How diversity enriches culture: a lesson from medieval Spain

With Interfaith Week fast approaching, members of all faith communities are gearing up for a celebration of diversity and plurality in Scotland. This year’s theme of creativity and arts looks to build bridges through the sharing of culture. History teaches us that culture not only brings people together: culture itself can flourish in diverse societies, as was the case in medieval Spain.

It is often forgotten that Spain was once home to the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. If you stepped back in time to the year 1000 AD, you would find Christians kings and counts ruling the north of Spain, and a Muslim caliph in charge of the central and southern regions of the peninsula. All across medieval Spain, there were communities of Christians, Jews and Muslims working, living and trading together.

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_Toledo-CC [Creative Commons license] Caption: Toledo, where the Christians and Jews of the School of Translators produced Latin copies of Arabic manuscripts
For 800 years, medieval Spain was a melting pot of cultures and beliefs. The religions did not always see eye to eye – there were times when those in power resorted to violence, and even “holy war”, fuelled by political ambition. But in spite of the periodic conflict, a rich culture grew out of the contact between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Many aspects of art, craft, language and learning were shaped in new and wonderful ways, thanks to the religious diversity of medieval Spain. Many buildings standing today bear the marks of this fascinating blend of art forms. All across Spain and Portugal, cathedrals and palaces were built with a unique fusion of Eastern and Western architectural forms.

In the 12th century, Christians worked with Jews to make the first translations of the Quran in Western Europe. They also worked in teams to translate Arabic books on mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and medicine. Spanish Christians also began to borrow words from Arabic. Even today, modern Spanish still uses many words of Arabic origin, first borrowed hundreds of years ago.

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_Mosque-catedral-of-cordoba-CC [Creative Commons license] Caption: The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is a unique example of the fusion of Western and Eastern architecture
People sometimes refer to the medieval world as a time of “darkness”, but this is not true. This was a time when culture was flourishing (think of the impressive gothic cathedrals and wonderfully decorated medieval manuscripts). This was a time of learning and discovery: and nowhere more so than Spain. Philosophers and scholars from Africa and Europe travelled to Spain in search of learning and new ideas. This exchange of knowledge in medieval Spain may even have helped lay the groundwork for the Renaissance in Europe, many years later.

Medieval Spain is a testament to the ways that culture can thrive when people of different faiths and confessions come together. Being different does not mean we are incompatible: instead it means that we have can offer each other different ways of doing things. This year, Interfaith Week hopes to demonstrate just how valuable culture is, and by doing so, bring people of all religions together.

Christian Kusi-Obodum

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Launch of Scottish Interfaith Week 2016

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The launch of Scottish Interfaith Week took place on Sunday 13th November. It was a wonderful occasion and we were delighted to host the event in partnership with Renfrewshire Interfaith Group and Renfrewshire Council. Members of Renfrewshire Interfaith group met regularly with Interfaith Scotland’s Development Officer on the lead up to the event and their enthusiasm, commitment and plenty of bright ideas made the job of planning and running the event a lot easier! We were also very grateful to Renfrewshire Council who donated the Grand Hall at Paisley Town Hall as well as a generous donation towards the catering costs.

The event began with a delicious vegetarian lunch. During the lunch there was an opportunity to view stalls with artefacts from eight world faiths as well as exhibitions from Interfaith Scotland, Engage Renfrewshire, Paisley 2021 and Police Scotland. There was also an exhibition of the winners of the Interfaith Week art competition on the theme of ‘religion and the media’ which was won by pupils of Wallace Primary School in Elderslie, Renfrewshire.

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Those gathered were delighted by the dulcet tones of Emma Durkan on the clarsach during the lunch.

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Dr Maureen Sier, Director of Interfaith Scotland was our compere for the afternoon and also introduced the theme of Scottish Interfaith Week, ‘Religion and the Media’. Provost Anne Hall welcomed those gathered on behalf of Renfrewshire Council. Stephen Haggerty then gave a welcome on behalf of Renfrewshire Interfaith Group.

Those gathered experienced a powerful drama written by Shelagh McKay and Jean Urquhart from Renfrewshire Interfaith Group which illustrated how invisible and vulnerable people of faith can feel when they are portrayed negatively in the media .

