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.

Advertisements

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.

Scottish Interfaith Week 2017

Scottish Interfaith Week is over. More than 80 events took place all over Scotland. For me it was my very first Interfaith Week and I really liked it. When I look back to the last week I remember a very good dialogue at the Scriptural Reasoning in Edinburgh about food and food restrictions in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. I remember a very nice Launch event people of different generations and faith backgrounds came together and not only talked about the theme “Creativity and the Arts” but also became creative themselves in different workshops. I remember interesting talks and tours at St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow – even if there were not many people coming to those events. I remember a nice evening in Ayr organized by the local interfaith group with Choir music, a speech by a local painter and dialogue about what inspires people. I remember interesting meetings with youthworkers from five European countries who learned about inclusive youthwork during Scottish Interfaith Week. I remember a interesting event at the Scottish Parliament where the fantastic “Our Story” exhibition in Edinburgh was celebrated (you can see the exhibition about religious minorities until next April in the Museum of Edinburgh). I remember a nice evening with the Glasgow Baha’i community with interesting information about the Houses of Worship on the different continents. I remember a very positive speech of the local imam about religious diversity and pluralism at the Interfaith Lecture in Kirkcaldy in Fife. Last but not least I remember the great Interfaith Family Fun Day in Glasgow, with a lot of people from different faiths and nationalities.

Family Fun Day

Of course the events I could attend were only a small part of the huge range of events during the last week and also in the next days there will be some more events taking place.

2017-11-14 13.40.10

But what stays in the end of this eight days full of events?

At first a lot of people all over the country who put a lot of time and energy into the week. Thank you for everything you have done for making this week and all the different events happen, whether you did this as part of your job or (and this is the large majority) in your free time, besides your work and family life.

2017-11-14 20.11.11

Second, there is the huge group of people who came to events. Many of them might have been to interfaith events before, but I’m sure there were also a lot of people who went to interfaith events for the first time. Bringing these people together and showing them how to celebrate religious diversity and how to have dialogue with each other is a large achievement of Interfaith Week.

2017-11-15 13.59.56

Third, around Interfaith Week there was a lot of publicity work going on. Articles in local newspapers, a radio interview at BBC Radio Scotland and a lot of posts on different Social Media platforms helped to spread the word about interfaith even outside the “bubble” of people who are already involved in interfaith work. Also the different MPs and MSPs and representatives of local authorities and faith communities who attended events are part of this project to spread the news about interfaith work in Scotland.

2017-11-15 18.18.57

And what is happening now? Of course there will be an Interfaith Week in 2018 again, but until then it is also possible to increase the interfaith work. Interfaith is not only a theme for one week but for our everyday life. If you share this opinion, feel warmly invited to contact your local interfaith group or Interfaith Scotland. There are always projects and possibilities where you can geting engaged as a volunteer. You could also contact the faith communities in your local area and see if you can start your own local interfaith project (for example around a religious festival). Interfaith Scotland is always trying to support such projects as good as possible. So please, spread the word and continue the interfaith dialogue that has started/increased during the last week!2017-11-18 19.46.48

Are you ready for Scottish Interfaith Week?

Have you already planned what you do during the next week? No? Than have a look at http://scottishinterfaithweek.org/programme-2017 and start planning!

At the moment the official programme contains 69 events all over Scotland. There is at least one event in every region. So there can’t be any excuses that Interfaith Week is only happening somewhere else. The events take part from Dumfries and the Borders in the south to Orkney and Shetland in the north and from Skye and Ayr in the west to St. Andrews and Aberdeen in the East. At the Scottish Interfaith Week website you can sort the events by region or by date, so it is very easy to find events that suit your diary. But what kind of events are happening? There is a very long range of events according to this year’s theme “Creativity and the Arts”, here some examples:

 

