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Speakers find common ground

28 September 2012

Agreed: speakers at the Awareness Foundation conference last week

Agreed: speakers at the Awareness Foundation conference last week

RELIGIOUS leaders must speak out against actions by their co-religionists that betray the values of their shared faith.

This was the agreement of the three representatives of the Abra­hamic faiths at a lecture on faith and politics organised on Wednesday of last week, by the Awareness Founda­tion, a Christian charity set up to increase Christians' awareness of their neighbours' faiths and cultures.

The director of the Awareness Foundation, the Revd Nadim Nassar, said: "We need to admit that at certain times, all religions were abused by politicians, and that some religious leaders also abused poli-tics, all in the name of power. Christianity is not an exception."

The relationship between Chris­tianity and politics had "always been controversial", he suggested, "be­cause Jesus did not preach a political system". Jesus had challenged the "injustices in the system" and re­served some of his harshest critic­isms for hypocritical religious leaders who "turned their living faith into chains around the lives of the people". Mr Nassar warned: "People are still manipulated by religious leaders into supporting their political agenda, even at the expense of people's lives."

Asked about his views on Israel, Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt, the founder of the Jewish charities Tikun UK and Aish UK, said: "While I do not think it is as bad as it can be portrayed, I do not think it reflects Jewish values in the way I would like it to do." He suggested that religion's job was "not to impose itself, but to educate and inspire the people". It should be the "guiding factor" in people's lives, resulting in politics that was "more appropriate, kinder, more generous".

Sayed Abi Abbas Razawi, a Muslim who teaches subjects includ­ing principles of juris­prudence and comparative mysti­cism, agreed that religious leaders should challenge their co-religionists where necessary, but said that "the complexities of religion need to be analysed and evaluated." This was difficult because of the "political connotations" involved: "When you look at religion today, religion has been misused in the name of politics."

He spoke of the part played by of the imam, and the placing of leadership "in the hands of the élite" - people who are "spiritually purified" and "selfless".

Asked whether all residents of a country, regardless of their religion, would be happy to be led by an imam, he said: "What is important here is that the perfect man un­derstands . . . the people. . . In terms of universal wisdom, it is the same in all human beings. Good is good and bad is bad."

All three speakers agreed that religion should not be kept out of the public square. "Secularism should not mean that God is out, and that I can't talk about my faith because it is taboo," Mr Nassar said. "When we squeeze God out of the system, morality decays."

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