16 Inspirational quotes to feed your inner peace activist

There’s a lot of hatred, discrimination and violence on every level in our societies – within our communities, towns, nations and across national orders. Standing up for peace is vital. But don’t be disheartened, it’s not all doom and gloom! We can make a difference by spreading a much-needed message of peace, tolerance and love (not as cheesy as it sounds!) to unite communities and remind our fellow human beings of the need for non-violence, tolerance and respect for human rights.

So with that in mind, here’s 16 famous quotes to feed your inner peace activist and inspire us all, courtesy of Postcards for Peace.

1. “The greatest problem in the world is intolerance . Everyone is intolerant of each other.” (Princess Diana)
2. “Race, gender, religion, sexuality, we are all people and that’s it. We’re all people. We’re all equal.” (Connor Franta)
3. “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation” (Mahatma Ghandi)
4. “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” (J.K. Rowling)

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5. “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.” (Maria Montessori)
6. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” (Nelson Mandela)
7. “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
8. “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” (Gautama Buddha)

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9. “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch and do nothing.” (Albert Einstein)
10. “We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help free the other half.” (Emmeline Pankhurst)
11. “I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.” (Rosa Parks)
12. “Each of us has the power to change the world. Just start thinking peace and the message will spread quicker than you think.” (Yoko Ono)

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13. “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” (Mother Teresa)
14. “When the world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” (Malala Yousafzai)
15. “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” (Jo Cox)
16. “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” (Jimi Hendrix)

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Credits and acknowledgments:

Featured image: Celeste Damiani (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Thanks to Postcards for Peace for their inspiring selection of peace quotes. The full presentation can be downloaded Postcards-for-peace-inspirational-quotes.

You can find out more about Postcards for Peace via their website and social media – check them out!

Twitter: @postcards4peace
Facebook: @postcardsforpeacecharity

Salam, shalom, peace! ♡

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Respect, equality and non-discrimination: Aren’t these core universal human rights for each and every one of us?

It’s become quite a sad occurrence to increasingly find that certain individuals, groups, organisations and community figures are continuing (and I’m discovering more) to promote a blatant double standard when it comes to our human rights and freedoms and the basic concepts of respect, equality and non-discrimination.

Time and time again, here in the UK and worldwide, I’m discovering how certain organisations and “leaders” are expressing, promoting or failing to address divisive, degrading language, beliefs and practices. And time and time again, I’m discovering more and more people to quite literally steer well clear of!

Let’s be clear. We all have rights, needs and wishes and we also all have responsibilities and duties to our fellow human beings. For example: we are all endowed with the right to practice our religion freely but we are also responsible for protecting the religious freedom of others, to not impede on the freedom of other groups and to not advocate hatred against other religious or non-religious communities.

I’ve spoken about this before in a previous blog entitled Human Rights: It’s all for one or none for all, but I’m becoming increasingly shocked at the double standards out there. What are these you might ask? Well take a look below at the sad reality. I have not stated names but these are all real examples/issues.

Intrafaith hatred

They campaign against religious discrimination as (presumably Sunni) Muslims but hate Shia and Ahmadi Muslims.

Homophobia

They advocate for peace and interfaith tolerance or the rights of their own community yet they exclude and/or demonise members of LGBT community through the use of derogatory language and exclusive practices and/or through constitutional history.

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Divisiveness

They preach the importance of anti-sectarianism within Islam but whilst (often vehemently) referring to themselves as Sunni they (almost always) refuse to accept Ahmadi Muslims as Muslims and preach an intolerant, divisive, hate-fuelled narrative.

Anti-Semitism

They claim to stand for the need for peace and non-violence – in particular by engaging faith communities and strengthening faith relations – but have (un-denounced) anti-Semitic history.

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Violence and extremism

They are concerned about injustices in the name of anti-terror legislation but do not (actively) tackle extremism within their own communities.

Misogyny

They promote a supposedly feminist narrative in opposition of the idea that Islam “oppresses women” but do so with often little or no involvement of women and whilst holding and/or failing to speak out against outdated misogynist beliefs and practices.

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Selective outrage / human rights

They campaign for the rights of Palestinians yet fail to condemn and/or do not advocate against human rights abuses throughout the Middle East committed by “Arabs/Muslims” and/nor comment on violence committed by Hamas. They also use anti-Semitic language and demonise large segments of the Jewish community .

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So, where do we go from here?

Without naming people and organisation this may all appear rather “abstract” but I am sure that if you think carefully and look, you’ll find plenty of examples of these double standards.

I can think of numerous organisations, people and bodies here in the UK and elsewhere operating under the guise of promoting peace, anti-Islamophobia etc. but who are directly/indirectly promoting/upholding some of these double standards. I’m not saying we all have to focus on the same areas of work but ignoring issues, failing to address inequality, preaching hatred and using derogatory language is not acceptable.

When will enough be enough? When will the ignorant, divisive and even hate-fuelled narrative stop? Stand up and speak out – for everyone. We are all human. We are all entitled to the same rights, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, faith, ethnicity and nationality. And we all all responsible for upholding the rights of each and every one of us and speaking out against hatred, discrimination and violence.

