INTERFAITH activists are not eccentrics or wishy-washy: they perform a “vital and godly mission”, said of one of the young champions of interfaith engagement, whose work was recognised at a ceremony in Lambeth Palace on Thursday of last week.
Seven Christians, seven Jews, and seven Muslims, along with three highly commended entrants, all aged under 40, were presented with trophies, after being commended by a panel of judges for the 21 for 21 initiative, a joint project between the Church Times, Jewish News, British Muslim TV, and Coexist House, which is linked to the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme (News, 16 November 2018). Nearly 100 nominations were received.
The project, which is thought to be the first such collaboration between media outlets of different faiths, was endorsed by the Prime Minister. She said last year that it would “do much to break down artificial barriers between faiths” (News, 4 May 2018).
The 21 include a hip-hop artist, Mohammed Yahya, who uses his music, poetry, and spoken word to promote peace and interfaith dialogue; the Priest-in-Charge of All Hallows’, Leeds, the Revd Heston Groenewald, who opened a Syrian kitchen in 2016, and led a counter-demo against the far Right in Leeds; and the president of the Jewish Society at the London School of Economics, Hannah Kaufman.marc morrisITV News’s Alastair Stewart presents the awards
Speaking at the end of the ceremony, another of the 21, Philip Rosenberg, the director of public affairs at the Board of Deputies, said: “Too often in our own communities, interfaith activists are treated like eccentrics, as wishy-washy people of compromise.
“But, really . . . [they] are performing a vital and godly mission. They are preserving their own identities while taking a farsighted view about the fact that isolationism and a winner-takes-all attitude makes for a much more dangerous world, while a win-win and inclusive approach means a better world for all of us.”
Another of the 21, Georgia May, who is programme director of the Rose Castle Foundation, which runs programmes for peacemakers, said: “I come from a conservative Evangelical community that often struggles to understand interfaith work. Yet my own experience of interfaith engagement has been a deepening of my faith, that has brought to life what is a core message of the Christian faith. . .
“Every Christian is called to be an ambassador for Christ and a minister of reconciliation. This opens up a very giving space, where we are not responsible for God’s mission of reconciliation, yet we are invited to play a critical role in demonstrating the deep love that God for all people.”
A Muslim winner, Arzoo Ahmed, director of the Centre for Islam and Medicine, spoke of a verse in the Qur’an, which says to humanity: “We have created you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”
She said: “That mutual knowledge is built on a plurality of differences, and characterised by trust and respect. It speaks of our deep and constant need for one another. And that’s what my encounters with people of other faiths teach me every single time.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s director for reconciliation, Sarah Snyder, was present. She said: “We really think that the connection between faith and peace-building, and building bridges between communities, is the most important connection.
“We see lots and lots of evidence of faith communities getting involved side by side, shoulder to shoulder, without feeling the need to become each other, recognising the diversity and the difference that they celebrate — being able to bring those differences together for the sake of their wider community.”
The chairman of Coexist House and chair of the 21 for 21 judges, Sir Bernard Rix, said: “These 21 — seven Jews, seven Christians, seven Muslims — are all at work today, leading projects, creating dialogue, running organisations, all demonstrating in their work and their lives how their faith makes them more open, not less, to friendships and social action across cultural boundaries.”marc morrisThe 21 for 21, and three highly commended entrants, at Lambeth Palace, where they received trophies in recognition of their interfaith work
The trophies were presented by the ITV News anchor Alastair Stewart. He said: “My daily work is full of domestic and international conflict between faiths. It happens, we know it all too well — but it is conducted by a minority of people in the interests of a minority of people. Be you Muslim, Jew or Christian, the vast majority of people are getting on with their peaceful, loving lives, looking after each other and cherishing each other’s differences.
“Your challenge, which we’re celebrating tonight, is to beat that drum a little louder than perhaps our generation did.”
The Communities Secretary James Brokenshire sent his “warmest congratulations” via a video message. (He was prevented from attending by the local-government elections.) “21 for 21 is doing fantastic work in illustrating how faith leads to positive social action, and also opens conversations across cultures and beliefs,” he said.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in another video message, described 21 for 21 as a “historic collaboration . . . [of] faith-based media organisations uniting and empowering 21 interfaith leaders, encouraging other young people to work in their communities, and to work from their shared values”.
Listen to the talks by Georgia May, Philip Rosenberg, and Arzoo Ahmed on the Church Times Podcast.