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As regards more practical issues, I particularly welcome the fact that within the Department for Communities and Local Government there is a cohesion and faith division which is charged with engaging with faith communities. I further welcome the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, Our Shared Future, published in June last year, and the Governments response to it, published in February this year. Of the many recommendations in that report and the Governments response, I want to focus briefly on two, the first of which is the importance of citizenship education.
The Government accept that. Citizenship education is crucial to the future cohesion of our society and is an area where the faith communities could play a very significant role, for all religious communities contain a solid religious and philosophical basis for good citizenship and motivate their members to relate well and caringly for others. So there is a resource here, within the faith communities, that I hope those responsible will draw on as appropriate. Nor, of course, should this be confined, or even primarily linked, to religious education, because what faith communities have to offer goes much wider than that.
The other, rather more difficult and tendentious area is that of faith schools. As we know, there is a great deal of hostility to such schools in some quarters. Therefore, the recommendation in Our Shared Future is particularly important. It points out that,
It will be important for Government to monitor the effectiveness of this voluntary agreement on RE in faith schools. We also recommend consideration of whether Ofsted inspections should cover RE teaching in faith schools (which is currently exempt).
That is a crucial paragraph. What matters is not so much the existence of faith schools but what is taught in them and how it is taughtwhether it is taught as genuine education or as propaganda; whether pupils are encouraged to look self-critically as well as appreciatively at their own tradition; and whether they are encouraged to be open to the possibility of their own understanding of truth being challenged, enlarged and enriched by contact with other religious traditions.
I know that these recommendations do not belong in the Minister's own department. If he is not able to address the matter today, I very much hope he will pass my two concerns to the Department for Education. These are crucial areas where the faith communities have a role to play, for good or potentially for ill.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, made an eloquent plea for interfaith dialogue, one problem of which was illustrated for me earlier this week when I helped to launch a document by Christian Solidarity Worldwide on apostasy and the problems of people in many countries changing their faith.
I also note that in the prayers with which we begin our daily sittings we pray for the tranquillity of the realm. We need to ensure that interfaith relations do not raise barriers, but equally we need to avoid the mushy pitfall of saying that we all worship the same God and concentrate on shared values and shared social action.
The starting point is surely the affirmation of the importance of faith itself. If we approach faith from the context of a narrow, interfaith agenda, this could be regarded as being defensive, as if politicians think of faith as a problem because it upholds differences. This itself can generate social tensions, as if to have a faith is to be a threat, when believers do, and must, work with those of other faiths.
I contend that only by recognising the differences between different faiths can we build good relationships. We are exhorted to love our neighbours as ourselves. Before that relationship there must be an understanding of ourselves and our own faith. In their consultation document published in December last yearwhich has not been much referred tothe Government coupled their engagement with an interfaith objective with a clear affirmation of faith, and that I applaud.
On the subject of bonding and bridging social capital, the Government drew on the work of the US academic David Putnam and his definition of two kinds of social capital: bonding social capital and linking or bridging social capital. The former refers to the social capital defining social groups while the latter refers to the relationships between those groups. In the consultation document the Government champion bridging social capital but are more cautious about bonding social capital. I make two points in reference to this.
First, if we are to love our neighbours, we need to affirm ourselves and our own faith. The linking process assumes there are groups that can be linked and sustained by bonding social capital. Surely bonding social capital is part of the solution. Further, if, as the Minister says in the preface to the consultation document, our aim is cohesion, we should not limit our definition of bridging social capital to interfaith relationships. The truth is that there is an incredible amount of bridging social capital within the several faiths. I give examples from my own Christian faith with which I am most familiar. In 2003, the Evangelical Alliance of Wales published the Church Diversity Index which provides an overview of all the theologically mainstream denominational groupings in Wales. This shows that there are 26 Christian denominations in Wales embracingthis is the important pointvery considerable ethnic and class differences. Umbrella bodies such as the Evangelical Alliance help to bring these groups together.
Secondly, we should celebrate linking social capital within congregations. Less than five miles from where we are debating is Westbourne Park Baptist Church, which embraces in one congregation of just over 120 people some 33 different nationalities and different social classes which one ordinarily would not expect to come together. With its associated family centre, that church runs 14 social projects used by people of all faiths and none. Surely, therefore, we should first affirm such initiatives for the linking social capital that they already sustain even as we encourage them to develop this further on an interfaith basis.
Who are the Government seeking to encourage? Some are very much already within the interfaith context, but the real challenge is to encourage the more conservative elements of faith communities. In my judgment the shared act of commitment on page 16 of the document is unnecessary. It will be counterproductive put up the backs of some of those communities.
Finally, I share a thought from Wales, where there is always something new, and commend an example of best practice. I am on the Council of Reference of Gweinithe Council of the Christian Voluntary Sector
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Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, on initiating the debate on interfaith dialogue, which is a subject very dear to my heart. Unfortunately, in view of the time constraint I am not able to deal with the matter fully.
