Review of a year with Interfaith Scotland Part 2

Last week I looked back onto the first half of my internship with Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow. Today I’m looking back on the second half.

January 2018:

After a well deserved Christmas break I came back to Glasgow in the beginning of January. In this month the main event for me and Interfaith Scotland was Holocaust Memorial Day. I participated in a couple of planning meetings, helped to build the exhibition about German massacres in Glasgow’s twin city of Rostov-on-Don, met the International guests at a welcome dinner and was responsible for registration (with some of my colleagues)  and the running of several powerpoint presentations/videos at the event. How impressive this work with the remembering of the Holocaust was for me, can be read in several blog articles I wrote in this time. In January I also travelled to Dundee to witness the re-establishment process of Dundee Inter Faith Association.

With Interfaith Glasgow I was part of a group of Weekend Club volunteers, who met volunteers from the Edinburgh Weekend Club for an exchange of thoughts and ideas about our practise. I helped at a Faith-to-Faith event at St Mungo Museum about Glasgow’s history as a welcoming city (connected with the story of St Mungo) and with the Weekend Club we celebrated a Burn’s afternoon for refugees and asylum seekers.

I also visited Glasgow’s reform synagogue for their Holocaust Memorial Service and the blog article about this experience was one of those with the most positive reactions during my whole year.

February 2018:

The big highlight in February was one with Interfaith Glasgow. We participated in World Interfaith Harmony Week with a series of three events: A Weekend Club team meeting with a lot of reflection about the value of interfaith cooperation, a Scriptural Reasoning Dialogue about why Christians, Muslims and Jews are engaging in Interfaith Dialogue and a Community Meal event to built better Friendship between people of different religious backgrounds. We documented all this with a lot of photos, videos and reports, which we sent in at the end of the month and in April Interfaith Glasgow received the third prize in the competition. Additional to this World Interfaith Harmony Week programme I also attended the next Faith-to-Faith event about “Faith and Activism” and helped to deliver it.

But also Interfaith Scotland did not become lazy after the two major events of every year (Scottish Interfaith Week and Holocaust Memorial Day). We continued to plan the youth conference in St Andrews and we organised our AGM with an interesting talk about Gender Equality in the different faith traditions. The next advisory group meeting for youth engagement with the Inter Faith Network for the UK took place, but this time I stayed in Scotland and attended it via skype. Anyway I did travel south this month, because I attended the first Focus Group meeting in Birmingham. At those meetings members of the advisory group were meeting young people from the local area to talk with them about their interfaith experiences and which kind of supporting material they would like to have for their interfaith engagement. In February I also started to visit local interfaith groups again and travelled to Inverness and Stirling (Central Scotland Interfaith Group). Those were still not my only journeys, because I also went to Oban with a group of interfaith volunteers to deliver workshops at the local High School. On behalf of Interfaith Scotland I also attended an Interfaith New Years Dinner hosted by the Ahmadiya community in Glasgow and attended a reception organised by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland at the Scottish Parliament.

March 2018:

The march started with the “Beast from the East”, but as soon as it was possible to travel I was on the road again. Together with Frances I attended the first planning meeting for the Launch of Scottish Interfaith Week 2018, which will be held in Aberdeen. We met people from the local interfaith group, local authorities and faith communities and visited some possible venues for the launch event. I also travelled to London again for the next meeting of the youth engagement advisory group. The work with young people was a general important theme for me this spring, because besides continue to plan and advertise the youth conference I also organised (together with some colleagues from Interfaith Scotland and the Inter Faith network for the UK) a Focus group meeting in Glasgow, so that also the voices of young Scots could be heard in the UK project. I also travelled to Dundee again to join a dialogue meeting there, which also should help the local interfaith group to become re-established again. Shortly before Easter I visited the Moray interfaith group in Elgin, before I had a nice Easter holiday on Iona.

For Interfaith Glasgow I functioned as the Christian speaker at a Faith-to-Faith event about the Feminine in God.

April 2018:

The major event in April and the last real big event that I helped to plan and facilitate was the National Interfaith Youth Conference in St Andrews, where about 80 young people from all over Scotland and very interesting speakers talked about “Radicalisation and Reconcilitation” from different perspectives- definitely one of many highlights during the year. Otherwise the month was rather calm, compared with others. I visited the Renfrewshire interfaith group and attended a training about “Tackling Hatespeech in youth work” (a result of the two Erasmus+ projects Interfaith Scotland is involved with at the moment). At the end of April I visited the Ayrshire Interfaith group in Kilmarnock.