Salam, shalom, peace ♡

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How can (better) interfaith relations help build a safer, more equal society?

Last week was UN World Interfaith Harmony Week which brought another important reminder to reflect on interfaith relations and peace building within our community. This reminder was even more crucial barely two weeks before, when on 27th January, we also marked Holocaust Memorial Day.

On this day in particular we remember the six million Jews massacred by the Nazi regime, along with other marginalised and persecuted groups such as the Roma and LGBT communities.

We also remember that despite saying “Never Again”, we have since witnessed further atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Throughout this period of remembrance and reflection, we are reminded of our ongoing struggle against hatred, discrimination and genocide.

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Preventing discrimination, ethnic cleansing and genocide

As a society, it is imperative that we work together to actively tackle discrimination and prevent ethnic cleansing and genocide. We must remember the lessons of the past and work towards building a safe harmonious space for all, regardless of gender, age, ethnic background, nationality, faith and sexuality.

To do this we have to actively and continuously reflect upon past events and identify key principles and approaches which can tackle discrimination, hatred and “othering” narratives. As a multifaith society, it is also imperative to consider the role of faith and interfaith dialogue within this mission.

In 2018 in fact, we are still seeing discrimination, hatred, division and violence amongst members of various faith groups and ethnic communities. Just last August, we witnessed an outbreak of violence in Myanmar against Muslim Rohingya and Hindu minorities. Since August 25th, at least 6,7000 Roghingya individuals have been killed and around 400,000 people have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in search of safety and security.

Meanwhile, here in the UK the unfortunate increase of both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crime is also proving that we still have a lot of work to do in regards to promoting social cohesion, interfaith relations and tackling hatred.

In addition, intrafaith violence between Sunni and Shia groups remains an ongoing polemic. The Ahamdiya Muslim community in particular also continues to face a range of discrimination and violent attacks across Morocco, Pakistan and even here in the UK with the murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow in March 2016. These unfortunate realities are also proving that hatred and violence know no boundaries.

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These alarming, hate-fuelled and violent behaviours must be tackled. We must never forget that genocide itself ultimately stems from hatred and indifference to injustice. It starts with the “othering” of those different from ourselves, by essentialising someone’s identity to magnify difference, failing to find common ground with someone seemingly different from yourself in some form and from ultimately seeing others who may be different in faith, ethnicity or cultural origin as in fact alien to yourself and somehow unequal in worth.

By failing to respect and appreciate difference (whether it be religious, ethnic or cultural) and recognise the universal self-worth and innate dignity of all human beings, othering can and does lead to discrimination and de-humanising and ultimately ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Doctor Gregory Stanton, a professor at Mary Washington University and Vice President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, documented this degenerative scale in his “10 Stages of Genocide“.

The pattern starts with stage number 1: Classification – in other words developing an “us and them” narrative. This is followed by symbolisation, discrimination and dehumanisation, leading to polarisation, preparation, persecution and finally extermination and denial. Quite crucially, let’s not forget that this is the denial that we are still seeing today by certain members of the non-Jewish community regarding the Holocaust.

Where does faith fit into this?

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Faith is often cited as a means of dividing people and inciting violence. For example, we find the othering “us and them” narrative within jihadist rhetoric which concentrates heavily on the notion of “infidels”, demonising non-Muslims and declaring them as the “enemies of Islam”.

As witnessed by the Holocaust, the Jewish community were discriminated against because of their faith. However, this wasn’t simply due to difference in religious doctrine. This after all is a personal practice. Medieval narratives of anti-Judaism stemming from the death of Jesus were also intertwined with centuries of socio-economic division, stereotypical “othering”, propaganda and exclusion.

This is in fact a complex issue but behind it all I believe that the answer is really quite simple. Violence and hatred have no faith but faith can and must play a key part in tackling these issues.

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Firstly, if we are to tackle hatred we must start with an inclusive open dialogue which respects the key elements of people’s identity and one of these elements is faith. This requires engaging with and including religious leaders of different faith backgrounds when tackling social, cultural and political issues such as discrimination and the further abuse of human rights.

Politicians cannot combat discrimination and build long-lasting social cohesion without collective, inclusive dialogue and understanding. Without the commitment of faith leaders, they risk forming ill-informed, exclusionary or subjective policies. Respect for and the protection of human rights in a multifaith society is built by developing mutual understanding, respecting the diverse and collective needs of communities and forming a collective unified identity, developed and nurtured over time.

Secondly, not only should politicians not simply exclude faith communities in political and social solutions but I also believe that faith is in fact a crucial but often overlooked tool to actively and positively promote social cohesion and peace.

Faith is in fact an active uniting force. Whilst there are key principles and bonds that can cross cultural, national and social boundaries within a single faith group, faith in its true spiritual sense is also a unifying force between people of different faith traditions and backgrounds. Our faith holds us accountable to a higher power and calls upon us to respect God’s creation and to therefore love and respect one another – regardless of a person’s individual or collective background.

The Golden Rule

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Faith in fact holds the precursor to combatting such “othering” behaviour thanks to a basic universal principle known as “The Golden Rule“. This rule quite clearly calls upon us to simply: “Treat others the way you wish to be treated”.

