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.

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!

The Feminine in God

This blog article is based on a talk I was giving last Sunday during a Faith-to-Faith event at St Mungo’s Museum last Sunday. The event had the theme “The Feminine in God” and I was asked to give a personal approach from a Christian perspective. Before me a Hindu woman was given her approach and afterwards there was time for dialogue between the 27 attendees from different religious backgrounds.

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I’m not an expert in feminist theology, but I’ve had some lectures about it, especially in the beginning of my studying at the “augustana university” in Neuendettelsau in Bavaria. I will start with some examples of the traditional Christian way of talking about god in mainly Christian terms. Afterwards I will give some examples from the bible and the Christian tradition where feminine aspects in god are stressed. In the end I’m finishing with some personal thoughts.

The bible and the Christian tradition is dominated by a terminology that seems to support a male interpretation of god. Jesus talks about god as his father – not his mother. In the Lord’s (not the Lady’s…) Prayer god is called “our father”. At least two of the three persons in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are described by masculine terminology – and in some languages, as for example German, even “Spirit” is a grammatical masculine word. Christians believe that Jesus is the incarnation of God in human flesh – so god choose to become a man and not a woman, when he (!) decided to become a human being. Some traditional attributes and activities of God are traditional connotated as rather “male”, for example gods anger or god leading his people to a military victory. Furthermore the whole Christian art tradition, as so far as pictures of god are shown, shows god often as an old man.

All this is probably not very surprising, because biblical times as well as the last 2000 years of church history happened in mainly patriarchal dominated societies and the religious institutions were dominated by men. That those men were teaching a male god, should not be a big surprise.

Fortunately there are examples in the bible and in the tradition that also support talking of god in feminine terminology and it is interesting that those examples come usually from the Old Testament (the Jewish Tanach) and not the New Testament.

It starts with the second verse of the bible. In Gen 1:2 the text talks about “Gods spirit hovering above the water”. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is “ruach” and other than in German or other languages it is a feminine word.

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Also in the story of the creation in Gen 1:27 it is said that mankind was created in gods own image as male and female. So god includes male and female aspects and both aspects are represented in mankind.

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The prophet Isaiah writes in Is 66:13 that “as one whom a mother comforts, so will I (God) comfort you”. In the protestant church in Germany this text was the official motto (“Jahreslosung”) for 2016.

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Archaeological findings show us that there were times when the people living in Israel prayed to JHWH their god not alone, but JHWH also had a female companion (Ashera). Of course those times were long finished before most of the biblical scriptures were written, but it shows that for Judaism before the Babylonian exile the female aspects in god were so important that people prayed to their own goddess. After becoming more (and later completely) monotheistic those female aspects of god became part of JHWH and the biblical texts mentioned here are one result of it.

Also in the Christian tradition the female aspects of god were stressed from time to time, mainly in the Mystical traditions. One example are the texts and visions of “Mechthild of Magdeburg” and other powerful women in the medieval church.

For me personally the question of the feminine aspects in god is connected with the larger question of our human ability of talking and knowing about god. I’m convinced that no human talking about god – may it between highly educated theologians or just “normal” people – can describe god in any complete way. Our language and our thinking about god is therefor always incomplete and we are only able to use the language and vocabulary we have. Therefore neither “masculine” or “feminine” terminology describes god in any “better” way than the other does.

This position has also a tradition in the Christian tradition. In the ten commandments god prohibits to make images of god and to pray to them. In my opinion everyone who declares their own description of god as the only right one, does exactly this. They claim to know more about god than they are able to and this is one form of idolatry.

In the fifth century Christian theologians tried to resolve a huge argument about Jesus’ nature. Some were arguing that Jesus was “completely” human and some that he was “completely” divine. Recognizing that from a Christian point of view Jesus is god incarnated they decided in the Chalcedonian Creed to use paradoxical formulations (Jesus’ two natures are “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably”). What is important in this for the question of the Feminine/Masculine in God is that they recognized the incompleteness and inability of human language in speaking about and describing god.

So human language and thinking can always just reach a part of gods being (like the A in the B in the picture).

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This means the question of talking about god in feminine or masculine terms is not a question about truth, but about stressing different aspects of god. Because our tradition has overstressed the masculine aspects much more than the feminine ones (because of the causes mentioned above), I find it very important to stress the feminine aspects more than we used to be. One possibility for this is using feminine terminology. When I was in church at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow last Sunday Jesus was for example addressed as “our mother” during the intercessions prayer. Such small moments of irritation can help us, to realize that god is not a man in meaning than a human being can be a man, god is much more. God has male and female aspects.

To recognize those aspects Christianity can probably learn something from other religions. I find it very interesting to see how Hinduism can see all the different gods and goddesses as appearances of the one divine being and so make the people much more aware of the different aspects of god.