With Interfaith Glasgow I helped at the Faith-to-Faith event which was part of the celebration about 25 years of St Mungo Museum with a lot of interesting stories from the history of Interfaith in Glasgow and Scotland. I also joined the Weekend Club for my last event with them, which was held at the beautiful “Hidden Gardens” on the southside of Glasgow.

I also joined the Jewish community in Glasgow for their YomHaShoa event.

In April I also preached in a Sunday service at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow and was interviewed about my interfaith experience at a Forum afterwards.

May 2018:

In May there weren’t any big projects to plan or facilitate for me, but a lot of nice smaller events. I gave a speech at the German Speaking congregation in Edinburgh, I attended a meeting of the Religious Leaders (as notetaker), I met the planning committee of the youth conference in St Andrews for an evaluation meeting, I went to Aberdeen for another planning meeting for Launch of SIFW 2018, I visited the Fife interfaith group another time and told them about my experience in Scotland, I attended a meeting for the prevention of Genocide and a conference of Scottish Faiths in Action for Refugees and I visited the Skye interfaith group and joined the Quaker community on Skye for one of their meetings.

I missed the Interfaith Glasgow event “One Big Picnic” due to a private journey, as well as the May Faith-to-Faith event, but I functioned as the Christian speaker at a really nice Scriptural Reasoning dialogue event about Joseph/Yusuf.

June 2018:

June has only started a week ago, but I already have travelled to Shetland to visit the local interfaith group there and also joined the local Baha’i community for a devotional. On Shetland I also delivered school workshops to students at the secondary school on Whalsay and at Lunnasting Primary School.

Yesterday I celebrated my farewell from my colleagues from Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow.

Later today I will shortly be interviewed at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church. I am going to tell them about the amazing interfaith work which is going on in Scotland and the great time I had here and try to encourage them to get involved in interfaith – if they not already are. A live stream of the synod is available on facebook, the time will be in the afternoon, probably some time between 3 and 5 pm.

On Sunday I’m going to be the official facilitator at my last Faith-to-Faith event. The theme will be “Heaven and Hell” and curators from Glasgow Museums will talk about ideas of Heaven and Hell in Islam and Christianity with the help of pictures of different museum objects. If you want to join the event, come along at 2pm to St Mungo Museum.

On Monday I then will travel back to Germany for good and on the 1st of July a new exciting chapter begins when I’m starting my ministry in the village of Eschollbrücken, near Darmstadt (where I grew up), about 30 kilometers (about 18.6 miles for everyone who is not familiar with the metric system) south of Frankfurt.

I want to thank everyone who I met during the year and all my journeys across Scotland and the UK! It was a very special time for me and I hope that Interfaith continues to flourish in Glasgow, Scotland, the UK and the rest of the world – it’s so important and enriching!

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If anyone would like to have similar experiences as I had during my time here or if you want to know more about the work of Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow feel free to contact them and to ask for volunteering or internship opportunities!

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Review of a year with Interfaith Scotland Part 1

11 months ago I arrived in Scotland. It was the beginning of an exciting, interesting, instructive and intense time. In today’s blog I want to review the first half of my time here in Scotland. The second half is going to follow next week.

July 2017:

In July I moved to Glasgow and started to settle in. I explored the city and it’s surrounding. I learned the basics of how Interfaith Scotland is working. I also started my work with Interfaith Glasgow, where I usually spend one day a week. In this month I also visited some places of worship, eg the Hindu Mandir and the Central Gurdwara in the Westend of Glasgow. I attended the Church of Scotland’s National Youth Assembly and visited the local interfaith group in West Lothian.

August 2017:

In August I continued my settling in process, and visited some more places of worship in Glasgow, eg the Andalus Centre. I started to help my colleagues to plan Scottish Interfaith Week by for example collecting information about Creativity and the Arts in the different faith traditions. I visited the Fife Interfaith group, Edinburgh Interfaith Association and the Dumfries and Galloway Interfaith group. I helped to organise and participated in the Annual Networking Seminar. With Interfaith Glasgow I supported the volunteer team at my first Weekend Club event for refugees and asylum seekers.

September 2017:

In September I explored the northern parts of Scotland for the first time and visited the local Interfaith groups in Orkney and Aberdeen. I also represented Interfaith Scotland at the AGM of Faith in Older People and with an information stall at the Cumbernauld Campus of New College Lanarkshire. In this month we also started to plan our national interfaith youth conference in St Andrews with a planning meeting together with the coexistence initiative at St Andrew’s university. With Interfaith Glasgow I helped to facilitate my first Faith-to-Faith event at St Mungo Museum. I was also invited by the Ayrshire Interfaith group to give a talk at their One Peace Day and attended an interfaith dialogue about Identity and Belonging.