This principle can be found across all major faith traditions. In Islam for example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself”.

Judaism also teaches: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” in Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 18.

Similarly, in Christianity in Luke, chapter 10, verse 27, Jesus says: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

This very same principle can also be found in Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Confucianism and the Baha’i faith – the world’s biggest faith traditions.

What this rule lays bare is that no one would want to experience the horror of the Holocaust or Srebrenica. By following the Golden Rule each within our own faith traditions, we can build a greater sense of responsibility, empathy, unity and solidarity amongst people of all faiths. This also crucially includes those of no faith.

We must therefore firstly go back to our own traditions and find common ground with and mutual love and respect for our neighbours of other faiths. We must speak out against hate speech and harmful narratives and we must actively reach out to other faith communities to build bridges, friendships and unions. In this way we can prevent these othering narratives forming and developing into toxic practices such a discrimination, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Putting faith into action

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This approach however must be nurtured on a variety of levels. On an individual level we must evaluate our behaviour in how we treat and defend the rights of others. On a micro level within our own families and communities we must teach the younger generations in line with the Golden Rule and lead by example.

On a macro level as larger societies and nations, combatting discrimination, ethnic cleansing and genocide in a multifaith society therefore requires faith leaders of various religious teachings to enter and be part of wider national, international and political discussions. The Golden Rule is a universal principle which should in fact guide the teachings and work of religious representatives. Faith leaders must actively promote unity and commonality between members of different faith communities and none. They are also obliged to stand up against hatred, discrimination and violence towards members of every faith community and none.

If an imam for example is preaching an intolerant, divisive narrative, then he is not doing his duty as a religious teacher. Individual and community faith members must call religious leaders to account if they do not take this responsibility seriously. Likewise, if religious figures and teachers are not addressing such attitudes within their own religious communities, then they are allowing toxic narratives to fester, instead of promoting social harmony. This is in fact contrary to religious teachings. Education, intercultural and interfaith dialogue in line with the Golden Rule must therefore form a fundamental part of their approach to teaching their faith. Responsibility must be taken on every level. There must be honesty, dialogue and transparency.

Faith is a much-needed key element to promoting peace and harmony amongst different communities and wider society. Greater interfaith dialogue on a variety of levels – just as intercultural understanding – is the way forward and the key to breaking away from the 10 steps to genocide and instead build more cohesive, equal, safer and fairer societies.

Whatever our religious or spiritual background and whatever our position within our religious communities – from church goer, to imam or even the Pope – each and every one of us can and must play our part of this movement as a member of our wider, collective multifaith society which respects human rights and declares “Never Again”.

Peace, salam, shalom ♡

In memory of the victims of the Holocaust, Srebrenica and all other genocides.

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There’s a place for faith in Britain today – Let’s not become divided

There seems to be a belief by some that having a faith somehow makes you “less able to integrate”, less “British” or locked in some sort of cultural-ideological battle. It’s as if being British can only mean one thing: being (White-)Christian, Atheist or Agnostic.

If we look at the rate of hate crime in the UK, there’s no doubt been an increase in hostility against people from minority backgrounds, in particular members of the Muslim and Jewish communities.

To me this is all rather sad as I equate being British as being free to be who you are and in joyful celebration of such tolerance and acceptance. In terms of faith, you could be Christian, agnostic, atheist, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or a range of many other things. We’re a multicultural, multifaith nation where we’re free to be who we are, in the way we want to.

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Image Credit: Matthew G (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I for one, as British-born 20-something with “traditional” Welsh/English/Irish and also Italian roots, who’s gone from being a Christian to a Muslim, certainly haven’t become less “British” since changing my faith. If anything, my faith has given me a sense of comfort, belonging and certainty in who I am as an individual. Islam teaches us to respect other people and treat them well. Like all other faiths, it calls upon us to honour social justice, build bridges with others, respect the law of the land and love others as we love ourselves. I therefore don’t see how being a Muslim would take a way anything from my cultural and national identity.

For me it’s values – or a perceived clash of values – that are the problem, not faith. The ultimate manifestation of such “Clash of Civilisations” is extremism – a poisonous ideology which isolates in all forms, from the neo-Nazi group to the jihadist cell. On the surface members of these groups come from different faith/social backgrounds but hatred and violence don’t have a faith. The reality is that these people are socially excluded and feeling victimised, confused and lost. They’re looking for a sense of belonging and empowerment.

What we must remember is that social integration is a two-way unified process. In a free democratic nation, we all have the right to choose our own faith, to speak a second, third or even fourth language and to hold on to our own precious histories, stories and memories. It’s our collective identity – where our multiple identities merge into one – that makes us British. To share an identity we need common values, a shared language and a shared history. We don’t need to belong to any one particular faith.

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Image credit: Roberto Trombetta (CC BY-NC 2.0)

We all have multiple identities. Identities are fluid, they’re hybrid, they’re plural. They change, merge and adapt over time. I’m Muslim yes but I’m also British, I’m European, I’m also a millennial, a second-generation half immigrant, an activist, a Midlander and a wife of a Berber-Algerian! Quite simply, I’m me! When I feel respected and included as a Muslim by non-Muslims I also feel even more heart-warmingly proud to be British.

