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Hannah Rich: Solidarity between faiths matters more than ever

20 October 2023

Blending faith and politics is fraught, but worth the effort, says Hannah Rich


Sadiq Khan, at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, on 9 October

Sadiq Khan, at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, on 9 October

IN A week full of policy pronouncements, speeches, and a whirlwind of fringe events, the memory of this year’s Labour Party Conference which will stay with me the longest happened away from the glitter and lights of the main stage.

On Monday morning of last week, I found myself having breakfast alongside the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in a synagogue a stone’s throw from the conference centre in Liverpool. It was an interfaith event, organised by the Jewish Labour Movement, together with Nisa-Nashim, a national network that brings together Jewish and Muslim women to inspire and lead social change.

It had long been in the conference diary, but it took on a more sombre tone, given the violence that had unfolded in Israel and Gaza during the preceding 48 hours. We shared with each other bagels, tears, solidarity, and promises of prayer from our different religious traditions.

For many members of the Jewish community in attendance, it was their first chance to gather since the weekend’s events in Israel. For those of us of other faiths, it was an opportunity to stand with our brothers and sisters in their grief and disbelief at what was happening in the Middle East.

We listened to the words of the 18th-century Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, a prayer for “an ever-increasing peace among all peoples . . . that there may be no more hatred, rancour, strife, or conquest between one human being and another”. The Mayor echoed this prayer, drawing on similar words from the canons of his own Muslim faith.

In the face of war, loss, and our own felt helplessness, there was hope — if not optimism — to be found in being in a space of such deep solidarity.

The next day, I sat on a panel discussing freedom of religion or belief globally, with colleagues from humanist, Muslim, and Jewish groups in the party. Again, we came together from different traditions and beliefs, besides differing positions in the “broad Church” of the Labour Party. Again, the conversation was underpinned by a sense of solidarity and a commitment to disagreeing well with one another, without any pretence that that is always easy.

The blending of faith and politics is often fraught; the blending of interfaith dialogue with political discourse is even more so. I am not so rose-tinted in my view as to think that we get it right all the time, in my community, this country, or my own political party.

Years ago, at about the time of the London Bridge terrorist attack, I heard Mr Khan open a campaign speech with a light-hearted remark about how he was fasting for Ramadan. Then, as last week, I felt a sense of pride to be in a community in which he was able to bring his faith authentically and naturally to the table.

Amid the many promises of political change and a future government, I left Liverpool last week with a determination to practise the words of Rabbi Nachman’s centuries-old prayer: “Let there be only love and a great peace among us. . . So that we may speak — one to the other.”

Hannah Rich is director of Christians on the Left.

Paul Vallely is away.

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