October 2017:

In October I helped at the Scholl’ Interfaith Day for Roman-Catholic Schools and joined meetings of Interfaith Scotland with the Catholic Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald. I also attended an Interfaith Symposium organised by the Ahmadiya community in Glasgow. I represented Interfaith Scotland with an stall at Brannock Highschool and met the Caritas students group at Lourdes Secondary school on the southside of Glasgow. I travelled to London for the first meeting of the Youth Engagement Advisory Group, which had been set up by the Inter Faith Network for the UK. I also attended and helped at a Faith-to-Faith event and joined the Weekend Club for an trip to Edinburgh Castle.

November 2017:

The most important part of my work in November was of course Scottish Interfaith Week. I attended several events: A Scriptural Reasoning in Edinburgh, an interfaith evening with creative action and interesting talks in Ayrshire, an Dinner together with international European guests at the Glasgow Gurdwara, the Launch event for the Our Story exhibition at the Scottish Parliament, an evening about the Architecture of the Baha’i Houses of Worship, the annual interfaith lecture in Fife, an Interfaith Thanksgiving Dinner at the US Consulate in Edinburgh, an creative lunch in Dumfries and several short events at St Mungo Museum. The two big events I helped to organise myself were the Launch event of Scottish Interfaith Week in Dundee and the Family Fun Day in Glasgow. After Interfaith Week I gave workshops at Airdrie Academy and we started to plan the national Holocaust Memorial Day event. The second planning meeting for the youth conference in St Andrews happened also in November.

December 2017:

After the intense November the December was quieter, but not quiet. I joined my colleagues from Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow for our deserved Christmas lunch. I visited some schools, who had participated in the Art competion for Scottish Interfaith Week and brought them their prizes. I travelled to London again for another meeting with the Youth Engagement Advisory group. With Interfaith Glasgow I helped to facilitate the next Faith-to-Faith event and a Weekendclub event where we pre-celebrated Hogmaney.

 

During the first half of my internship I met many interesting people and got a very good insight into the work of Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow as well as into some local interfaith groups, the Scottish school system, the work of the Inter Faith network for the UK and Scottish society, culture and history. Next week I’m going to write about the second half of my internship.

Religious Leaders

On Wednesday Adama Dieng, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, visited Interfaith Scotland for a dialogue event. He presented the UN’s “Plan of Action for the Prevention of Genocide”.

In the dialogue he realised that a lot of good practise that he encourages people all over the world to do is actually already happening in Scotland. The plan of action addresses mainly (but not only) Religious Leaders and Actors. For me this gives me an opportunity to reflect a bit on the role of religious leaders for interfaith dialogue and genocide prevention.

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Impression from the “Prevention of Genocide” discussion

The connection of interfaith dialogue and genocide prevention

For me the prevention of genocides and religious violence is one of the most important motivations for interfaith dialogue. Good interfaith relationships are probably the best way to prevent religious motivated hate crimes (and the genocide is the worst form of a hate crimes). In the Holocaust, as well as in the persecution of Baha’i in Iran or Rohinga Muslims in Myanmar religion was/is one of the motivations for the committed crimes.

The important role of religious leaders for interfaith dialogue

Faith communities are structured in very different ways. They can be very hierarchical or with a very flat hierarchy. They can be structured top-down or bottom-up. Nearly all faith communities have some kind of persons that are responsible for representing them at different occasions.

It is very different how much “power” the different religious leaders have in speaking for their community, but what they are doing as representatives is usually highly symbolic. When religious leaders for example meet people from other religions this usually has an impact on how the public and people from their own religion see the relationship to people of other religions. Depending on the structure of their faith community religious leaders are also able to “set themes” for the discussion inside their community.

One difficulty with religious leaders can be that not everyone in their faith community might be excited about a larger interfaith engagement. Because of that it is possible that certain religious leaders can’t go as far forward with their actions as they might wish to do, because they have to respect and also represent those members of their community that are not interested in interfaith. Another difficulty for an interfaith dialogue between faith leaders can be that in case a leader is not very much interested in interfaith themselves it can handicap the initiatives of those members of their faith communities who want to drive interfaith forward.

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The religious leaders of Scotland at their meeting in the beginning of May 2018.

