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Interfaith dialogue ‘needs more bite’

28 April 2017

Christian Muslim Forum 

Talks: Christians and Muslims meet at Westminster Abbey for the launch of a report by the Christian Muslim Forum

Talks: Christians and Muslims meet at Westminster Abbey for the launch of a report by the Christian Muslim Forum

A “DEARTH of opportunity for difficult conversations to take place” has been highlighted in a new report from the Christian Muslim Forum (CMF), which calls for interfaith work with “teeth”.

The report, Casey Review: Integration and opportunity, by Mariam Sheikh Hakim, launched at Westminster Abbey on Monday, is based on discussions within the CMF, in response to Dame Louise Casey’s review of integration, which warned that segregation and social exclusion were at “worrying levels” in some areas of Britain (News, 9 December).

Dame Louise quoted reports that describe government-funded interfaith dialogue as “‘saris, samosas, and steel drums’ for the already well-intentioned”, and warned that some “not only avoided the difficult conversations that were needed, but had also provided an unchallenged platform or legitimacy to those whose views and values actually undermined cohesion”.

The CMF report says that many contributors shared these reservations: “If it largely involves middle-class, liberal, and left-leaning individuals, it loses its teeth and becomes ineffective: the purpose of interfaith dialogue is to create change, not just to exist.”

It questioned whether interfaith leaders were “willing to challenge regressive and intolerant practices, and doing enough to reach more ‘troublesome ends of different faiths’”. The CMF was attempting to create a “challenging yet associative space”, in a climate in which some members felt that there was “a lot of room for hate”. Interfaith must involve “ordinary people”, the report says.

In a BBC film launching her report, Dame Louise suggested that Muslims were “somewhat of an exception” to the growth of a population that was “more liberal about things like gay rights and women’s equality”. Her report drew attention to “the emergence of more regressive Islamic religiosity”. The CMF response refers to the “pain” caused by this section of the report.

“While none of us dismissed the issues that the review mentioned in terms of Muslim communities out of hand, most of us felt frustrated that Muslims were, yet again, singled out in the review, and considered to be the main problem with regards to integration. This in spite of multiple surveys showing Muslims’ desire to integrate, and evidence showing a lack of integration by other communities.”

The CMF refers to a “huge socio-economic factor which should not be ignored”, and statistics that suggest that half the country’s Muslims live in the ten per cent most deprived areas.

Some members, however, acknowledged barriers to integration, including “high levels of transcontinental marriage”. There was a discussion about reasons that some minority communities might not want to integrate more, including “an over-sexualised youth culture”. Integration was, it says, “an emotional issue for Christians as well as for Muslims in the group”.

Speaking at the launch, the Bishop of Bradford, Dr Toby Haworth, said that “friendships across the divisions support the rigours of hard-hitting conversation.”


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