At the end of last year, WCF invited responses to a survey to find out more about what its members and friends would like from the organisation and valued about it. One matter we noted was an interest in receiving more interfaith comment and news from us, so we have decided to produce a short newsletter on a quarterly basis. The first one of 2019 is here. Do let me know if you have any ideas for future issues, and send me items and news you would like us to include. The next deadline is 10 May for the early June issue. Thank you.
This is almost your last chance to buy tickets for our student-led Conference on 3rd July in Petreborough. The latest
#interfaith research - hear it for yourself at our first student-led conference, open to WCF members and non members alike plus a special price for students. Register now http://ow.ly/O9hK30jjw10
The World Congress of Faiths 2018 Essay Award is now open.
The title is Can interfaith dialogue achieve any lasting value for society?
See our webpage www.worldfaiths.org/2018-essay-award
Our member Pejman Khojasteh will be speaking at the Ian Ramsey Centre Summer Conference entitled Religion, Society and the Science of Life on the subject of the developments in artificial intelligence based on biotechnology and the implications with regard to religion and society.
Details of the Conference in Oxford are at www.ianramseycentre.info/conferences/2017-religion-society-science-life.html.
The abstract of Pejman's lecture is here
Meretz UK hosts award-winning international artist and campaigner, Swadeka Ahsun, on Saturday 20 May. WCF member Swadeka will display and also discuss her creations, which are inspired by Arabic calligraphy, Islamic culture, Western art history and natural scenes.
Contributions £7; refreshments served
Born in Mauritius, Swadeka lives in Belsize Square, NW3, and has exhibited throughout the UK, Europe, Middle East and the Gulf. Among numerous honours she has won the Muslim News Award 2016 and the Alhamra Award. She is a member of the Royal Society of Art and the Arab Jewish Forum. Swadeka currently supports EU projects as a partner in Creative Europe; she also serves as an outreach artist for the Queen’s Gurkha Logistic Regiment at Aldershot, Hampshire.
We are delighted to announce that our 2017 Essay Award is now open for entries.
Details are available here.
Please pass this on to any undergraduate or postgraduate student who might be interested.
Entries will be accepted until 31st July
Marcus Braybrooke writes:
It is sad that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been overshadowed by criticism of the reading of a passage of the Qur’an in St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow. The more so because Abbḗ Paul Couturier, the founder of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity grew up in Algeria, where he had many contacts with Muslims.
During the Epiphany service at the Cathedral a Muslim law student was invited to read the Qur’anic account of the birth of Jesus, which also says, as Muslims believe, that Jesus was a prophet but not divine. The Provost of the Cathedral, who has since had many abusive online messages, said that the event reflected ‘’deepening friendship locally which had led to greater awareness of the things we hold in common and to dialogue about the ways in which we differ.”
Strong criticism of the event was voiced by Revd Dr Ashenden, a Chaplain to the Queen (although he has subsequently resigned the position) in a letter to the Times, to which I wrote this reply, which was published.
It is well known that the Qur'an rejects the divinity of Jesus, but it needs to be better known that the Qur'an gives many honourable titles to Jesus. He is regarded with reverence by many Muslims, who add 'May God bless Him' whenever they mention his name. Professor S Vahiduddin, a former head of the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies in New Delhi, wrote, "Christ reflects in every act God's beauty: He is the embodiment of that tender aspect of the divine which Qur'an calls 'Mercy.'"
In making friends with people of other faiths, I have found it more helpful, while respecting our differences, to start with what we share. I was glad two years ago to be invited to a Muslim celebration of Christmas.
Persecution of Christians has been condemned by a large number of Muslim leaders. In 2015, for example, more than 500 Muslim students, who belong to the NGO Bargad, held a protest march and have taken positive steps to protect Christians from abuse.
When I lectured at the Muslim College in Ealing, I asked if I might give the students copies of the Bible. The suggestion was warmly welcomed and the College offered to pay for them.
Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke, 17 Courtiers Green, Clifton Hampden, Abingdon, OX14 3EN 01865 407566 www.marcusbraybrooke.com
Marcus Braybrooke writes:
The courage of Lamiya Hajj Bashar and the cruelty she suffered was vividly described by Ian Birrell in The Mail on Sunday (8.1.17). It prompted me to write to the Mail, which published my letter, urging people of all faiths to defend the rights of minorities.
Lamiya is a member of the Yazidi faith, who grew up in a Yazidi village near Kocho in northern Iraq. When IS took over the village, residents were told to convert or die. All the men and boys were slaughtered in the streets. Unmarried women and teenagers were forced to become sex slaves – their sufferings were horrific. The older women were shot dead.
Lamiya made repeated efforts to escape. Brought before a sharia court, she was told by the judge that either they had to kill her or cut off a foot to stop her escaping. Lamiya replied: ‘If you cut off one foot, then I will escape on the other.’
Eventually she did escape, although she was injured by an explosion.
Other minorities are endangered. Open Doors recent World Watch estimates that last year 1,207 Christians were killed for their faith and Christians are at risk in 38 countries – more than ever before. (Church Times 13.1.17).
People of faith should speak out in defence of all persecuted minorities, not just members of their own religion.
It is easy to feel helpless. “All I have is a voice,” as the poet W.H Auden wrote at the beginning of World War II. We should use it, like him, to affirm that ‘We must love one another or die.” His poem ends with these words
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
Jenny Kartupelis writes:
2016, the year of our 80th anniversary, has drawn to a close and as we move into 2017 it seems a good time to reflect briefly on the gifts of the year. Members of the World Congress of Faiths (WCF) have been joined at a variety of events by guests and new friends, who have in turn enriched the discussion and brought new viewpoints.