How I experienced the religious leaders in Scotland

The religious leaders of Scotland meet twice a year together and a third time for a joint summit with the first minister. Interfaith Scotland is functioning as secretary for those meetings. I personally had the opportunity to participate in those meetings as a note taker. The actual content of the meetings should not be shared here but it is possible, to give some of my impressions.

1) The religious leaders seem to appreciate the cooperation with each other. The meet each other very open and respectful and a lot of faith communities large ones and small ones were represented.

2) The religious leaders are talking open with each other. At the meetings they tell openly about what is going on in their communities. As far as I could witness it there seems to be a true base of trust between them.

3) The religious leaders cooperate with each other. At points that concern all/some of the faith communities they work together. For example were most of the face communities and their representatives involved in an event about the risks of climate change at the Scottish Parliament some weeks ago or they show solidarity if one faith communities suffers from certain problems.

That the  leaders of the faith communities are working so good and smoothly together is not usual, especially on a world wide perspective and Scotland can be proud about the process of cooperation which has been made in the last years.

Interfaith Youth Conference in St Andrews

Last Saturday was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Scotland. It was the day of the National Interfaith Youth Conference we were planning since last September. The conference had been planned and hold in cooperation of Interfaith Scotland with the student run Coexistence Initiative at the University of St Andrews. The theme of the conference was “Radicalisation and Reconciliation” and about 80 young people from different regions of Scotland came. In total eight speakers had been invited to the conference in advance and, a bit surprisingly for our planning committee, agreed to come. So we had a very full programme with very interesting talks. After each of the talks there was time for questions and answers and some kind of discussion. Some of the speakers also asked questions to the crowd, while others were mainly giving their presentations.

Here are my personal experiences and thoughts about the speeches:

  1. Dr Leah Robinson

33 - Leah Robinson

After the official welcome to the conference through representatives of Interfaith Scotland, the Coexistence Initiative and the university chaplaincy Leah Robinson, lecturer in Practical Theology at Edinburgh University was speaking. Her talk gave a very good frame for the following day and provoked thoughts I had in mind when listening to the talks of the other speakers. I mainly remember that she stressed that real reconciliation “is much more than drinking tea together” and itself a very radical act. People that in the popular mind are icons of reconciliation, such as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela were actual very radical in their positions themselves and have only been “domesticated” by the popular mind to quote givers for Social Media posts. Her speech was a strong pledge to reclaim the word “radical”, so that it does not describe terrorist but those who are campaigning and fighting for more justice and love in the world.

  1. Imam Usama Hasan

33 - Quilliam

The next speaker was Imam Usama Hasan, Head of Islamic Studies at Quilliam International, a counter-extremist organisation. Having been a “foreign fighter” against Communist forces in Afghanistan in the beginning of the 1990s he could tell about his own radicalisation process. I found it in particular impressive to hear how the experience of racism when growing up in London “radicalised” him and how he while still studying in Cambridge in his holidays could go to Afghanistan and fight the “Jihad”. From my point of view it was important at a conference with this theme to hear someone with his own story of “radicalisation”, who went through this process in a time, when he was about the age of most of the participants at the conference.

  1. Mahrukh Shaukat and Gigha Lennox

33 - Rwanda

Before the lunch break we heard the story of two young Scottish women, who participated in the Interfaith youth exchange programme with Rwanda last year. I had heard presentations about this programme before, but in my opinion it was special to hear them in this setting at the youth conference. Besides facts about the exchange programme and the Rwanda genocide especially the stories about how they met survivors and perpetrators and how both groups are working together in the process of reconciliation was highly impressive.

During the lunch break people were mingling with each other, so this was not only time for food and drinks, but also for informal dialogue and networking.

  1. Jane Bentley

The session following the lunch break was a very special one. It was not mainly a talk, even if there was some input about what dialogue is, but a music session where everyone at the conference participated. Putting such a session into the programme of an otherwise relatively academic conference was a kind of a risk but it worked out really well and the people enjoyed it very much (according to my impression at the conference and the feedback they gave afterwards). It shows that dialogue is not only happening through thinking and talking (even if those are my two favourites of doing it), but also through creating something together.

A short impression of the session can be found here.

  1. Mike Jervis

33 - Miek Jervis

The following speaker works with an organisation called the “Active Change Foundation”. They work with radicalised people to reintegrate them into society, as well as with their families and with perpetrators and victims of gang violence. Their approach is a very practical one but they also advise a lot of governments. He described very clear and powerful how the process of radicalisation/recruiting (whether for gangs or for terrorist organisations) is going on and gave insight into some of the cases his organisation has worked with. The insight into this praxis was really helpful to understand a bit better how (young) people from privileged backgrounds are seduced to join those kind of groups.