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Cathy MacDonald, a bilingual broadcaster, gave the keynote address. Samina Ansari, CEO of Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre spoke about the effect that negative media reporting can have on people of faith. Jennifer Jones, researcher at the University of the West of Scotland, spoke about ways in which community groups can access and utilise social media.

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There were also wonderful performances by Aria, an award winning choir, and Abhinaya, an Indian dance academy, both based in Glasgow.

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Fairweather Hall Drop in celebrates Scottish Interfaith Week

Fairweather Hall is being utilized every Thursday as a drop in center. The aims are to provide services for the local Asian community though in practice it’s a drop in center that is open to all. A get together for the over 50’s (though I’m sure young people would be
most welcome), with activities such as:

A lunch club
Educational trips
Professional advice
Yoga and exercise
Chilling out and breaking solitude

I was initially greeted by Jagdish a dignified looking gentleman from the Sikh faith tradition who made me feel very welcome and offered me a seat at the head table along with a line of other people I’d never met before and then he proceeded to show me the agenda…………. Whoaaa my name is on it, why? I’m asking myself. Ok….. so……..the Interfaith ambassador role I volunteered for didn’t include sitting at head tables and God forbid having to speak. Ok so you know what its like……….sometimes all these thoughts can run around your head…… travelling quicker than the speed of light…………your going down roads………..and then yer take a moment…..and …….consider the options………..so
I asked if it was Ok if I took some pictures. I told Jagdish it was for the IS website. Hmmm that’s a bit unfortunate, lets call it Interfaith Scotland website……. Jagdish was happy with this and then I proceeded to walk to the back of the hall and took a few shots none of which were any use, however I’d escaped…..I’m not sure what I’d escaped from however I was feeling a little more comfortable.

As I perused the room there was a definite male female divide. This must be an Asian cultural thing ………..its certainly not about inequality, not that I’m making any judgement’s………. though I do have all sorts of thoughts on that matter. There was predominately more women to men. LOL…… So if your over 50, single, and your looking for female company, this could be the very place for you. I’m only messing…… you know humor………..I think God has a great sense of humor and loves laughter all yer gotta do is look at the world of interfaith.

I proceeded to sit with some guys who turned out to be of the Hindu and Muslim traditions, Dr Sood, an 80 year old who’d suffered 2 strokes and still runs yoga weekly classes and I sat opposite Razza a Muslin guy. We found our common ground quickly and shared our beliefs in the oneness of humanity…..agreeing that folk are folk doesn’t matter what tradition we come from its what we do that really matters. Its more often than not the egos of men that become veils from the discernment of our truth. We are the little people……….however ‘mankind cannot frustrate the cause of God’ what ever that may be. We talked about getting older and how getting older forces us to consider the virtue of humility and how humility is a strength not a weakness. Something if only that we are no longer able to do the things we did.

We moved on and shared our common interest in the growing of food and talked about chilies. Apparently in chilies the white membrane inside the chili which the seeds stick to is the hottest/spicy part of the chili. Also chili is a fat burner….hmmm….think I need to eat even more chili.

After a wee speech from Jagdish talking about the drop in events and their activities, Jagdish proceeded to introduce representatives from the “queens award”. It looks like the Fairweather Drop in Center is being put forward to be in next years list of nominees to ‘celebrate its local heroes’ for the work they do within the community.

It has to be said this occasion of Celebrating Interfaith was simple a gathering of people, connecting, food sharing and fellowship and being of service and I really enjoyed it. My thanks to all the cooks, the people who served and cleared away.

Unity in Diversity……… yer gotta embrace, engage………….Bish Bash Bosh. …………onwards and upwards

All the best folks

Love & Peace
Nik

Could Fasting Change the World?

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Hello fellow members, citizens of the human race. How are you, I hope you’re well and happy!

It was Thursday night of interfaith week which had been launched the Sunday before, but a couple of weeks earlier, I was looking through the Interfaith Scotland program of events and a title ”Could fasting Change the World” grabbed my attention. I’d expressed a comment or two in a previous blog regarding the title and now here I was at the event. There were three speakers from Jewish, Muslim and Christian backgrounds who all gave a personal account of what fasting meant to them. Once again after making a conscious effort to really listen to what was being said I was reminded how much unity in diversity there was in the language used to describe an individual understanding of what the purpose and benefits of fasting are.

