by Ali Amla
I’ve been writing blogs for some time and finally found some time to reflect. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was very fortunate enough to have been invited to speak on I is for interfaith on the A-Z of Things Unseen, you can hear the short 5 minute podcast here:
The opportunity to share my experiences was powerful, sharing memories, my thoughts on interfaith and how I am nurturing my children from a very young age to be interfaith activists. Whilst this podcast paints a human picture of interfaith I am actually much more critical.
Interfaith has been a journey, one on which I have faced many dead-ends, plenty of trials and errors, meeting some of the most wonderful people whilst facing criticism, resistance, barriers and often apathy. What is the point? many have asked me and continue to ask.
Why do we need interfaith? we need to find our own answer and I do not intend to answer this specific question. Please do share your answers.
I have met some inspiring individuals, I cherish and love the direction they have given me. Often they guide me through the darkest moments by spreading a light which ignites the heart and motivates the soul and body to act.
The term interfaith itself is loaded and can be a barrier for many, it often gives the impression of a melting pot of religions, one of being theosophical and therefore each religion loses it’s individuality. This is not the type of interfaith I follow, I am convinced that we need a model which celebrates and understands our differences, however the journey must begin with understanding our common ground and similarities. The last few weeks I have been reminded that very few people are aware of our common ground, this needs to be our starting point however we shouldn’t stop there. Like we should not stop at “Tea & Samosa” interfaith which celebrates the cucumber sandwiches, whilst I do not deny there is a need to share our culture and yummy food. Teaching Indian cookery has allowed me teach the art of home made food cooked with traditional ingredients and recipes, whilst having conversations on faith and culture with those who may not engage with interfaith.
Tea, Samosa and cucumber sandwiches should be our starting point for our conversations, for too long and for too many this is the end point. We have too many “Citizen Khan’s” involved in interfaith, who like to come round the table, have their quarterly dose of samosas, take a lovely photo with a bishop, say a few loving words and leave without any further action or change.
These same leaders are the ones who work tirelessly to preserve their domain and authority instead of serving their communities. I do believe it is time for change, for those like myself who are young (at heart at least) to feel empowered and make change. I have found that individuals will do everything to act as a barrier, to deter you by stringing you along, then by directly by complaining of your action and then trying to hijack you.
The challenge is often two fold, one internal and another from those who want to use interfaith as a stick to beat you with. Often what I refer to as the Sookhedo approach, one which lacks genuine empathy. It focuses of beating Muslim participants down, why are Muslims not condemning terrorism and why are Muslims not doing enough about raising the subject of the persecution of Christian minorities. I do not deny that these issues need to be raised and challenged, however when these subjects are used to disempower it often causes Muslims to disengage and therefore never to return.
Christian Muslim Encounters has always created safe spaces to speak about these issues, in June 2014 we hosted Dr Morrow who spoke about “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World.” In July 2015 we hosted a full day conversation titled “Faith, Communities & radicalisation” which allowed communities, academics, faith leaders and activists to speak about radicalisation and recruitment by Da’esh and the Far Right!
If we want change we need to inspire and empower young people to play their part, to make mistakes, learn and create their own journey. I’m often troubled when I’m the youngest participant in the room, unfortunately I’m no longer young and quickly becoming one of the grey haired men often found at these events.
I do believe that the current climate requires a radical approach to interfaith. Each town and city needs to bring institutions together employ an interfaith coordinators and nurture bridge builders. We need to reach a tipping point, we need 100 activists to become 1000, 100,000 and create a movement for change. This change requires us to alter and shape dynamics of our engagement which creates platforms which educates and empowers leaders and activists to become change makers.
Salaam, Peace & Shalom