  1. Ameed Versace

33 - Ameed Versace

This talk was one of the biggest surprise for me. Ameed, who grew up in Glasgow and is part of the Shia community here, talked about how his father was killed in a hate crime many years ago and how he is dealing with this without hating himself and so letting the hate win.

  1. Andrew Marin

33 - Andrew Marrin

Andrew is a former advisor of President Obama and a current advisor of the United Nations in Iraq and on the same time a lecturer at the University of St Andrews. Having started his carrier with social work in Chicago, he talked about his experiences with the process of reconciliation. From my point of view fitting very well together with the talk of Leah Robinson in the beginning of the conference he said thought provoking sentences such as “we don’t have to agree in order to love” or that victims and perpetrators need to work together for sustainable social change, even if they maybe can’t forgive each other. Especially for the often very harmony seeking people in the field of interfaith religions in my opinion it was important to stress this point that cooperation is possible, even without the ability to forgive and that reconciliation is a process.

  1. Stewart Weaver

33 - place for hope

As the last speaker of the conference the project “Place for Hope” was presented shortly. They do important work of facilitating reconciliation processes between individuals and/or faith communities.

 

For me this conference was a really positive experience because of three causes:

  1. The speakers were in all their different approaches very thought provoking. Having left university three years ago myself it was great to hear challenging speeches and to re-think some ideas.
  2. The conference was organised by young people (the Coexistence Initiative) for young people and therefor it were the questions and ideas the young people were interested in, that were the theme of the conference. It showed again very well, that young people know very well what they are interested in and that those are often the more “radical” themes than those maybe the older generation would suggest for a conference like this one.
  3. Personally it was very good for me to have one important project during my time here, where I’m involved in all the planning, then experiencing the actual event and even the evaluation of the event.

Thank you very much for everyone, who was involved in making the conference a success!

What does a national Interfaith Organisation do?

Two weeks ago I blogged about what local interfaith groups in Scotland are doing. Today I’m telling a bit more about what Interfaith Scotland as a national interfaith organisation is doing.

The obvious differences between the local interfaith groups and Interfaith Scotland is the area they are working in (Interfaith Scotland in the whole of Scotland and during cooperations even abroad) and also that Interfaith Scotland as a charity has some paid staff, while the local interfaith groups are run on a complete voluntary basis.

Structure of Interfaith Scotland

Interfaith Scotland is a member organisation. Faith Communities can become members or associated members of Interfaith Scotland. A list of all actual members can be found here.

Interfaith Scotland is a charity, which gets it’s funding through membership fees and applying for funding from different authorities, mainly the Scottish government. Interfaith Scotland got a board of trustees, where the major faith communities of Scotland (Buddhism, Baha’i, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism) as well as the women interfaith groups and the local interfaith groups are represented. For the year of young people the board also co-opted a young person. A list of the members of the board can be found at:

http://www.interfaithscotland.org/about-us/ 

But what is actually Interfaith Scotland doing?

Scottish Interfaith Week

Interfaith Week is an invention by Interfaith Scotland. Some years ago the other parts of the UK joined in in celebrating Interfaith Week. Thanks to the local interfaith groups and the different faith communities there are events happening during Scottish Interfaith Week in every region of the country. Scottish Interfaith Week always has a theme. Last year’s theme was “Creativity and the Arts” and this year’s theme will be “Connecting Generations”. If you are interested in organising an event for Scottish Interfaith Week you can already start thinking about what you would like to do about this theme. There is also an art competition for schools every year during Scottish Interfaith Week.

Interfaith Week takes always place in November and more can be found at:

http://scottishinterfaithweek.org

Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD)

Since quite a while Interfaith Scotland is organising the national Holocaust Memorial Day event for Scotland in January. The event is always in a different council area of Scotland. This year’s event was in Glasgow. The event remembers the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. Usually high representatives from politics, faith communities and other parts of the society are present and survivors or relatives of survivors are speaking. Around HMD there is an intense programme for schools going on and the younger generation is also involved in the official HMD programme. Especially in times when minorities are still suffering from Hate Crimes it’s important to remember the Holocaust and work together so that horrors like the Holocaust can’t never happen again.