If you take a look into a British mosque, synagogue or church, you’ll see a myriad of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. These faiths are already uniting people. Faith can and does play a key role in our sense of belonging and unity in British society – let’s celebrate that, please!

However, let’s also not forget that not everyone has a faith. What ultimately brings us together is our sense of solidarity. Whether we can live as a socially integrated nation ultimately depends upon each and every one of us. Ask yourself these questions: do you see your neighbour as a potential friend? Do you love them as you love yourself? Do you feel proud to live in a diverse nation?

As Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise).” This is a simple crucial message we can all follow, regardless of our own individual faiths.

Credits and acknowledgements

Feature image: AwayWeGo210 (CC BY 2.0)

This article was first published via Three Faiths Forum (15/11/2017)

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Interfaith lessons: What the Jewish community has taught one Muslim convert

In Autumn 2016, I moved from the Midlands and sleepy Staffordshire to the hustle and bustle of London. Having moved to a more diverse, vibrant area of the country and being curious about other faiths (particularly Judaism), I started to notice a visible Jewish presence in and around the city, spotting Jewish brothers with payot curls or kippahs. Back home, this was not something you ever really saw. Now living in London and having been curious about Judaism for a while, after a quick Google search I contacted West London Synagogue to see how I could find out more about my Abrahamic brothers and sisters.

I subsequently joined the synagogue’s Jewish-Muslim interfaith women’s group and during our first meeting eagerly borrowed a book: Judaism for Dummies. Yes – I really was starting from zero! A few pages in and I started to understand something which would teach me not only about Judaism but also my own faith: the richness of diversity.

Liberal Judaism, Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Hasidic Jews, atheist Jews, secular Jews… The great (sometimes seemingly contradictory) diversity was apparent and very intriguing – if at first confusing!

Yet, as I spent more time at the synagogue (later becoming co-chair of the ladies’ group) and attended various interfaith events, I discovered exactly what this meant. I learnt that Judaism was incredibly rich and diverse – not just culturally but religiously. What’s more – such diversity was no hidden secret or elephant in the room! Visiting a reform synagogue, led by a male-female board of rabbis, which welcomed with open arms diverse members of both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, including LGBT devotees and non-Jewish spouses, I witnessed how the synagogue actively embraced diversity and didn’t shy away from debate.

Elizabeth Arif-Fear (2)In fact, questioning, debating and discussion were seen as such positive (not troublesome) elements of their faith that one of the recurring jokes at interfaith events centred around how disagreement is almost a marker of the Jewish community! Take two people with two different views to a rabbi and you’ll find the rabbi will declare that there’s no one answer. Difference of opinion is not seen as a problem but instead an eye opener.

Now when I think of Islam, whilst there is diversity – and a much richer diversity than many people realise – there seems to be somewhat of a shying away from questioning and inclusivity of the “non-traditional” or “mainstream”. Whilst I cannot generalise, and of course my experience of the British Jewish community seems to be mostly of liberal/reform Judaism and there is indeed a wide range of “branches” and views within both faiths, there appears to be far less inclusivity and debate, discussion and search of knowledge within the Muslim community. Often questioning and differing views are deemed as ignorant, overly liberal or even heretical.

At a recent event on “Islam vs. Islamism” held by Faith Matters, Dilwar Hussain (founding chair of New Horizons in British Islam) highlighted that the period in when Islam really “flourished” was during the “Golden Era” in Al-Andalus. In this era, the Muslim community practised a tolerant, explorative, enlightened and socially open form of Islam. This community accepted – not restricted – diversity.

So, what has my interfaith experience taught me? It’s highlighted that respecting and including diversity within our faith, given the current global socio-political climate is more important than ever. Diversity is something to be proud of. It doesn’t “water-down” Islam. It doesn’t threaten the Muslim community. Quite the opposite – it helps it flourish.

Credits and acknowledgements

This blog feature was first published by 3 Faiths Forum on 22/08/2017 (c)

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A Christian dedicating his time to the Qu’ran? Find out why!

We’ve not long finished the month of Ramadan – a holy month for Muslims across the globe which marks the start of the the period in which Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received the Holy Qur’an from God Himself. This period is obviously one of reflection and unity for the billions of Muslims across the globe. Yet this month was not just a time of great community for Muslims both in the UK, but in fact the many diverse faith communities in multifaith Britain. Despite some terrible tragedies here in the UK which have recently taken place during Ramadan itself, I was delighted to attend a number of interfaith/community gatherings and witness the heartwarming sense of love, unity, community and friendship amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

What’s more, in the run up to Ramadan itself, I was honoured to meet a brother who was making a particularly curious stance of unity. You see, whilst many Muslims will spend the month of Ramadan reading the Qur’an, this gentleman was on an exploratory mission of the Qur’an teaching others about its values and content. OK. You might say. Seems normal… But wait for this: he’s a Christian. Although far from a stranger to this book, Julian Bond launched his blog “How to Read the Qur’an” to get to grips with Islamophobic rhetoric out there and spread a message of peace and unity.