My life has been shaped by a multicultural and multifaith background and it has been greatly enriched in consequence. I was brought up in Uganda and my formative years were spent in an environment where my fellow school pupils came from different religions and racial backgrounds. Uganda at that time was an affluent country, and one of the reasons for the prosperity was the existence of peace and harmony between the communities. In 1972 General Amin expelled the Asians and a significant part of that community came to United Kingdom.
Britain is a land of opportunity. This country provided us with the environment and circumstances where our hard work and positive attitudes towards other communities enabled us to flourish. I honestly believe that the British, for all their faults, are tolerant. This country for many years has welcomed people from abroad who have been able to settle and work here and have contributed towards the advancement and well-being of the United Kingdom. I am indeed proud to be British and to live in a country where the freedom of an individual and his or her religious beliefs are respected.
In 2003, the Conservative Party formed the Conservative Muslim Forum and I was asked to chair it. I was subsequently asked to chair the newly founded Ethnic Diversity Council of the party. One of the issues that we are actively promoting is interfaith dialogue and the building of harmony among the various religious and racial groups. There are more similarities between people than differences and it is important that we promote the similarities, as all religions have a message of peace and harmony.
I am a practising Muslim and proud of my religion. Islam regards Muslims, Christians and Jews as people of the book and we believe that the books of Allah are the Koran, the Torah, the Gospel and the Psalms. There is frequent reference to Jesus Christ, Moses and other prophets in the Holy Koran. The Koran contains a chapter on Mary, mother of Jesus. Islam is indeed a religion of peace and forbids any form of suicide bombing. Jihad is an Arabic word which means to try ones utmost, and a Muslim must carry out good deeds. I am mentioning these points because I have spoken on these and other matters on a number of occasions at various meetings. I feel that I should dispel any misunderstandings and correct
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Unfortunately in certain parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in the north of the country, there is a lack of interaction and engagement between the various communities. I am pleased that there are initiatives that are creating good relationships between the communities. There is a need for interfaith dialogue at every level, including parliamentary groups, national organisations, community leaders, religious groups, places of worship and, of course, the communities. It also requires support of the Government and local authorities. I am indeed an optimist and believe that with a holistic approach we can achieve this.
I wish to mention the role of the media and I ask that they show restraint in their choice of stories and words relating to any religious group. We are proud of our free press in Britain and we applaud that freedom, which is the key part of our democracy. We need, however, to exercise this freedom with care and responsibility.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, I, too, welcome the debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, for introducing it. The German theologian Hans KÃ1/4ng asserted that there was no peace for the world without peace between the religions, no peace between the religions without understanding between the religions and no understanding between the religions without dialogue. Therefore, I want to underline three features of that dialogue as I have lived it and have tried to work at it in the past nine years in Leicester, which is probably the second most diverse city in the United Kingdom.
First, such dialogue involves sustained and lasting relationship building, with high maintenance costs in terms of time, understanding and patience for lengthy periods. The dialogue between faiths is not principally an academic exercise; still less is it a quick fix for fast-moving government initiatives. Rather, faith can be understood, encountered and subject to dialogue only by means of conversations between practitioners who are ready to become friends. It is in such sustained relationships that we have been able to build the Faith Leaders Forum in Leicester, complementing the work of the Leicester Council of Faiths. This has led to many practical initiatives, including the establishment of ongoing and, now, sustainable conversations between Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews across the city, and the establishment of a number of initiatives, which include Christians and Muslims meeting to eat and mark the ending of Ramadan and the returning of hospitality to mark the Easter feast, and a joint imams and vicars cricket match, which has received widespread attention at Leicestershire county cricket ground.
That is the soil in which trust, understanding and relationships grow, but these are slow-growing plants.
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Secondly, such dialogue demonstrates that people of faith hold their convictions with an absolute loyalty, believing that they are true and non-negotiable. This is of course inconvenient for a postmodern, post-Enlightenment and sometimes secular society. However, it demonstrates that cohesion and security are not to be achieved by banishing religion from the public square, nor by treating all faith communities as a homogenous group, without being willing to particularise, or discriminatein the positive sense of the wordbetween them.
The benefits of this passionate and unyielding commitment to non-negotiable values is that it can bring to public debate dimensions of policy-making that go beyond self-interestfor example, in addressing international debt and poverty, in securing the best deals for immigrants and asylum seekers, and in addressing the great challenges of climate change. In all these fields, faith communities are working on practical initiatives which arise not from compromising on belief but from seeing the potential in our traditions for imagining a better world. That has led to the creation of the St Philips Centre for study and engagement with other faiths, teaching and training, among other things, public sector employees to be alive to the sensitivities of the diversity.
