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Interfaith team get their hands dirty

13 October 2017

Muslim Aid

Summer cleaning: the team rector of St John, Bethnal Green, Prebendary Alan Green (centre), surrounded by the cleaning team: left to right; Muslim Aid volunteers Kaief and Mahmoud, Beverley Cohen, Angela McDowall; the churchwarden, Debbie Frame, and churchgoer Jim

Summer cleaning: the team rector of St John, Bethnal Green, Prebendary Alan Green (centre), surrounded by the cleaning team: left to right; Muslim Aid...

MUSLIMS, Jews, and Christians in east London have been rolling up their sleeves to deep-clean their places of worship, as part of a new interfaith initiative.

The Abraham Initiative, which took place over the summer, was the idea of a volunteers’ officer for the charity Muslim Aid, Zakaria Hus­sain, who had been frustrated by the lack of contact between members of the three Abrahamic faith com­munities.

“We often see imams meeting rabbis and high churchpeople in high-profile settings, but people like myself hardly ever have an oppor-tunity to meet Jewish or Christian people socially,” he said. “This time of year, it’s Qurbani, the period when Muslims focus on the theme of sacrifice; so we are asking our Abra­hamic brothers and sisters to sac­rifice time for the upkeep of our precious holy places.”

St John’s, Bethnal Green, a Grade I listed building, and the East London Central Synagogue near by, were subjected to a belated spring clean in August, from dusting, polishing and vacuuming, and gen­eral main­tenance to cleaning graffiti off the walls.

“Our three faiths have strong similarities,” Mr Hussain said. “There is nothing like getting our hands dirty together to achieve practical goals; we, at Muslim Aid, want to make friends, and we hope the church and synagogue buildings will benefit from our efforts.”

Half the volunteers from the three Abrahamic faiths worked on Nelson Street Synagogue, and the other half on St John’s, to launch the initiative. It was the first time that some of the young Muslim volunteers had been in a church. “It’s amazing to see what a big church is like inside,” one 14-year-old said.

Their hard work was followed by a tea, during which volunteers dis­cussed what they had achieved. A churchwarden at St John’s, Debbie Frame, aged 51, had been cleaning the pews. “I’ve been coming to this church since I was a little girl,” she said. “It really means a lot to me.”

Her fellow churchwarden, Stan White, compared spiritual and geo­graphical roots with Somsul Islam, from Muslim Aid, and Beverley Cohen, who is Jewish.

The Team Rector, Prebendary Alan Green, said afterwards: “All of us at St John’s are very thankful for the work carried out by the vo­­lunteers from Muslim Aid. The enthusiasm and dedication of these young people was wonderful to see.”

The cleaning day came after the Ramadan Sunset Walk from St Paul’s Cathedral to the East London Mosque, on 10 June — a Muslim Aid interfaith initiative which marked a week after the London Bridge attack, and remembered the victims of violence worldwide.

“Muslim Aid has already made a good public show of interfaith co-operation with the Ramadan Sunset Walk, and this is another positive step,” Prebendary Green said. “It shows the good relationship that already exists between our communities in this area, and we will build on that to make it even better.”

Mr Hussain said afterwards: “The crime rates among youth tend to rise in Tower Hamlets over school holidays; so we were pleased to offer constructive activity.”

The President of the East London Central Synagogue, Leon Silver, said: “It was so good to host these en­­thusiastic young people, and see them meeting members of our com­munity; they worked very hard.”

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