Interfaith and its role in social cohesion
In the last five years, the town of Batley has witnessed a change in dynamics in terms of social cohesion and interfaith relationships. As someone who has first-hand experience of the positive social impact that being around people of different backgrounds can have, my view is that interfaith relationships have been undervalued. They have deepened my perspective and my understanding of how collectively we can work together to strengthen our communities. Many of us will have met or been around people of difference through our work, but how many of us choose to go beyond the workplace environment and reach out to those who are different to us?
Friendships are often formed through mutual connections, similar interests and hobbies, places of education, social groups and clubs. We don’t often seek friendships with people different from us or particularly those of different faiths to ours.
Having a difference in faith on the outset can often seem to be challenging- a no-go area, the dynamic complexities around difference in opinions, customs and traditions are just some of the hurdles that will be an inevitable part of this. But it is this challenge and meeting of different people that will allow us to evolve and discover what we can each bring.
Meeting people through events organised by community members, attending different places of worship, being around and holding a conversation with people outside of my social circle, allowed me to see that there are other important ways of connecting beyond commonalities. Commonality is an important component in my strong friendship groups, but it’s not the only component. It’s also about respecting and acknowledging our differences at the same time as recognising our shared appreciation for empathy and commitment to building a community where everyone can and should want to belong.
Getting involved in The Great Get Together through organising and attending events, was how I began to connect and reach out and share with others of difference. It was the first moment in which I experienced a moment of acceptance and belonging. By seeing people of all faiths in the community joining in, celebrating and coming together for an iftar, the breaking of the fast during the sacred month of Ramadan for Muslims, I experienced acceptance, inclusion and belonging. A moment that community members, Muslims, non-Muslims coming together, feeling safe, celebrated and acknowledged, marked the beginning of my journey of being interconnected with others of difference.
Through these interfaith connections, I have begun to understand the importance of many significant traditions belonging to other faiths. An example of this is 'Christingle’ and what that means to the people of the Christian faith. I learnt this by stepping out of my comfort zone and accepting the invitation to go along to a service and learn what it means to my friend from the Christian faith. The learning and understanding came through coming together, witnessing first hand and being a part of something that is important to others is the key that binds our commonality together.
This Interfaith Week, I would like to share two people in Kirklees who celebrate their friendship, including the differences between them. They come together for their shared goal for humanity and community. How can they make a positive difference together despite living different lives and celebrating different traditions? Revd Mark and Imam Irfan are members of More in Common, Batley and Spen and are Co-Chairs of North Kirklees Interfaith, Both are actively involved in celebrating their diversity and commonality all year round.
United through the boundaries of faith, as faith leaders, they want to encourage and reflect how within our cultural, faith and friendship tribes we belong to, we can cultivate a sense of community and belonging within each of us.
It is this friendship that piqued my interest in reaching out and being open to those unlike me.
During our Great Get Together campaign in 2020, Revd Mark and myself coordinated our first-ever national Virtual Community Service with the aim of bringing together people of different faiths and beliefs through songs, poetry, artwork, conversations and prayers. The service concluded with a special inter-faith Act of Commitment featuring voices from all over the country echoing words from Jo’s maiden speech.
Faith is often seen as being one of the greatest sources of division and conflict, but if we took the time to reach out, create opportunities and events in neutral meeting spaces, maybe we would reap the benefits of nurturing our roots beyond our ‘pot’ and bloom as a part of a forest that we can grow in together.