22 - HMD 2

Supporting local interfaith groups

One main task of Interfaith Scotland is to support the local interfaith groups. Those voluntary run groups with members of different faith communities are support by Interfaith Scotland through different ways. For activities during Scottish Interfaith Week they can get a small financial support as well as materials about the theme (like information, presentations, dialogue questions, event ideas), which can be used for events. From time to time staff members of Interfaith Scotland are travelling around the country to visit some of the interfaith groups, to see if they need any special support, if there are certain problems on the local level and also to learn from them about their activities. Local Interfaith Groups get also invited to an Annual Networking Seminar, where they can meet members of other interfaith groups. The groups also get a platform on Interfaith Scotland’s website and in the annual newsletter. If people want to found a new group in a region where no local interfaith group exists (so for example last year in the Scottish Borders) Interfaith Scotland helps with this by for example organising the first meetings of the new group and contacting the different faith communities in the region.

Religious Leaders meetings

As part of the work with the Scottish faith communities Interfaith Scotland is the secretary for the regular meetings of the religious leaders two times a year (one in spring and one in autumn). Usually one of the faith communities hosts the events. To witness one of their meetings was one of the most interesting experience during my time here and it was really good to see how the religious leaders were treating each other very open and respectful.

Summit with First Minister

In addition to the two meetings of the religious leaders, Interfaith Scotland also brings together the religious leaders and the First Minister for a summit once a year. I think it is really important that the government connects with all the different faith communities and this meeting is an important part of this.

School workshops

Interfaith Scotland offers different kinds of workshops for schools of all levels. For example it is possible to bring representatives from different faith communities to schools so the students have the possibility to talk to people of different faiths rather than just reading about their religion. Especially (but not only) for schools in less diverse areas, this is a great opportunity. Another possible workshop is to bring boxes with religious objects to the schools, so the children can explore the religions by exploring typical objects. The third option is that a staff member of Interfaith Scotland is coming to a school and giving a presentation at a school assembly or in a class and to have activities for example about “why interfaith dialogue is important”.

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Youth programme

Not only during the Year of Young People, but especially now, the work with young people is important for Interfaith Scotland. Examples for this kind of work are the Youth Conference, which is taking place tomorrow in St Andrews or the Christian-Muslim Scotland-Rwanda exchange programme, which was taking place last September. For the coming time Interfaith Scotland has even employed a youth worker, who is going run some activities for young people such as an interfaith youth retreat.

SAFE (Scotland Abroad Faith Exchange)

Even with the main focus of it’s work on Scotland Interfaith Scotland is also doing some international work. This year Interfaith Scotland is participating in two Erasmus+ projects, funded by the European Comission, working together with charities from several other European countries. Last month the director of Interfaith Scotland was in New Zealand and visited different interfaith organisations there and even spoke in the parliament about the interfaith work in Scotland.

In very little countries in the world interfaith work is as good organised and well supported as in Scotland and so it is good to let other’s learn from the Scottish experiences and to learn from the experiences similar organisations gain in their countries in an often more difficult surrounding.

32- Rwanda

Dialogue for Members

Interfaith Scotland is organising special dialogue session for it’s members. One example can be the dialogue event about “Identity and Belonging” last autumn.

Cooperation with Police Scotland and other authorities

There is a very close cooperation between Interfaith Scotland and authorities like Police Scotland. This results on the one hand in training session in religious awareness, which Interfaith Scotland is delivering and on the other hand in intense dialogue in the prevention of conflicts as well in how to respond for example on religious motivated hate crimes or potential terror attacks from any kind of extremists.  

Cooperation with other Interfaith bodies

Interfaith Scotland also cooperates also with other interfaith organisations. This can be on the regional level, for example the cooperation with Edinburgh Interfaith Association and Interfaith Glasgow, or on the Scottish national level, for example with the Interreligious Council of the Roman-Catholic bishops conference, or on the wider level, eg with the Inter Faith Network for the UK.

Training Sessions

Interfaith Scotland is providing training sessions for different groups. Often those sessions are about how to deal with the needs of different religious groups or how to prevent discrimination against people because of their religion. Last week I had the opportunity to participate in one very interesting training day about how to tackle (religious) hate speech in youth group settings.

Publications

Interfaith Scotland also publicises materials, which can be found on its website.

Every year Interfaith Scotland publicises a Newsletter where stories about the last year’s activities are shared. The actual Newsletter was just published this month and can be downloaded here.

Interfaith Scotland has also accounts on facebook and twitter, so people can follow the different activities.

I hope this article could give you a good insight into the widespread work of Interfaith Scotland as a national interfaith organisation.