This led me to much food for thought and I came away nourished with the thought that fasting is an opportunity to create conditions that become food for the soul. Fasting has the potential to create conditions which elevate a state of mindfulness which in turn assists us to unravel some of the mysteries of the human experience within ourselves and the world of humanity. The knock on effect is that we can unlock our potential to contribute and to serve each other more effectively.

Now here’s a thought just popped in my head. Let’s say a creator has created all humanity from the same substance. God through his divine educators (e.g. Mohammad, Christ, Moses, and in my case Baha’u’llah and others too) offers the gift of fasting. Remembering fasting can be considered a spiritual food for the soul. Also in one sense fasting is like a tool, a spiritual yearly ‘MOT’. The thing is to get an MOT there are conditions to be met. When you take your car for an MOT you know your tyres have to have tread on them. This a basic requirement if your tyres are bald no MOT. There is a saying,’Trust in God but tie up your camel’. So if you’re driving around and your tyres are bald and you have to stop suddenly it’s fair to say you can trust in God all yer like but did yer tie up your camel, you get my drift.

So back to fasting and considering our motives, exercising detachment, mindfulness, contemplation a time of year for prayerful reflection and at the end of the fast……. renewal, refreshed like a spiritual MOT.

These are a few thoughts I’m sure you have your own. The thing is at the end of the day we’re all on our journeys in this life and there’s no doubt in my mind there’s stuff to learn. For believers the learning is both spiritual and material and learning to ‘walk a spiritual life with practical feet’ is where its at. Can fasting assist? In my book it can change the world …….maybe.

Thank you to Rev Cedric Blakey for pulling the interfaith event together and also thank you to the speakers and Andulas Mosque for being hosts.

Love and Peace
Nik

INTERFAITH GLASGOW LAUNCH

Interfaith Glasgow Launch

Monday 14th November

City Chambers

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Lynnda Wardle Acting Manager of Interfaith Glasgow and the Lord Provost

After some time in which to chat, circulate and enjoy the displays, Teas, coffees and nibbles, Interfaith Glasgow had provided, Lord Provost, Sadie Docherty, opened the formal proceedings.

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Frank Angell

Glasgow’s Lord Provost spoke of the importance of friendship and trust and how common interests cut away our differences. Celebrating Diversity is important, as are peace, Harmony and respect for creating a cohesive society the Provost said.

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Philip Mendelsohn

Next Philip Mendelsohn, who is Chair of Interfaith Scotland talked about Glasgow’s multiple waves of immigration over the years; Highlanders, Irish, Asian, Eastern European amongst others. He made reference to the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre’s expression, “from immigration to integration” and talked of how Glasgow had largely absorbed these waves with its own inimitable warmth. (http://www.sjac.org.uk/

Philip Mendelsohn used “birth” as a theme for Interfaith Glasgow. This was Interfaith Glasgow’s birth and launch but also the Project Manager, Dr. Rose Drew had had a birth too of her own with the arrival of her beautiful baby girl. He praised Rose for her meticulous guidance and thanked Lynnda Wardle for covering for Rose during her maternity leave and for bringing the project forward.

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Sr. Isabel Smyth

Next up was Sr. Isabel Smyth who has been such a catalyst for Inter faith work. She said she was delighted that Interfaith Glasgow had now started out as an independent charity and as a continuation of the long history of Interfaith work in Glasgow.

Glasgow’s, she said was the first interfaith group in the country. It started with a group called simply “sharing of faiths”.

The recognition of the religious life of the individual was realised to be of fundamental importance. It was also important that the welcoming community should know about those religions that were of such central importance to the diverse groups.

Stella Reekie was the person who founded the “International Flat” where this interfaith work started. Sr. Isabel claimed that wherever she goes people know Stella. The plan is to set up an archive about her and her wonderful work with the money that was raised from her international flat.

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Mrs Brij Gandhi and Sr. Isabel Smyth who were both involved in the International flat, reminiscing.

