LONDON – British Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists were hosted at an Interfaith Iftar organized by St James’s Church in Piccadilly, and The City Circle, a London based initiative which networks professional British Muslims with a number of initiatives, including a weekly ‘spiritual’ talk on Friday nights.
The theme for the evening was homelessness, which centered on the important philosophy of looking after our neighbors.
A panel discussion with representatives from Christian, Jewish and Muslim initiatives, which often work together to run programs for the homeless, was followed by the keynote speaker for the evening, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a well-known British Muslim politician and member of the House of Lords.
The evening began in a jovial manner as people of all faiths mingled before the more serious subject of homelessness was discussed. Baroness Warsi’s speech rebalanced that part of the evening with an uplifting set of motivational words, reminding us of the importance of living together in a multi-faith society.
Later, when the time for prayer arrived, men and women, said their prayers and we all gathered back in the Church’s main hall to enjoy the evening meal.
Some attendees were single, other’s came with their spouses, some came with their children. Young and old, black, white and brown. We had gathered to share in our common values to understand better what troubles our nation, and how we can do more to look after the most vulnerable in our society.
Just after 10pm however, the evening was interrupted with the news that another terrorist attack had just taken place just three miles away at London Bridge. The Reverend at the Church announced that the incident was unfolding, and while we did not know the details, we knew that another tragedy had taken place. We all paused for a one minute silence to say a prayer for the victims of the terrorist attack, and the conversation changed.
Here we were, men and women of diverse backgrounds and faiths, together. While outside, three men had caused carnage, resulting in the murder of seven human beings.
Prophet Muhammad once said, that a believer is the person in whose company another person feels safe. He also said, that angel Gabriel once told him repeatedly to look after his neighbors (who at the time were non-Muslims), so much so, that he thought God was going to make his neighbors those who would inherit from him. Meaning that the necessity to honor one’s neighbor is such that we should consider those around us to be as close to us as our family.
Sayeeda Warsi shared an extract from her recent book, The Enemy Within. The title was actually taken from a slur against her by some British Parliamentarians who viewed her, a British Muslim woman who worked within the rules of democracy and became a representative of society, adding value, as, ‘an enemy within.’
Such was the fear of ‘the other’ that instead of seeing her as someone contributing to the betterment of our nation, she was perceived as the threat.
The reality however is quite the opposite.
The absolute vast majority of British Muslims, despite our diverse set of religious beliefs, whether conservative or liberal, are not outwardly aggressive towards our non-Muslim neighbors. This is despite the rhetoric sometimes spewed and implied in our religious institutions.
Baraoness Warsi spoke, “More than ever our country needs year round humanity. Striving to achieve a more inclusive, fairer future for all. Because what is faith, if it isn’t about humanity?”
Prophet Muhammad’s Constitution of Madinah had a single underlying philosophy, that was, the Community, the ‘Ummah,’ which he identified was not a club for Muslims alone. It was a community of people who, despite their different religions, came together, supported one another, and lived peacefully in a multi-faith environment.
This ‘Ummah’ would support each other should any external force threaten their community spirit. After all the Qur’an says that we have been made in nations and tribes, we are different, so we can get to know each other. It was not religion that caused division, but those who sought to divide our common sense of security.
Baroness Warsi added that in our age (just as it was at Prophet Muhammad’s time), it is important to recognize and embrace our differences instead of feeling threatened by them. There are of course many issues within the British Muslim communities, to whatever degree, which need to be addressed, but overall, British Muslims are just as impacted and shocked by what took place.
As we, British citizens of all faiths, gathered to celebrate our diversity, and to address issues which affect us all, such as looking after the most vulnerable in society, the homeless. Outside, a small band of men plotted and planed to sew discord and disharmony in our society.
Despite the slur of ‘the enemy within’ British society generally understand that the only ‘enemy’ within, happens to be the very small band of disillusioned individuals, who do not reflect the values of Islam, but who use the religion of Islam as an excuse to try and validate their injustice towards our communities, where people of all faith live in peace.
The threat is however still real, and as Baroness Warsi said at the iftar, “Stand with us, we can’t fight this rising tide of hatred and extremism alone.”