What the world can learn from Münster

When I read the first news about the vehicle that drove into a café in the German town of Münster last Saturday I was shocked. Not because the incident happened – in a way I’m getting used to news like this but because of the place where it happened. I lived in Münster for five years between 2010 and 2015 and the place of the attack was only a maximum five minutes walk from my home and it’s a place I surely have passed over 100 times. I’m grateful that no one of my friends, who are still living there where injured or killed in the attack. In a way I was also relieved when it became clear that the perpetrator was neither a Muslim nor a refugee, because so it is harder to use the attack to spread Islamophobia and fears against refugees and asylum seekers (even if right wing activist where still trying to do so…).

A lot of people outside of Germany might not have heard about Münster before the attack or might not know a lot about it. And if they know something about Münster it might be that it’s Germany “bicycle capital”, that it has a large university, that it has a beautiful (destroyed and reconstructed) old town or that it won a price as one of the most liveable places in the world in 2004. Today I want to tell you the story of Münster as a place which has a long history of anti-radicalism and peace building – especially between faith communities.

RathausMünster
Münster Town Hall: Von Florian Adler (schlendrian) – Eigenes Werk, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=334070

Münster exists since the time of Charlemagne and is home of a Roman-Catholic diocese since the year 800. Because of this long lasting history (Catholic) Christianity is still relatively dominant in Münster’s city culture and visible through a lot of (huge) churches all over the area. The first time Münster became really important for (world) history was in the year 1534. As part of the protestant reformation radical “Anabaptists” established a theocracy in Münster. Only a (united!) military force of Catholics and Protestants was able to establish the former order in the town after about one year of resistance. Of course neither the Anabaptist with their theocracy nor the military action by Protestants and Catholics a good example how to deal with differing religious views – but this experience and the remembrance of it might have helped the citizens to be very sceptical against any kind of extremism.

The next time Münster became important in world history – and this is probably the moment when Münster was most prominent in its long lasting history – was in 1648. After 30 years of war in Germany, in which all major European powers have been involved and more than 100 years of conflict as a result of the protestant reformation Münster and it’s neighbouring town in the north Osnabrück were the places were the Westphalian Peace treaty was signed. Being formally a war of religion (with strange coalition like the Catholic French king and the Protestant Swedish King fighting together against the Catholic Habsburg Emperor), the Peace treaty mainly ended the period of religious wars between Protestants and Catholics on the continent, together with giving important countries like the (Protestant) Netherlands, who had fought a 70 years war against (Catholic) Spain, or Switzerland (as a religious diverse country with Catholic and Protestant areas) their independence. The remembrance of this Peace treaty – one of the most important occasions in German/European history – is still very alive in Münster (not only because it is a good way to bring tourists to the town…).

 

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The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, 15 May 1648 By Gerard ter Borch – http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=337672

After the unification of Germany in 1871 under Bismarck the Catholics in Münster found themselves as a suppressed minority in the Protestant dominated state of Prussia and there were strong political conflicts between them and the central state, because they felt their religious rights were supressed. In this time it must have been very hard as a non-Catholic to live in this area, but the scepticism of the citizens of Münster towards the Prussian state and the strong Catholic tradition orientated towards Rome resulted in a much weaker (still too strong…) support for the Nazis in the elections during the Weimar republic, than in predominant Protestant areas. The support of the citizens gave the bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen, during the Nazi regime the possibility to speak up against some of the crimes against humanity committed by the government and the Germans.

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Clemens August Kardinal Graf von Galen By Domkapitular Gustav Albers († 1957) – Bildersammlung des Bistumsarchivs Münster, des Erbnehmers der Urheberrechte, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1684057

After the war the student dormitory that I lived in for five years was founded. This place is special, because the students living there are always 50% from Germany and 50% from abroad (and 50% male and 50% female…) and so people from all cultural backgrounds are living together under one roof. Run by the protestant church it is not a requirement to be Protestant or Christian or of any other particular faith or of any faith at all to live there. This concept creates a very special atmosphere and is from my point of view a good way to build good relationships and peace between people of different backgrounds. During my time in Münster there were a couple of occasions when right-wing extremists wanted to demonstrate in the town. At this occasions there were always huge crowds of people gathering to demonstrate for the rights of minorities, freedom and a social and democratic society. Usually there were far more then then times as many people demonstrating against the right-wing extremists than with them.

Knowing this long tradition of peacebuilding and anti-extremist behaviour it was not a surprise when in last autumn after the general elections in Germany it was announced that Münster was the only place in the whole of Germany where the far-right party AFD (Alternative for Germany), which stands mainly for anti-islam and anti-refugee populism, gained less than 5% of the total votes.

