A chance posting by a friend on Facebook asking if anyone knew of good examples to celebrate the UN’s World Interfaith Harmony week, made me reflect on two interesting recent examples that I would just like to post here, both in acknowledgement of the importance of this issue, but also to encourage others to seek out and celebrate inter-faith dialogue.
I know that it is just a tiny drop in the ocean, but last week in the town of Woking in the UK there was a meeting of the Christian deanery synod which had invited leaders of the nearby local Shah Jahan mosque, Britain’s first purpose built mosque, to speak about their faith and what it means to be a Muslim in the UK today. The meeting was not without its challenges – I was saddened to see the Muslim speakers initially sitting at the back of the church before being invited to the platform – but if such local initiatives could be replicated and built on much more widely, we might just create a world where people can live together in greater understanding and peace. Having lived in Woking for much of my early life, I always remember passing the mosque and being fascinated by the nearby cemetery, now thankfully restored and renovated.
Second, I was privileged recently to be invited by a group of former Commonwealth Scholars now back home living in Pakistan to dinner at Des Pardes in the village of Saidpur on the edge of Islamabad. It is a very different and physical representation of what peaceful co-existence could be like. I know it has been reconstructed as a model village, in large part to attract tourists, but visiting there I was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of the reconstructed Hindu Temple and a Sikh Gurdwara (until quite recently a post office) with nearby Islamic architectures, indicative not only of a past where peoples of different faiths did live (relatively) peacefully together, but also of a will to instill such understandings in the present day. It made me think again about all of the horrors of partition in 1947, and indeed afterwards. I hope that my pictures below capture just a bit of this very special place, shared with some brilliant people.