of itself as a pretty secular country these days. And yet it has turned out, at the beginning of the 21st century that it has been faith groups which have uniquely been able to take on the sudden challenges of inequality of poverty which we have seen in recent years.”
Citing an example, he drew the attention to the food poverty and said, “Let’s look at food poverty. It is perhaps not surprising that faith groups have had the motivations to run food banks. More striking is that they have also had the capacity – when no other network or institution has been able to. It has been a remarkable achievement, illustrating an important truth about where the capacity to change things for the better in Britain today can really be found.”
As a chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Faith and Society, Mr. Timms highlighted on his works with the faith groups saying: “We have looked closely in recent years at the relationships between Local Authorities and faith groups in their area. We would like to see a lot more examples of Local Authorities commissioning services from faith-based organisations who are wanting to provide services,” “As part of our work, we have had a lot of discussions with faith groups – on a variety of topics, such welfare to work, children and young people, about oversees development. A very common theme of those discussions was faith groups feeling they didn’t have a very good relationship with their Local Authority. The Councils were suspicious of them, there was a fear that if they did give money to a faith based organisation to provide a service, then either that money be used to convert people instead of delivering the service, or the service would be delivered in a way that was biased and only for that particular group. But local authorities have a lot of anxiety and nervous about all this. And that is what our covenant is aiming to address.”
Mr. Timms talked about a Covenant which is aiming to address the issues presently facing saying: “So we drew up something we call the Covenant for Engagement. Eleven local authorities have adopted it. It hopes to be a vehicle for building trust between faith groups on the one hand and local authorities on the other. I’m hoping that model will be adopted across the country as increasingly councils recognise the value and the potential that faith groups can make. I imagine many of us sitting in this room recognise this potential. Let’s hope others do too! I hope the discussion today will give this collaboration a new impetus and energy for the future.”
Lord Tyler CBE
Lord Tyler said, “I have been associated for a number of years with faith and civil society. The works that I have been doing at various educational levels is to improve religious literacy. I think in this country now we have two generations possibly we have not the benefit of understanding and getting to know different faith groups as they believing and what its important what is significant in their lives. And that affects the whole education system. So, there is a big lack of understanding for quite a long time.”
Referring to Stephen Timms’s food banks, Lord Tyler said, “It is interesting as Stephen said it happened very important initiatives have been taken by those faith groups and I am associated with the trust as they were the partners who run, managed and looked after the majority of our food banks. And my wife is a trustee of that local food banks. This combination of trying to increase the understanding of what faith groups are facing and at the same time the challenges to try to make a larger contribution to the local communities. I think it is a very important double aim; it is moving in the same direction I think we can do is to improve the speed the important development phases is important too.”
Lord AIderdice said, “The problem of faith and politics was for a long time implied to be a cause of the Protestants and the Catholics fighting because they came from religious backgrounds. And the view many of them took in the 1970s and 1980s when I was beginning my own works was resolution of problem only when people only moved away from their commitment of their religious faiths.”
Lord Alderdice said, “I think there is really fascinating and exciting challenge for us but it is a challenge. This year we are celebrating really an important anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in 2018 Article 18 of Freedom of Religion and Belief is an orphaned article about which nothing being done by the United Nations on that front. This is something which we can pick up and promote and indeed I am very happy to say that the British government begun to think of some funding in the question of freedom of religion and belief. I think this is a big recognition that we can talk seriously about Universal Declaration of Human Rights; without talking energetically about the freedom of religion and belief. And that includes those who do not have religious belief of course.”
Lord Alderdice mentioned, “I think it is not so much different religious faiths all the way people hold their faith and those who hold it in a fundamentalist way of thinking was very often do contribute to fragmentation; but those who understand the importance of diversity I have a totally different perspective very much the one that Stephen mentions that understanding the different routes to faith that may help us to bring a richer community because of its diversity rather than a divided community because of our differences; but if we are going to achieve that I think there is an important change for the faith community is to be looking forward to what venturing faith it means rather than simply trying to maintain the practices and the rituals and the ways of working from the past for their own sake.”
“Every generation has the possibility of seeing in a different new way and if they are creative or energetic and visionary, they can take things forward,” said Lord Alderdice.