Coming back to the attack with the van last Saturday it was good to see that most citizens where ready to help, so that the police could thank them for their support afterwards and the hospitals could get so many blood donations in a short time that they had to send away people.

In my opinion the civic tradition of peace building and challenging any kind of extremism in Münster is a good example for all towns and cities in our world and maybe this story of a usually not very important (it’s not Berlin or Cologne or any other of the German cities) and it’s impact on world history can be inspiring for people else where in the world.

What is a local interfaith group?

When I tell people about interfaith work in Scotland and what I’m doing here the local interfaith groups are always an important part of my description. There are in total 21 local interfaith groups in Scotland at the moment, including three women dialogue groups and the two local charities for interfaith dialogue “Edinburgh Interfaith Association” and “Interfaith Glasgow”. The interfaith groups cover most areas of Scotland, from Dumfries and the Borders in the south to Orkney and Shetland in the north and from the isle of Skye in the west to Fife in the east. I know have visited most of the local groups and some more visits are planned for the last weeks of my internship, but I think it is a good point to tell people a bit more what a local interfaith group is doing.

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In March Simon and Frances (not in the picture) visited Interfaith Moray.

To describe this is harder then it might sound, because the groups are very different between each other. What they have all in common is bringing people of different (faith) background together. Usually all of them are organising/holding some kind of event during Scottish Interfaith Week in November. One main task of Interfaith Scotland is to support the different groups in their activities at the grassroot level. This happens for example by providing some materials, for example for Scottish Interfaith Week, giving them (a small) financial support for their events during Interfaith Week, inviting them to events like the Annual Networking Seminar and help them to get publicity via Social Media and the Annual Newsletter.

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In February Simon met members of the Committee of Inverness Inter Faith Group

The groups differ all in their size and the religious diversity, depending on the region they are based in. Some of the groups have been set up with the support of a local council. One example for this kind of group is the one in West Lothian. In this case the members of the group attend the meetings mainly as representatives of their faith communities and show a good picture of the diversity of faith communities in their area. Such groups have often their main focus on organising events for the wider public, for example visits to places of worship or interfaith meals. So the meetings of the group are mostly about planning and organising dialogue events in this case and not mainly about having dialogue at the meetings of the group.

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Members of different local interfaith groups in dialogue at the Annual Networking Seminar last August.

An example for a very different kind of group is the Central Scotland group, which meets in Stirling. Here are individuals from different faith backgrounds coming together to share food and thoughts about a different theme at every of their meetings. The attendees see themselves not mainly as representatives of a particular faith but bring often short texts or thoughts from their tradition to the meetings and share them with each other.

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Members of the Dumfries and Galloway Inter Faith Group are creative during their Interfaith Week event last November

Most of the interfaith groups can be put somewhere in between those “extremes”. Some of them have for example a formal constitution with chairpersons and secretaries and some have no kind of “hierarchy” or “formal structure” at all. In some groups people a paying (small) membership fees, in some groups not. Some groups are mainly meeting for planning purposes, some for having a direct dialogue with each other and many do both from time to time. Some groups have members from all different faith traditions, some mainly from different strengths of Christianity (but they would be very open and welcoming for anyone of another tradition!). Some groups usually meet at the same place, some groups meet at different venues in their area. Some groups usually to a similar kind of activity at every meeting, some do a lot of different things (even such activities as picnics or going on a trip together – as for example the Inverness group does on a regular basis). Some groups have intense cooperation with other groups, as for example Peace groups, some have not.

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Frances, Simon and some members of Aberdeen Inter Faith Group

When I visit the groups and ask them about their wishes for the future there are two classical answer: The first wish is usually “More diversity of faiths”, especially in the more rural areas and the second wish is usually “More young people” (I would guess the average age of a member of a local interfaith group is usually somewhere in the 50s or 60s). Both wishes are difficult to fulfil because I can’t perform magic but I would say that for everyone interested in interfaith dialogue it is definitely worth contacting the local group or setting up one themselves. I see the local interfaith group as very enriching for their areas and they do very important work by promoting religious diversity and harmony.

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Dialogue at an Interfaith Week event organized by Ayrshire Interfaith Forum

If you are curious in meeting the group in your area, you can find a list of them including contact details at: http://www.interfaithscotland.org/interfaith-groups/

If you are interested in setting up an interfaith group in your area or have any further question about it feel free to contact Interfaith Scotland. We are happy to help you!