By Don de Silva, CEO at Changeways International
At a time when extremists are tearing the world apart, the powerful force of world faiths was celebrated at an unusual Christmas event, organised by the League of British Muslims.
The event, which was held on 17 December at Ilford brought together community and national leaders and representatives from the UK armed forces to celebrate Christmas, together with Eid ul Fitr, Vesak,Chanukah, and Diwali. It is an annual event that has been held over the past 14 years.
The League of British Muslims aims to strengthen Muslim and non-Muslim voluntary and community organisations, improve inter-faith understanding and tolerance. The theme of this year’s event was: “The role of Muslim communities in Reducing Extremism”.
Welcoming the audience, chairman of the league, Bashir Chaudhry said:
“We are all human beings, it doesn’t matter how we pray.”
Mr Chaudhry said some from Ilford had gone to join IS, but that the league was working with young people in the community.
“If you don’t speak to each other, there is the fear of the unknown. We have gone in with a heavy hand and peace has not been achieved in any of these countries,” he said.
Mayor of Redbridge, Cllr Barbara White, spoke of how the concept of light features in many religious festivals. “You think of light, you think of seeing the light. If you see it, you see peace,” she said. “We are all the same – look for the similarities, they are there. This is togetherness. This is what we need.”
UK Defence Minister, Julian Brazier MP, commended the work done by League of British Muslims and Muslim Hands and called for support to such work. He said: “My own two sons, who are now in the British army, would not have been alive for if not for the brilliance of a Muslim physician.”
Pointing out to representatives of the armed forces present at the event, he reminded the audience that during the Second World War, “the Indian sub-continent produced the largest volunteer force this planet had ever seen to fight oppression”.
Jonathan Arkush, President of The Board of Deputies of British Jews, said:
“We also encountered challenges and hardships when there was Jewish emigration to Britain over 100 years ago and finding our place in Britain’s society. This is an extraordinary event and a testimony to the fact that we can work together, despite our differences. We should not be talking about whether a community is a guest community or a host community. We are all one community.
“In a society where securalism is strong, we share a strong concerns with the Muslim community about the positive role that faith plays in our communities,” he added.
Maqsood Ahmed, Director of Community Development, Muslim Hands UK, said that his organisation was working hard to assist recently arrived refugees and setting up partnerships with Food Share and other charities to alleviate poverty among all communities in the UK. In addition, he informed that Muslim Hands in the UK was tackling drug abuse, the under-achievement of Muslim school children, rehabilitating and resettling prisoners and empowering marginalised women.
The Bishop of Brentwood, Right Reverend Alan Williams, said: “We celebrate this year as the year of mercy. Faith is about mercy.”
Redbridge Council leader, Cllr Jas Athwal said that the east London borough was the “shining beacon” of diversity for others to follow and recalled the story of the first Muslim winner of the Victoria Cross, Khudadad Khan.
Don de Silva, Commissioner for the Environment, The Buddhist Society, which represents all relevant Buddhist traditions, said: “Extremism is not the prerogative of the Muslim community, particularly when you examine world history. Some 2,600 years ago, The Buddha dealt with extremism, terrorism, unrest, hatred and division. He offered a radical counter narrative to extremism: changing society, but beginning with oneself. The Buddha also urged rulers, in his day, to deal with the root causes of poverty, justice and unrest through governance with integrity.”
Many who attended the event urged religious leaders to move out of religious segregation and hold similar events throughout the year in different parts of the UK on a regular basis to counter disintegration.
Photos: courtesy: Naveed Akbar