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Forum: ‘Don’t dump festivals’

07 December 2006

Affirmative: the Bishop of Salisbury, Dr David Stancliffe, greeting worshippers at a eucharist to mark the 15th anniversary of Affirming Catholicism, in St Mary-le-Bow, London, last weekend.

Affirmative: the Bishop of Salisbury, Dr David Stancliffe, greeting worshippers at a eucharist to mark the 15th anniversary of Affirming Catholicism,...

by Bill Bowder

LOCAL authorities have been called to task by a joint Christian-Muslim group for trying to get rid of Christmas.

The Christian-Muslim Forum, set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, has written to local authorities to say that moves to secularise Christmas are offensive. The Forum has also warned that those who used religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianise British society were “unthinkingly becoming recruiting agents for the extreme Right”.

Muslims and other minority faiths, it said, did not have an anti-Christian agenda. In a joint letter sent to local authorities, and published last week, the chairman of the Forum, the Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Revd David Gillett, and its vice-chairman, Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, said: “As Muslims and Christians together, we are wholeheartedly committed to the retention of specific religious recognition for Christian festivals.”

Muslims were concerned that although Christmas caused no offence to the minority faiths, banning it would offend almost everybody. “The desire to secularise religious festivals is in itself offensive to both our communities. We believe that the only beneficiaries of eroding the residual Christian presence in public life are those committed to a totally non-religious standpoint,” the letter said.

An open and democratic society was one that promoted religious freedom in public places “rather than negatively restrict its observance”. The Bishop and Dr Siddiqui said that they welcomed the recognition of Eid at the end of Ramadan. Some Muslims now share their celebrations with non-Muslims as a way of affirming the contribution made to British society by people of different religious traditions.

“We believe that any attempt to privatise and hide the celebrations of religious festivals promotes frustration, alienation, and even anger within religious communities. Such negative approaches devalue religion, and undermine the positive contributions that faith communities bring to society.”

Festivals were important, and, for many people, religious festivals were the “high point” in their religious traditions. They called on national and local government to give “space and encouragement” to such festivals as part of community cohesion.

The forum was set up at a meeting between representatives of the faiths in Lambeth Palace (News, 27 January).

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