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The value of travelling

“The train now leaving platform four is the 10.45 service to Edinburgh.” This and similar announcements have I heard very often since I came to Glasgow last July. Travelling is a large part of my work with Interfaith Scotland. I travel, when I visit the different local interfaith groups all over Scotland, between Dumfries and Shetland and between Skye and Fife. I travel also when I attend meetings of the youth engagement advisory group in London and I travel when I attend dialogue events or networking meeting with other charities or institutions. I had to travel to come to Scotland in the first place as well. Travelling is nice, because it gives me the opportunity to see a lot of different places and meet interesting people. Today we have very easy travel opportunities and even if a train is delayed or a flight cancelled, we (at least the privileged people with a passport, which opens most countries for us) can be pretty sure, that we can reach nearly every place in the world in relatively short time.

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Most of the people I work with at Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow have been travelling a lot. Frances grew up in Northern Ireland and has spend time in India, Else has a Malaysian-Chinese background, Maureen is from the Highlands, but has lived in Samoa and the USA and is exploring interfaith connections in New Zealand the next weeks. At Interfaith Glasgow Rose is from England, Magdalen from Northern Ireland and Lynnda from South Africa. In a lot of the local interfaith groups there are people who are not born in Scotland or have lived in another country for some time of their life.

On the one hand this mixture of travel experienced people in interfaith context is a result of our modern globalized world, but on the other hand it also shows that travelling has a value in increasing interfaith and intercultural awareness. If I never had met people from other cultural or faith backgrounds than my own I probably would not be that interested in interfaith dialogue. I probably would never have thought about the question what my faith and believe means for the relationship to people of other faith. And I’m sure a lot of people involved in interfaith work and activities share this opinion.

Of course there are different kind of travelling and journeys where people of different backgrounds directly meet each other might be more fruitful for raising interfaith awareness than holidays where people spend there whole time at the beach and the only “strangers” they meet are those, who clean the dishes at the hotel buffet. But the first step is anyway to start moving being open to meeting others.

For some people it is easier to travel than for others. Therefore Interfaith Scotland offers schools the opportunity to bring volunteers from different faith backgrounds to them, so that students, especially outside the large and diverse cities can meet people of different faith backgrounds. Two weeks ago I joined a group of volunteers and delivered a day of school workshops in Oban, where it is not that easy for the students to meet Muslims, Hindus or Baha’i. It was really interesting to hear the interested questions the young people asked and I wish more schools would organise days like this (even if it were difficult for Interfaith Scotland, because of the small staff team we have…).

One idea, which has been discussed in the last years, that I really liked was to provide every young person in the European Union with a free Interrail ticket. It’s really a pity that in case this project comes into reality the young people in Scotland and the other parts of the UK can’t benefit of this! I think this would be a great opportunity especially for young people to meet people from different backgrounds and raise their awareness of the value of diversity. Maybe the Scottish government or the UK government should think about supporting/founding similar projects or at least organise/support more projects where people can travel in Scotland to meet people of different backgrounds (be it from the Southside of Glasgow to the East End of Glasgow, or from the rural areas of the country to the more diverse ones), like Interfaith Scotland does with it’s school workshops. Hopefully more people can have similar interesting travel experiences, as I do at the moment!

World Interfaith Harmony Week in Glasgow

The first week in February is “World Interfaith Harmony Week”. It is an official project by the United Nations and was in the beginning initiated by the king of Jordan. When an authority like the United Nations call for a special week, they see that the goal of the week needs to be supported and promoted. To promote harmony between the different religions might be one of the most important projects for humanity in the 21st century and so it’s good to see that people all over the world are organizing and attending events to spread interfaith harmony in the world during the first week of February.

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This year Interfaith Glasgow was organizing a series of events for World Interfaith Harmony Week. Those events were organized around three key elements of Interfaith Harmony: Cooperation, Dialogue and Friendship building. I myself could attend two of the three events and my feeling was that in the end all three key elements were happening at all of the events – but with different intensity.

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At all of the events there was a good mixture of religious backgrounds among the participants and I hope that all participants could take with them a portion of interfaith harmony to spread the word in their personal surrounding – especially their faith communities. There were also representatives of local authorities at the events, like members of Glasgow City council and the Lord Provost of Glasgow. They seemed to be very willing to support interfaith harmony in Glasgow and I hope this will lead to an even greater support of interfaith work in this multicultural and multifaith city.

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The first event of the series had the focus on Cooperation. The volunteers who are engaged in the Weekend Club  projects with refugees and asylum seekers met to reflect on the importance of the interfaith element in their engagement. The group of volunteers, where refugees and asylum seekers from different countries are naturally part of, stressed how their faith motivated them to support those who are in need. They also said, that it was very important to make the participants experiencing the interfaith harmony, which is possible in Glasgow, because it helps the newly arrived people to feel welcome in Glasgow and Scotland. There were Christians, Muslims, Hindus and people who belong to no particular faith tradition at this event.