Planning in 2015 for the forthcoming anniversary, the Trustees reviewed the role of WCF in the light of wide ranging conversations with academe, practitioners and potential partners and in the context of other interfaith activity in the UK and beyond. They decided that there was a need for greater understanding of the interaction between spiritual life and interfaith relationships, and also that WCF could be well placed to facilitate exploring and promoting the potential of such interaction as a bridge between perspectives.
The year therefore started with a symposium at Sarum College, which brought together members, academics, and practitioners from fields ranging from local interfaith groups to professional psychiatry.
The resulting conversations, reflected in four articles by participants in the ‘Creative Encounters’ section of Interreligious Insight (June 2016) confirmed the importance of WCF as a facilitator and mediator of ideas into the public realm. In the editorial to this issue, Revd Dr Alan Race commented: ‘What was fascinating about the symposium was the emergence of a kaleidoscopic nature… of spirituality: it was an inherent quality in being human, connected as much with our bodies as our minds; it was transformative in character for individuals and society or it was nothing at all; it remains a vehicle for expressing human needs, sufferings, hopes and desires irrespective of the cultural shape those expressions take’ (p 5). A full report of the symposium will shortly be published in the Journal for the Study of Spirituality.
A full day conference in September 2016, held at Emmanuel College Cambridge, provided the perfect arena to take forward these conversations; the agenda covered both the history and future prospects for interfaith activity from a variety of perspectives. The theme of the morning was ‘The Growth of Religious Pluralism’, to which speakers Rev Dr Alan Race, Professor Ursula King, and Dr Ankur Barua gave (respectively) theological, feminist and Dharmic responses. In the afternoon the theme was ‘Religion in Society’, with Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield speaking on ‘Observations from the Cutting Edge: What are the Challenges for the Next Generation?’ and Professor Chris Baker on ‘Religion and Public life: beliefs, hopes and fears’.
To ensure a variety of contribution, each presentation was moderated by someone of a different faith and gender from the speaker, inviting discussion from the floor. The day concluded with ‘Reflections for the future’ from Dr Edward Kessler and Dr Riaz Ravat. Those attending rated the day very highly, with comments including ‘Good variety… with coherent theme running through the day’ and ‘Fantastic range and very high level engagement’; the Trustees therefore felt the event took forward the aim of WCF to ‘make interfaith activity in the UK more effective, by contributing through innovative dialogue to the improvement of understanding’ through a continual renewal and synthesis of relevant knowledge, garnered by members and partners, and mediated into the public realm.
The annual Younghusband Lecture in November was chosen to continue this trajectory by enabling the author of the groundbreaking study The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World to apply his theory for the first time in public specifically to questions of spirituality and religion. Dr Iain McGilchrist is a qualified doctor, scientist and philosopher, whose work is rooted in a detailed understanding and analysis of how the brain works, and the relationship between the right and left hemispheres. His thesis is that the modern world is facing a major problem, in that we are losing a holistic understanding of reality in favour of a more fragmented view based on a limited dualism, which is about being judgmental as opposed to judicious; this clearly throws an important light on how relationships between faiths are conducted. His presentation is summarised in our previous blog The Riddle of the One and the Many: the 2016 Younghusband Lecture, and further reflections appear in the article THE RIDDLE OF THE ONE AND THE MANY: the insight of Dr Iain McGilchrist and its relevance to practice in Interreligious Insight (January 2017) (pp 84-88).
While members and Trustees take seriously their aim to ensure that WCF plays a useful role in interfaith practice and spiritual life, they enjoy a party as much as anyone, and were delighted to hold a summer garden party for friends and supporters in the lovely setting of the Royal Foundation of St Katherine in London’s dockland area. The 80th anniversary was celebrated in style, with music provided by the Berakah Choir, and an endorsement in person of WCF’s work by Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Faith and Society. The guest speaker was Harmander Singh, who is not only a tireless worker for interfaith, but also trains older Sikhs to run marathons. His presentation can be read in the blog Running is like a religion to me.
WCF is now looking forward with hope and excitement to welcoming members and friends to its 2017 events, trusting that these will prove stimulating, and provide more food for thought and action.
Richard Boeke writes:
Friday, two days before the New Year,
My teacher and friend, Huston Smith died on the day my wife and I were flying back from Dulles Airport, USA to Heathrow, England. Huston's books and TV appearances influenced millions.
I was at his last class at U.C. Berkeley and joined 200 students in giving him a standing ovation. He adapted not just the texts but the rhythms of religions and while remaining a Methodist, could say, "I never met a religion I didn't like."
I gave Huston's THE ILLUSTRATED WORLD RELIGIONS to William Swing, Episcopal Bishop of California. Swing phoned Huston and invited him to visit. In a few years Bishop Swing and his wife were mortgaging their house to help create United Religions Initiative (URI). Perhaps the World's most effective interfaith organization in reaching young people.
I was honoured to host Huston and his wife Kendra on a number of occasions including a World Congress of Faiths programme at Fintry House in South England and an International Association for Religious Freedom Conference at Palm Springs, California. He also shared with us at a programme at Harris Manchester College. Huston taught us there are many ways to experience "the ONENESS OF THE HOLY."