“A Christian!?” many may say, perplexed. Well yes, the Qur’an is not off limits! Anyone can read it! But why? Well, here’s what Julian says about why he’s been reading and teaching others about how to read the Qur’an:

I will be writing and posting a series of blogs during Ramadan 2017… to encourage people to read it and, particularly, to help them not misread it. I have been treated as an ‘honorary Muslim’ for years and welcomed into all kinds of Muslim-only/majority spaces where I have sometimes been the only Christian present.

I have read the Qur’an many times since 2000, in a number of different translations. I have been a habitual reader of it… I know that I have read it more and am more familiar with it than a lot of Muslims… I have even had people attempting to ‘convert’ me when they have read less of the Qur’an in an accessible tongue than I have…

What really fires me up is Islamophobes and extremists who choose the most extreme, and wrong, readings of the Qur’an, when a proper reading of the Qur’an highlights that they are completely off the ‘straight path’…

Julian’s message is one we should all take head of: it is only by learning about other faiths and cultures that we can built unity, dispel myths, counteract hate speech and broaden our own minds. You see, “How to Read the Qur’an” isn’t a proselytising mission -it’s an educational mission which reveals a lot about not just Islam but interfaith relations themselves.

For Muslims, Jews, Christians, those of all faiths and none: take a look, read, comment like and share your thoughts! And for Muslims: learn about another faith. Pick up a copy of the Torah or New Testament. Learn about your colleagues and neighbours and you’ll find out you’ve got more in common than you realise. As Jo Cox said – as was remembered during the Great Get Together in the month of Ramadan itself:

“…we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Peace, salam shalom! ♡

Credits, acknowledgments and further information:

Thank you to brother Julian Bond for taking the time to meet with me and for being such a great Muslim ally! It was lovely to meet you and hear about your inspiring work. I wish you all the best in your current and future initiatives.

Find out more about Julian Bond – follow him on Twitter!

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Julian Bond currently leads the Methodist Church’s grant team and is involved in a range of interfaith activities both online and offline, working with a local dialogue group in Leighton Buzzard (London) and occasionally organising dialogue events at Abrar House. Also volunteering at St Ethelburga’s (the Centre for Reconciliation and Peace), Julian was previous Director of the Christian Muslim Forum for nine years, where he edited the Ethical Witness Guidelines and led its leadership programme. Julian also spent two years on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christian-Muslim Initiative.

Image credits: Heidi Lalci (CC) (featured image), Julian Bond (C)

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The Big Iftar: Breaking Bread amongst Friends

West London Synagogue (WLS) has long been a centre for members of different faith communities to come together and build bridges of mutual understanding, faith and friendship, and I’m delighted to have attended one of WLS’ recent interfaith gatherings.

Whilst Muslims are currently celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, where we fast from sunrise to sunset in remembrance of the poor and needy and celebrate the first revelation of the Qur’an, our Jewish brothers and sisters have also recently celebrated the festival of Shavuot, marking the monumental moment when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The combination of these two festivals this year shows that as members of the Abrahamic family, we really do have more in common than many may realise. Every year, our Jewish neighbours fast for 24 hours during Yom Kippur, whilst for Muslims, Shavuot reminds us of the importance of Prophet Moses and the Torah within Islam.

To mark the joint celebration and bring together the two communities, WLS hosted a joint Tikkun Leil Shavuot study night and Big Iftar, open for all to attend. The evening started with an Erev Shavuot combo service and Q&A debate which I, alongside other members of the Muslim and Jewish communities, thoroughly enjoyed. We then moved to the dining hall as 250+ of us united for iftar – the evening meal following the breaking of our fast.

20170530_223149.jpgWith everyone sat side by side amongst members of both faith communities, the hall had a joyful lively buzz of chatter as everyone got to know one another. The dinner consisted of a lovely mixture of Middle Eastern food including hummous, falafel, bread and a range of salads. As we broke bread together (dipped into hummous of course!), we learnt about each other’s faiths, with further reflections on the meaning of Ramadan and the importance of interfaith unity by both Rabbi Helen and Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil Baye Nass.

Enjoining in a heartwarming gathering of unity, solidarity and faith, the evening was a wonderful success – albeit a bit short for those of us who had to rush off to get the train home! The Big Iftar was later followed by a scriptural reasoning and all-night study session and subsequent Shacharit sunrise service, once again open for all to attend. Little did we know though that the success of the evening and the unity it portrayed were to become more important than ever. As we reflect on the heartbreaking terrorist attacks, merely a few days later, the evening is an inspirational reminder of the need to come together in harmony.

Thank you to Rabbi Helen, Julia, David and Neil plus Nic and all other staff and members of WSL for hosting such a wonderful evening and once again, welcoming the Muslim community with warm, open arms. May we continue to come together and may there be many more big iftars to come, God willing!

Salam, shalom, peace.

Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Co-Chair, Nisa-Nashim Marylebone

Credits and information:

Article feature for WLS Shavuot Review (2017)

Photography: West London Synagogue (featured image) (c), Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

Find out more about the Big Iftar campaign via their website and social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter).