Lord Alderdice also mentioned, “It’s a sad reality of the human conditions however every new idea and new venture is taken up by the second generation and consolidated but the time it comes to the third generation it becomes bureaucratised, institutionalised, legalised regulations all over the place and anybody that comes forward with the movement with the spirit whatever that means to them is really a heretic and problem. So, every now and then again we have actually to become a bit heretical.”
Lord Alderdice said, “I do see a very important difference between belief and faith. Belief is in a sense the things we feel sure of that we knew; faith is a venturing into the uncertainty with commitment and trust but nevertheless it is a venturing out of our little bar into the uncertainty of the wider zone there.”
Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan MP Tooting
Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan, MP for Tooting said, “I think if you are the embodiment of some one in faith probably it makes me; the Pakistani father, a Polish mother, living in Tooting I think that sounds very much of everything. I am a practising Muslim, went to a Church of England school; I go around collecting prayers wherever I can get them; whether it is a Church, Mosque, or Synagogue and my family in Poland stood alongside their Jewish friends and colleagues to fight against the Germans and I have devoted my life to pursue the interfaith works.”
She mentioned, “I believe actually fundamentally we are all the same; we are all children of God; whichever house you choose to go and worship; oh no, worship; whether you call it worship, soul, spirit; whatever; we are all here together to call habit for a divine purpose. And I think we need to be very honest as politician. I have been MP only for two years now. I spent my life working as a doctor. I am an emergency medicine physician and I still practice and I work in the field of humanitarian aid. And I have seen those come in all forms, sect, society and religion and that comes in all forms of sect, society and religion and our role as people are to find those like-minded individual and stand shoulder to shoulder with them whichever colour, religion and denomination they are or belong to. Politicians are really important though to embrace the part the faith may play in your life and sometimes you get cut down for doing so.”
Talking about her family and children, Dr. Allin-Khan said, “My children, I have children three years old and five years old; they are Polish Pakistani Welsh being raised as Muslim. Yes; my three daughters are Muslim; new flash; that’s the world we live in and in fact that is the majority these days; the majority of our country are mixed heritage. My daughters and I other people they share because they are wearing scarf; what I love her school I choose to have educated in a non-denominational school. It is very important that children learn from one another, I really believe that.”
Dr. Allin-Khan, who worked as a hospital Doctor said, “when someone came to my A & E department in Hospital with a break up morning trying to have a heart attack and I stand up around the bed; God, you mean this person to live; work for me. Every time I sat at the chamber and I had a message to deliver I think to improve the lives of everybody. I say; God, if you need me immediately without mumbling jumbling; immediately placed the attention to the matter If it is important in the community, I would be doing my job; if I take everything on my job; that does not mean everybody has to; that does not mean I don’t judge people.”
She very beautifully explained and defined the word ‘Fundamentalist’. She said, “I tell you what, a fundamentalist Muslim by very definition is somebody who believe in peace; who believe in unity; he does not support division; guide who fundamentalist says; fundamentalist Christian will say the same things; fundamentalist Catholic will say the same; as my Stephen colleague just said people who hold such a hard thought they would look upon rest of us, Muslims not supporting their ideology; did itself is Islamic.”
Afzal Khan MP
Afzal Khan, MP said, “For me, faith is something positive, all faiths the key message is ultimately about improving the individual and then secondly the core messages are making we have a good society; this is the message and when we think about the world we are living in I find this message is even more important now in the sense because we are more able to travel anywhere in the world and equally we are more able to communicate instantly virtually anywhere any part of the world; so actually really the world has become a global village in this context both for travelling and both for communication.”
“Faith gave me those values especially engaged me because I am inspired by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and his message. You know the two things which always help me in this idea of practising faith: The one, he said, was the best among the humanity are those who bring benefits to others and that’s the core of the values. And the second which is very much personal idea of development is. He said; the person whose two days are the same is in a state of loss so the need to constantly improve yourself to make things better is also there and so I think faith is something positive.”
“Welcome to this development and I look forward to being able to part of this; so to see the more we can do; bring the rich diverse community that we have, celebrate the communality that we have, instead of the differences that we live, that we have; that itself I believe actually to help us to be in better and distinguishes us more,” said parliamentarian Afzal Khan.