Thirdly, interfaith dialogue builds the understanding that people of faith are ordinary, engaged, practical, useful and valued members of their communities, not some exotic species engaged in mysterious, irrational and obscure rituals unconnected to the health, well-being and flourishing of their neighbourhoods, their schools, their community centres and local economies. In Leicester, a study carried out some three or four years ago demonstrated and described more than 400 faith-based voluntary organisations serving the needs of local people, often the hardest to reach and most vulnerable. It is out of this shared and very practical experience of the principles of volunteering and public service that much of our dialogue takes place. That dialogue is not between professionalsbetween priests, rabbis and imamsbut between school teachers, police, local government officials, city councillors and businessmen who happen to be people of faith and want to share their deepest convictions with each other, as well as the ways in which those convictions are worked out in their public roles.
The three principles of having patience and conviction and being earthed in practical realities are the lived experience of interfaith dialogue in my city. They are the hallmarks of this enterprise and the roots from which sustainable, cohesive and flourishing cities and civilisations can grow.
Baroness Deech: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Hameed for choosing to raise this important and sensitive issue for discussion. My thoughts are coloured by my experience as a schoolchild in a religious minority of one in a mainstream school. It made me aware of one point: it is not what you say but what you do. Actions speak louder than words, or, as the Chief Rabbi put it rather more elegantly, there is face-to-face interfaith activitythat is, dialogueand there is side-by-side, collaborative social action. I have no doubt that the latter is more fruitful in terms of our aims in this debate. We have to proceed on the basis that proselytism or even persuasion by example change nothing because we are dealing with faith, and all faiths expectindeed, even take sustenance fromcriticism of their followers, for which they are prepared.
Words should, at the least, not incite ill-will. It was so helpful that the Second Vatican Council issued the document Nostra Aetate, which repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus, and sought relationships with Jews based on cordiality and mutual respect, lessened only by the apparent retention of the aim of conversion. In our words we must be constructive, not divisive.
University campuses are the home of words and ought to be the home of interfaith dialogue. Going to university provides young people with the chance to engage with others of different faiths but similar aims, at a formative age, and often for the first time. Appeals to freedom of speech and academic freedom, however, may not override the law relating to racial harmony and freedom from harassment on campuses and the responsibility of vice-chancellors to promote ita topic to which I adverted when your Lordships' House debated anti-Semitism on campuses last June. To its credit, Cambridge University has a Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, which helps teachers and a Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations. There is also a Cambridge Interfaith Programme, but not in Oxford, my own old university. It grieves me to note that David Irving, described by an English court as a Holocaust denier and an anti-Semite, was invited to the Oxford Union, along with a BNP representative, while the university remained passive. The university needs to be reminded of its duties under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act and other Acts to promote racial harmony and good relations between different groups, like other universities.
It is recognised that vituperative debates about Israel go on to such an extent that Jewish students feel beleaguered. Universities need to understand the legal limits of freedom of speech to be wary of manipulation and to rise to the defence of all their students, especially any whose academic welfare is threatened.
I turn to the constructive activities that are flourishing under the interfaith title. One can have nothing but praise for the exceptional work of the Council of Christians and Jews, in which my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries has played a leading role. More shame then that there are calls from certain religious quarters for boycotts of Israeli goods and activities. Sometimes Jews feel that anti-Israel attacks may well be anti-Semitism in a new guise. Therefore, it
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There is special value to be found in activities that bring together young people from different faiths for fun or for more serious purposes. The Maimonides Foundation for Jews and Muslims has education projects, for example, working together on art and football. Daniel Barenboim conducts the deeply moving West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of Palestinians and Israelis, which was acclaimed at the Proms, on the West Bank and elsewhere. In Israel, an Arab-Israeli lawyer, Wafa Fahoum, promotes education of Israeli soldiers and activities for young people, such as tennis; note that she is a woman. This is noteworthy as there are hindrances to the full participation of women in interfaith activity because of the religious and cultural prohibitions with which we are all familiar. Many women-only interfaith activities have sprung up, of which I counted 42 organisations in the report, in 2006, by Fatheena Mubarak on those activities. Still, it is a pity that the mixed-sex organisations cannot be more inclusive.
Health and the environment provide the most valuable ways forward. There is wonderful interfaith work globally, in Africa and elsewhere, on HIV prevention and cure. There is scope for the future in the environmental movement because all religions broadly accept that we have a moral and religious obligation to take care of our natural environment and hand it on in good condition to our children. It is Gods creation. The interfaith environmental organisations deserve government help. There is hope for progress if we avoid hate-filled language, appreciate where each others hearts lie and go forward with the activities that we were all put on earth to do: healing, protection of the land, education and families. I trust that the department will place its resources accordingly.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I salute my noble friend Lord Hameed and the non-stop efforts that he makes in the area of interfaith dialogue. I am proud to be his friend. Today is very important, not least because he plays an important part in the work of an organisation called the Co-Existence Trust, which was formed by Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan and myself some time ago, to unite Muslim and Jewish political leaders worldwide. We now have members in 45 parliaments, and my noble friend is one of the vice-presidents. We have a constant battle against racismIslamophobia and anti-Semitism in particular. I was listening to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and thinking of the 28 years I served in that city, which is likely to become within the next few years the first city in Britain with a non-white majority. The right reverend Prelate does a tremendous job and made a tremendous speech, which I appreciated.
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