#ChallengingTheNarrative – Which narratives do you refuse to endorse? Here’s 10 I won’t…

Last month, in line with International Women’s Day, I attended the Nisa-Nashim conference in London. Nisa-Nashim (meaning “women” in both Arabic and Hebrew respectively) is a UK based organisation which aims to bring Muslim and Jewish women together to build bridges, found friendships and develop understanding between the two communities. We’ve got more in common than you’d think: we both come from the Abrahamic family of faiths, we share many values and practices and  sadly, both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism – at least in visible terms – are on the rise worldwide including Europe and the USA.

However, this unfortunate trend appears to be bringing the two communities closer together. Back in February this year in the US, when thugs desecrated two Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, American Muslims raised over a staggering $140,000 to rebuild the graves. Likewise, when a mosque in Tampa (Florida) was attacked just day later, thanks to the support of Jewish donors, a massive total of $60,000 was raised to repair the damage. Gestures such as this go to show that we refuse to be divided by hate and that we actively challenge the narrative that “Jews and Muslims don’t get on” (due to predominantly Middle Eastern politics one would presume).

“Challenging the narrative” was exactly the theme of the Nisa-Nashim conference – a lovely day spent with lots of lovely Jewish and Muslim sisters (and one lovely gentleman)! We really are stronger together and we really do need to show that stereotypes, narratives and misconceptions must be challenged. During the day the question was posed: What narratives are you challenging? Other than by already being there, this made me think about what I am doing and what I can do – like all of us – to challenge people’s perceptions and to offer a different narrative. Here’s my list – what’s yours…?

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1. Islam and human rights are “incompatible”. Muslims hate “gay people”, agnostics, atheists, non-Muslims, Hindus, feminists, human rights campaigners etc.

I do not hate anyone. End of. God gave us all life and we must respect everyone – with no distinction in regards to ethnic background, nationality, race, religion or sexuality END OF. I myself am a human rights campaigner. I have a Master’s in Human Rights, I run a human rights blog and I’m a member of Amnesty International. I’m passionate about being active – online and offline – and I try and use my voice to speak out against injustice. This is my life, if I couldn’t do this well… there’d be trouble!

As a Muslim, Islam advocates feeding the poor, being just, honest, treating all humans (including women!) with respect, honour and dignity. Islam is serious about human rights. Unfortunately religious extremism, fear, sexism, tribalism, greed, intolerance, xenophobia etc. have all got in the way for many…

2. Muslims and Jews “don’t get on”

I’m Co-Chair of a local Jewish-Muslim women’s group in London as part of the Nisa-Nashim network. I respect and love my Jewish brothers and sisters. I may even have Jewish heritage (long story) and that is something I’m incredibly proud of. I’m forever saying how I’d like to make some Jewish friends! I – like many Muslim women – attended the Nisa-Nashim conference and are involved in its activities. The main hall was full of love! Since then I’ve been able to attend an interfaith Passover Seder and will continue to be involved in interfaith work. We’re sisters in the Abrahamic family and we’re sisters in humanity. And no: being Muslim does not equate to being anti-Semitic or a terrorist just as being Jewish does not equate to being a Zionist or Islamophobe.

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Jewish-Muslim solidarity (Washington D.C.) – Image credit: Joe Flood (CC)


3. Converts are suspicious, strange or wannabe extremists

There are Muslim converts, Jewish converts, Sikh converts (people I’ve met!) – it’s a fact of life. However we come to our new faith, we usually do so with love and enthusiasm – we’ve found something dear. Converts need to learn, they need support and they’re on a journey but hey – we’re normal!

4. You can’t be (truly) British and Muslim

British, Muslim and proud – that’s me. That’s also millions of British Muslims across the British Isles. My history and heritage is mine – it’s what got me here – and Britain accepts me as a Muslim, for who I am. Having spent time in other countries which are far less tolerant – I can tell you I’m proud to be British. Muslims who have spent their lives here, whose friends and family are here or have been offered a new life here – are happy being British too.

There’s no reason why you can’t be British and Muslim. Britain is a multicultural multifaith society and Islam teaches you to respect the law of the land and to be tolerant of others. For those who don’t like “living in a kaffir land” as they say – do they really feel British when they hold such beliefs?! Likewise for Islamophobes who worry about a “cultural clash” – we’re here and we’re happy. If we weren’t we’d go somewhere else! Look at the Muslims out there in politics, education, business, the charity sector, all over – we’re leading integrated, fulfilling and satisfying lives. And for those of you who aren’t convinced: we had an absolutely fabulous time at the British Islam 2017 conference back in February!

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Protester at an anti-Trump protest (London) – Image credit: Alisdare Hickson (CC)

5. Today’s youth are apathetic and superficial

Not sure I quite fit into the youth category any more but here’s the point. We’re young, we’re passionate, we have a voice and we get out there. Going back to my previous points, like many young British men and women, I’m involved with groups. Just look at those standing up against Brexit related hate crime, xenophobia, Trump, Islamophobia, you name it. There’s millions of us focused on real issues.

6. Islam is Sunni or Shia

I’m Muslim. I’m not Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Deobandi, Ahmadi or anything. I am Muslim and Muslim alone. Having said that, there are billions of Muslims who identify under a particular sect or label. Those who label any other as non-Muslim perpetuate intolerant extremist beliefs. Ahmadis are Muslims, so are Sufis, Shias etc.