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The second event was a dialogue event with the Scriptural Reasoning method. Christians, Jews and Muslims discussed about texts from their Holy Scriptures, that motivate them for interfaith dialogue. Thereby were communalities as well as differences found. From my point of view it was very important that the participants at this event really had a look into the relevant scriptures of the different religions and could show that interfaith harmony and dialogue is not only “a modern invention” but that there are at least references towards it in the different Holy Scriptures.

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The third event, which I could not attend personally, because of a clash with another work activity, was a community in one of Glasgow Gurdwara’s where people from all Glaswegian faith traditions came together with the focus on Friendship building. People who attended the event told me, that there was a very good atmosphere at the meal and the participants of the different backgrounds took the opportunity to get in contact and engage with eachother. People of different traditions, coming together for a meal is maybe the strongest picture that comes to my mind when I think about World Interfaith Harmony and so in my opinion this was a very fitting event to be the finale of World Interfaith Harmony Week in Glasgow.

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From my point of view it was very wisely by Interfaith Glasgow to choose the key issues of Cooperation, Dialogue and Friendship Building for their series of events, because they fit together very well. In an ideal case there is dialogue happening, as soon as people of different faith cooperate with each other and when dialogue is happening there are very good chances that friendship is built between the dialogue partners.

I hope that Interfaith Glasgow is continuing to work for Interfaith Harmony in their city and that they can encourage everyone who attends their events – be it during World Interfaith Harmony Week, Scottish Interfaith Week or during other times of the year – to work hard to spread harmony between the different religious groups in Glasgow, so that in a not to far future every week is a World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Some more impressions of World Interfaith Harmony Week can be found on Interfaith Glasgows facebook page.

How political should interfaith engagement be?

This week I witnessed two short (very uncontroversial) discussions about the political element in interfaith dialogue. One was about Holocaust Memorial Day, which will be next week, and one about the engagement of faith communities and interfaith organisations against climate change. Having this in mind I want to reflect today about how political interfaith engagement can/should be. I thereby reflect only about the situation in Western democracies. The situation in other kind of states might differ in several points and is to complex to reflect it here.

Interfaith Engagement is always political

The word “political” comes from a time when there existed a lot of different City States (polis) in Ancient Greece. “Political” in its basic meaning is therefore something, that regards the “affairs of the cities” or of the community/society in a specific area.

Interfaith engagement how I experience it here in Scotland has always the aspect of serving the community: It is always about building peace and and a deeper understanding between different religious groups and that is in the end a way of serving the whole community. The Scottish government has realized this and is therefore funding the work of Interfaith Scotland, what I consider as a great example, that other governments in the world (Hello Germany!) should follow!

Furthermore have all the different faith traditions a tradition of political engagement. Be it in the way of building religious dominated states in history or presence or important contacts between representatives of religion and state. That’s completely logical, because the religions claim to be important for the whole live of their believers – and the social/political life is a part of this.

When is political engagement dangerous for interfaith dialogue?

Not every political engagement of partners in interfaith dialogue is good. Should a particular religious group have to close political connections to a political party it might damage their credibility. If religions want to be political in the above meaning – and from my point of view they have to – they should fight (peacefully in a democratical system) for their goals in society, whether they rather fit with the agenda of the government or the opposition.

Of course for an interfaith organisation like Interfaith Scotland that is even more difficult. What if two or more members or dialogue partners follow different political agendas? Well in this cases it is not possible that Interfaith Scotland supports one of the two agendas. It could only make a statement that shows the differences between its members. In general it would be dangerous, if political statements could be made with a simple majority in a vote, for example between the members of Interfaith Scotland or its board. It would be recognized if for example the faith communities in Scotland would all together criticise the government and therefore such statements need a large majority or better a unity behind them. How can you find such a majority or unity? Well I would say dialogue is the answer!

It would also be dangerous for Interfaith Scotland, if it depended to much on one political party. If for example the Scottish government tries to influence the religious groups too much via Interfaith Scotland and would threaten to cut the funding, when they are not successful in that, it would not be possible to provide a neutral platform for interfaith dialogue.

Why and when is it good, that Interfaith dialogue is political?

Interfaith dialogue is political in a good way, when it brings people together for improving the society – and is successful. One example is Interfaith Glasgow’s Weekend Club where an interfaith group of volunteers organizes activities around cultural and religious themes for refugees and asylum seekers. The engagement for refugees and asylum seekers is definitely political in the meaning I mentioned above. It has definitely an impact on the society when refugees and asylum seekers feel welcomed in Scotland and if they have the chance to learn about Scottish culture. It has also an impact on the volunteers, who have the opportunity to learn from each other and the participants at the events. Through projects like the “New Scots strategy” or media coverage around One Big Picnic or the Family Fun Day Interfaith Glasgow raises the voice for refugees, asylum seekers and more justice in our society and that is definitely a good result of interfaith engagement.

Other examples where interfaith engagement has an impact on the society is Scottish Interfaith Week. Not every theme in every year is in the same way political, but for example “Care for the environment” in 2015 or “Religion and the Media” in 2016 or “Connecting Generations”, which might become the theme for 2018 have been and are political in a good way.