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‘We are cousins’: top-level friendship between faith leaders ‘needs to trickle down’

04 July 2022

GOOD FAITH PARTNERSHIP

Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah and the Chief Rabbi, Mervis Ephraim, at the event in the House of Lords on Thursday

Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah and the Chief Rabbi, Mervis Ephraim, at the event in the House of Lords on Thursday

CONSTRUCTIVE relations between faith leaders needs to be reflected at the grassroots, the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said on Thursday.

Rabbi Mirvis was speaking at an event in the House of Lords alongside Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, an Islamic scholar and jurist who founded and chairs the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace.

The event was hosted by Lord Walney and organised by the Good Faith Partnership. The discussion was introduced by the Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Canon Tricia Hillas, who described the event as a “ground-breaking dialogue”.

Shaykh bin Bayyah is in the UK to attend the Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion, which starts on Monday at which both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, are due to speak.

Shaykh bin Bayyah noted on Thursday that the pandemic had created a “sense of oneness”, and highlighted the history of the idea of “universal citizenship” in Islamic thought.

Rabbi Mirvis echoed this notion, and drew attention to the many areas of common ground between Judaism and Islam. “We are cousins”, he said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s secretary for inter-religious affairs, the Revd Dr Richard Sudworth, relayed greetings from Archbishop Welby to his “two friends”.

In celebrating the friendship between religious leaders, Rabbi Mirvis suggested that it was important that it trickled down to the grassroots level, with increased interaction and collaboration between religious groups within local communities.

Freedom of religion and belief is crucial to this, Shaykh bin Bayyah suggested. “We have to raise our young people with a sense of their religious identity, but also with a recognition of the rights of others to have their religious identity,” he said, adding that the “whole purpose of that is for peaceful co-existence”.

Shaykh bin Bayyah said that “co-operation” between religious figures “must eventually create practical initiatives that demonstrate to all people in the world that religion is fundamentally a force for salvation and mercy, not a reason for hatred and conflict”.

In 2016 Shaykh bin Bayyah helped to draft the Marrakesh Declaration, which aimed to protect the rights of religious minorities in majority-Muslim countries. The declaration was signed by more than 250 heads of states and Islamic leaders.

Bishop Mounstephen 2019 report, commissioned by the Foreign Office, on the global persecution of Christians, calculated that Christians comprised 80 per cent of the persecuted believers around the world.

The Government has faced questions about a lack of concrete response to the Bishop’s report. Last week, a Foreign Office minister, Vicky Ford, said that the Government would publish details of its progress in implementing its recommendations “in the near future” (News, 30 June).

On Friday, the Evangelical Alliance called for “long-term solutions” to the issue of persecution of Christians; and on Monday, the CEO of Release International, Paul Robinson, described the scale of persecution as “horrific”. He asked: “how many more Christians have to die for their faith before governments around the world take decisive action?”

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