7. Muslim women cover themselves for men

I do not cover myself for my husband, my father, (male) Prophets or any person – male or female. I cover for Allah (swt) and Allah alone. As a Muslim, I believe that God is not human and has no gender. For more on this point, cick here.

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Image: Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)


8. Women convert to Islam to get married/for a man

I converted – like all the other converts I know – for faith and faith alone. I also converted before I got married. In Islam, Muslim men can marry Christian and Jewish women so there’s no need for such ladies. In any case, such conversion would be insincere and invalid. Without faith, you cannot be Muslim. Read more here.

9. Islam is an “Eastern religion” which oppresses women

Islam is a religion for the whole of humanity. I’m not from “the East”. There’s Muslims across the US, Canada, Latin America, the UK, France, North Africa – you name it (see point number four). Islam teaches that each land had their own Prophets. Muhammad and Jesus (pbut) were from the Middle East yes but there’s 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

Furthermore, there is no such thing as “East and West”. The “Clash of Civilisations” narrative is FALSE. There is the Western hemisphere, countries in the Eastern hemisphere etc. but we’re ONE world – a world that happens to be increasingly globalised. What’s more I’m me. I’m Muslim yes. I’m British yes. But I refuse to put put in a box. You’ll know who I am and what I’m like by talking to me, listening to me and getting to know me.

What’s more, I’m not oppressed. I’m an active feminist. In terms of women’s rights, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught his followers to respect women. When the Qur’an was revealed women were treated as second class citizens with no rights. Islam gave women the right to own property, the right to divorce, a range of sexual, emotional and financial rights within marriage at a time when baby girls were being buried alive and women were sexually enslaved. Islam advocated for women’s education and social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. It forbade forced marriage at a time when women could be married against their will – used and abused for the pleasure of men – teaching people to instead respect their wife, mother, daughter(s), sister(s) etc. Read more here and here.

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Minneapolis (2006) – Image credit: Brian Wisconsin (CC)


10. A woman’s place is (solely) in the home

Women are the one’s who bear children, who go through pregnancy, who breastfeed and if a family can afford to have one salary – great, no reason why the lady can’t stay at home. There is no reason why a woman should be unhappy and unfulfilled staying at home.

However, woman also hold a valid place in society as a whole. We are half of the population. We cannot be completely cut off and shunned into the private sphere. Many women are mothers and carers whilst also holding a career at the same time or whilst being active in their community. Many women do not even have children. Women are doctors, teachers, educators, business women, politicians, writers, journalists, community workers, mentors etc. and as such we build (or aim to!) a more open, richer, more understanding world which represents the diversity of the population both in gender, nationality, ethnicity, culture and religion.

We cannot allow half of society to be misrepresented or even not represented at all. Society needs to serve everyone and therefore be built by both women and women. I like millions of Muslim women work full-time. I am active and I love it! For my sisters who are at home – great. Each to their own.

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So there we are, let me know your counter-narratives. I’d love to hear!

If you’d like to learn more, see also my previous post on the most common misconceptions of Muslim women. You might be surprised!

If you’d like more information about Nisa-Nashim, check them out online via their website and across social media: Twitter and Facebook.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Big thanks to all those who have inspired and supported me for who I am, who I aim to be and in everything I do.

Images: artgraffCarnagenyc, Martha Heinemann BixbyStraßenfotografie Hamburg (CC) (featured image). Image licences available to view via Flickr

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Passover past and present – A story of human slavery

Last week marked the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover), which recalls when Moses led his followers out of Egypt, free from a life of slavery. I was fortunate to go to an interfaith Seder (Passover meal) and learn all about this festival.

Also know as “The Festival of Freedom”, Passover is a reflection of Jewish history, slavery, human suffering and the importance of freedom and human rights. The festival dates back to the time when Pharaoh refused to released the Children of Israel from slavery. As a result, ten plagues first ensued, affecting the Egyptians living in ancient Egypt. What followed were:

  1. The Plague of Blood: God turned the River Nile into blood. Fish died and the water stank.
  2. The Plague of Frogs: Frogs were everywhere all over the land!
  3. The Plague of Lice: Dust was turned into lice. The lice then crawled on people and animals.
  4. The Plague of Flies: The land was take over by swarms of flies.
  5. The Plague on Livestock: Horses, cattle, donkeys, camels, sheep and goats all died.
  6. The Plague of Boils: Livestock and the Egyptian population broke out on festering boils.
  7. The Plague of Hail: A terrible hailstorm hit the land, destroying crops and killing people and animals.
  8. The Plague of Locusts: A mass of locusts destroyed the land’s crops.
  9. The Plague of Darkness: For three days, Egypt was covered in darkness.
  10. The Plague on the Firstborn: Every first-born son was killed. The homes of the Israelites were spared – the angel would “pass over” them. This is where the name “Passover” comes from.

The Israelites then fled the land of Egypt out of slavery. Now this was my first Passover Seder and I’m by no means an expert – hence, if you want to know about the religious history and elements of Passover Seders, you can find out more here. For Christians, you’ll find the history of this festival in the Book of Exodus. For me though, this was not just a great chance to learn about Passover traditions and Jewish history, but also about Judaism and Jewish values themselves and how such history and values relate to our multi-faith world today.

