As part of my work with Near Neighbours I have been asked to use this hashtag as I tweet through interfaith week. It’s got me thinking what I can say beyond the usual interfaith means I eat wonderful food in a variety of fascinating places, interfaith means I have brilliant friends from different faiths and ethnicities and interfaith means that my own faith has been sharpened, deepened and refined by seeing through the lens of other faiths in dialogue and discussion. (Although all these things have hugely enriched my life they make peacebuilding feel like something passive or a consumer choice.)
This blog post was writing itself in my head before the shocking events in Paris unfolded last night. What I realise interfaith means to me is all about being prepared to love enemies, love those who are angry with you, love those who have done terrible things, love those who society says you should not love. I do not say this because I think people from different faiths are my enemies in any way – I say this because I think this unusual love which defeats fear is a core message of the major faiths. It is something we share. (And of course there are non-religious people who practice this kind of love)
I know some amazing stories from the Christian, Sikh and Muslim narratives that illustrate this and I am sure there are others found in the world’s major religions. The Good Samaritan is a foundational story for me, there is a beautiful story about Mohammed from the Muslim tradition called The Humble One and a Sikh friend shared with me an inspirational story of a warrior who couldn’t help giving a drink to the ‘enemies’ injured in battle. When he was asked why he did it he replied that he couldn’t distinguish between friend or foe as when he looked in their eyes he saw the light of the creator in all of them.
Its often said that the shared Golden Rule is ‘love your neighbour’ and I think that is how I often do interfaith. I spend time with people like me and I speak to people who will probably be receptive. Perhaps, if our shared Gold Rule were ‘love your enemy’ we might be more inspired to go out and find the people who disagree with us, the people who oppose our joint working and do not want to build peaceful cities and neighbourhoods.
I think one of the most useful conversations I have had recently was with some young people who were not keen on the idea of refugees living in their city. After an hour of nothing more sophisticated than storytelling and conversation they were keen to take practical action, to campaign and to fundraise on behalf of refugees.
These young people simply needed to hear a different story. We need to move on from talking to ourselves, from preaching to the converted. We need to get beyond being the same people, doing the same things in the same places. These activities in Birmingham have laid important foundations and enabled some wonderful relationships but it is time now to move beyond our comfort zone. We need interfaith to be incredibly active – a verb rather than an adjective.
It will be risky, there will be setbacks and we will make mistakes but if we do it together I believe it could make all the difference in the world and we might no longer even need to ask the question what does interfaith mean because we can see it practiced all around us.