Stella means star and 25 years after she died a posthumous party was held for Stella and 90 people turned up. Sr. Isabel said again for emphasis, Stella means star and her star shines through all the people she has affected and influenced.

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Dr Maureen Sier

Dr Maureen Sier, Director of Interfaith Scotland spoke of the years of interfaith work that had enabled them to apply for enough funds for Interfaith Glasgow to be taken to the next level. Rose, she said, got the ball rolling and set the bar high.

She praised the way Interfaith Glasgow had handled this transition and the way they are forging forward and ensuring engagement with faith groups. She finished by applauding and commending Interfaith Scotland as a “vibrant organisation.”

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Lynnda Wardle Acting Manager of Interfaith Glasgow

Lynnda said Interfaith Glasgow had been building on interfaith relationships since 2012. And before that they were rooted in a long history of interfaith work in Glasgow. She spoke of the vibrancy and good will of the interfaith community and how it flourishes through dialogue.

Lynnda Wardle used the Interfaith Glasgow’s tree logo (which is also the emblem for Glasgow) as an analogy to explain how interfaith Glasgow is structured.

Interfaith Glasgow’s motto is “Flourishing Through Dialogue.” The 3 main components for this process are Dialogue, Co-operation and friendship building.

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Parkash Kaur, Ruby Bhopal, Jas Kainth, Gunam Kaur and Dr Magdalen Lambkin

People make Glasgow and this is the kind of welcome we want Glasgow to give people. Building friendship and understanding will be our challenge. People are our most precious resource – feeding the poor, welcoming migrants, addressing justice issues – religious communities here are able to correct part of the onslaught from hate crimes too. Also being aware that faith communities are particularly quickly affected in the backlash from the shock waves of international events means we can better support them. This is critical work.

Shanny Newall

A Discussion on Fasting

On Thursday night I had the pleasure of attending an event for Scottish Interfaith Week at the Andalus Mosque in Glasgow.

This event was probably my favorite event that I attended during Scottish Interfaith Week.

The theme for this event was “Could Fasting Change the World?”. There were three presentations, including a look at fasting from the Jewish tradition, Muslim tradition, and Christian tradition.

As a Catholic, I personally partake in fasting during the liturgical season of Lent. After hearing the three presentations, I became informed that the Catholic fast is very different then other traditional fasts in other faiths. In the Catholic Church, we are called to fast during Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these days Catholics are only supposed to have one regular meal and two “snacks” or two smaller meals that together do not equate to the one regular meal of the day. Some parishes, like my own back in Villanova, Pennsylvania, may add another day of fast during the week of Lent. Fasting for me was always hard, but after hearing from the other faith traditions on Thursday night, I have come to understand that there are different variations of fasting, and I believe the Catholic Church’s guidelines for fasting are less strict than other faith traditions.

I was amazed to hear from each of the three speakers on what fasting means for their faith community as well as hearing their personal experience of fasting.

It was a great evening and I felt that I learned a lot from the three speakers as well as from others during the large group discussion.

-Mary Catherine O’Reilly-Gindhart

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A Discussion of 3 Faiths in the Media

On Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending a Scottish Interfaith Week event at the Jewish Archives Center in Glasgow.

I was able to listen to three different speakers on how their belief has been discussed in the media. The three beliefs that were discussed were: Islam, Atheism, and Judaism.

After each presentation, there were small group discussions. It was a great way to hear from so many different people. The groups were perfectly split up I believe, because at my table there were people from all different faith backgrounds including: Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Atheism, and Presbyterianism.

I had never considered Atheism as a topic within the theme of “Religion and the Media”, so it was a really great informative session for me to attend.

Overall, I think it was a great idea to have small groups discussions after the presentations because it allowed me to interact with many different people and have conversations from a variety of backgrounds.

I heard from many people including a young Muslim man living in Glasgow. He talked about the stereotypes that Muslims face in the UK and the constant negative attention Muslims receive from the media.

I had the opportunity to learn from other people of different faiths on the topic “Religion and the Media”. It was really an inspiring event for me. I felt comfortable to talk about my own Catholic upbringing and what that means for the discussion on “Religion and the Media”.

It was a great evening and I wish it could have lasted longer!

-Mary Catherine O’Reilly-Gindhart

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