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Seder plate: bitter herbs (e.g. horseradish), egg, orange, shankbone, karpas (green) vegetable (e.g. parsley) and charoset paste (apple mix), served with matzah (unleavened bread) (Image credit: Eden Hensley Silverstein, CC)

As a reminder of the slavery the Jewish people faced, we were introduced to “10 modern plagues” in the form of human slavery in the modern era. These are as follows:

  1. Sexual exploitation: Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is the “fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world” (Equality Now).
  2. Forced labour: 21 million people worldwide are forced to work against their will (ILO).
  3. Street crime and begging: Children are forced to beg, pick pocket and shoplift by adults in the UK and other countries worldwide.
  4. Domestic servitude: Forced to work for little or no play, deprived of sleep, rest and leisure, the ILO estimates that more under 16 year old girls work in domestic labour than any other category of forced labour.
  5. Drug cultivation and trade: The most widespread form of child labour at present is for cannabis cultivation (Unchosen).
  6. Human organ harvesting and trade: Imagine having your organs stolen and sold on the black market, forming part of a trade which generates between $600 million – $1.2 billion in profits a year across a range of countries…
  7. Debt bondage: This is the most common but lesser known form of modern slavery today.
  8. Illegal adoption: This terrible phenomenon is especially prevalent in China, where an estimated 10,000 children a year are trafficked for forced begging, illegal adoption and sex slavery.
  9. Warfare and conflict: There are an estimated 350,000 child soldiers worldwide whose physical and mental well-being is being compromised for violent  (adult) conflict.
  10. Forced marriage: Around 48% of forced marriages involve children and adolescents (PORGMUN).

Indeed, there are an estimated 21-36 million slaves in the world today. The biggest victims are still women, with a growing number of children being affected. Human slavery is bigger now than it has ever been…

The Jewish community have celebrated Passover since around 1300 BC, and long shall they continue to. In 2017, as a global community of various faiths and none, the world still thrives on human slavery in its many forms. May we all unite to end this evil and live together in peace, understanding and harmony for the good of humanity.

Salam, shalom, peace ♥

Further information:

  • Please visit Stop The Traffik‘s website for further information on today’s 10 modern plagues of slavery.
  • If you are worried about human trafficking in your area/community, contact the police, local social services or the modern slavery helpine on 0800 0121 700.
  • Further information on human trafficking can also be found here.

Credits:

Featured image: J. P. Kang (CC)

Ten faiths, one message…

Today – 27th January – is Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day we remember the barbaric massacre of millions of Jews (alongside other people classed as “undesirables” by Hitler), barely one century ago. As we are called to remember the genocide and we repeat: “Never again“, we must truly reflect. For the utterance of these two words have not stopped the violence, the prejudice, the bloodshed. War, torture, genocide…is carrying on as we speak.

In light of this, I’d like us on reflect on the following – especially as we remember the past and we envisage an unknown bleak future in the current socio-political climate and the fear rising from Trump’s new role as POTUS: we are the people. Humanity is one and we are responsible for the way we treat others and the way we respond to hate rhetoric. Regardless of our differences we must unite, remembering our similarities and enjoining in good. Are we all really that different?! No! Embrace your differences – it’s what makes you unique. The world would be so dull if we all came from one mono culture! However, at the same time: unite in solidarity.

With this in mind, I’d also like us to remember one thing in particular: The Golden Rule. The teaching of: treat others the way you wish to be treated! Whatever your faith, it’s there! And wouldn’t the world be a safer, happier, more tolerant place to be if we all remembered this “rule”? I’m convinced so! So here’s The Golden Rule according to the world’s 10 largest faith groups (listed in ascending order of population size). Enjoy!

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Shintoism

  • ~4 million followers worldwide (0.01% of the world’s population)

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Jainism

  • 4.5 million followers worldwide (0.06% of the world’s population)

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Confucianism

  • 7 million followers worldwide (0.1% of the world’s population)

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Bahá’í Faith

  • ~8 million followers worldwide (0.15% of the world’s population)

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Judaism

  • 20 million followers worldwide (0.3% of the world’s population)

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Sikhism

  • 30 million followers worldwide (0.4% of the world’s population)

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Buddhism

  • 400 million followers worldwide (7% of the world’s population)

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Hinduism

  • 1 billion followers worldwide (15% of the world’s population)

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Islam

  • 1.6 billion followers worldwide (23% of the world’s population)

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Christianity

  • 2.3 billion followers worldwide (32% of the world’s population)

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So, there we have it: 10 faiths, one rule, one humanity. If we really want “never again” to mean something in terms of action, then we need to respect our differences yet remind ourselves that we all have the same obligations towards ourselves and our global brothers and sisters. Ask yourself this when you’re in a situation: Would I want this? How would I feel in such situation…?

Salam! Shalom! Peace! ♥

Sources and credits:

Statistics from: Waterlow, R. (2017) ‘Top 10 Largest Religions in the World‘, World’s Top Most

Original photographs:

Feature image: Leo Reynolds

All images are edited versions of photographs first published under a Creative Commons licence, unless otherwise stated (see credits). For terms of usage visit Flickr.

Photo editing and design: Elizabeth Arif-Fear

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