If you like listening to music (and who does not?) you could visit an Interfaith Concert, for example on Shetland  or Edinburgh. Or maybe you would like to sing yourself? There are opportunities in Moray, Aberdeen and Stirling. You can also be creative in other ways than singing, for example at the Papercutting Event in Falkirk, at the “Fellowship, Food and Fun” Event in Dumfries or the “Family Fun Day” in Glasgow. If you want to experience other kind of arts than the ones mentioned above, maybe the Film event on Skye, the “Poetry and Spirituality” event in Glasgow, the theatre event in Paisley, the “Arts and Creativity” evening in Ayr, the “Food and Poetry” evening in Inverness, the film evening in Edinburgh,   the Dance event in Paisley, the evening about Baha’i architecture in Glasgow or the tour and meditation at Coldingham Priory is the best for you. If you like discussions about texts the Scriptural Reasonings in Edinburgh and Glasgow or the Meeting in Kirkwall/Orkney are perfect for you. Fife Interfaith Group is organising a Interfaith Lecture in Kirkcaldy and in Dundee you can join an Interfaith Symposium. Dundee is also the place for this year’s official Launch event.

If you live in another part of the UK you will also find events happening there. The English, Welsh and Northern-Irish events can be found at https://www.interfaithweek.org/events/map. I’m sure everyone can find at least one event suitable for him/her and I’m looking forward to this very special week. I wish all of you a wonderful Interfaith Week with great experiences.

SIFW-Poster-8-page-001

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.

2_Toledo-CC
_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.

1_Mosque-catedral-of-cordoba-CC
_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

Creativity and the Arts

The last weeks one important part of my work was the preparation of resources for this years Scottish Interfaith Week. This year’s theme for Scottish Interfaith Week is “Creativity and the Arts”.

I must admit, when I first heard about this theme, I wasn’t very euphoric. I’ve never been very well in doing arts on my own and although I like going to museums and sometimes galleries art is not my main area of interest and art and music classes in school were one of those I liked less.

But during the last weeks, while exploring the diversity of religious art, I realised that looking on religious art might be a good way for learning about a religious tradition.

Here are two examples:

Takaoka_Daibutsu_2011-07-15_01
By 柑橘類 (talk) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20077857
Buddha_in_Sarnath_Museum_(Dhammajak_Mutra)
Von พระมหาเทวประภาส วชิรญาณเมธี (ผู้ถ่าย-ปล่อยสัญญาอนุญาตภาพให้นำไปใช้ได้เพื่อการศึกษาโดยอยู่ภา่ยใต้ cc-by-sa-3.0)ผู้สร้างสรรค์ผลงาน/ส่งข้อมูลเก็บในคลังข้อมูลเสรีวิกิมีเดียคอมมอนส์ – เทวประภาส มากคล้าย – Tevaprapas Makklay (พระมหาเทวประภาส วชิรญาณเมธี), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7004539

Why are these to Buddha statues so different? They were made in different times, different countries and from people belonging to different Buddhist traditions. One is from India in the time of the Gupta Empire (320-550 CE) and one is from Japan and was made in 1981.

'Moses'_by_Michelangelo_JBU160
By Jörg Bittner Unna – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46476422

Why is Moses often showed horned in Western Christian tradition? If people look eg at the statue of Moses made by Michelangelo they might think Moses looks like the devil. But that’s not what the artist wanted to say. He just followed the Latin Art tradition. Christians in the middleages read the Bible (if they could read) in the Latin translation, the Vulgate. In this bible translation a Hebrew word, which literally means something like “shining” is translated by a Latin word meaning “horned”. L looking at this statue can tell you a lot about the complicated history of Christians and Jews using the same scriptures as their holy book in translating them in different languages, cultures and traditions.

From my point of view looking on different art traditions during Scottish Interfaith Week can improve the knowledge about the different traditions. There is a lot more to explore about Paintings, statues, Architecture, stories, poems, music, dances and so on!

If you are interested in attending some events during Scottish Interfaith Week or maybe hosting an event on your own or if you just want to know more about Scottish Interfaith week have a look on its brand-new website!