Interfaith Week

8th – 15th November 2020

Woking People of Faith (https://wpof.org.uk)have been promoting a “Buddy” programme for women throughout September and October culminating in Inter Faith Week.

The idea is that ladies partner with someone of a different faith or belief to exchange views and initiate conversations, using social media or telephone, whatever means are most comfortable for them. They will have an opportunity to contribute to a virtual event in Inter Faith Week to share what they have discovered through this contact.

Kawther Akhtar, Surrey Faith Links Adviser, has suggested some possible questions that the buddies might consider together.

How does your faith or non-religious belief shape your daily life – including at this time of COVID-19?

What, in your faith or non-religious belief, encourages service to others in society?

Has COVID-19 brought any lessons about common values and action?

(www.surreyfaithlinks.org.uk)

The Covid 19 pandemic has challenged all of us in different ways, through illness, bereavement, loneliness, home schooling, home working, and furlough. In addition government restrictions have meant that people of faith have been unable to worship together in the mosque, the church building or other religious houses. Worship has moved online, via Zoom or pre recorded services, or printed material posted or hand delivered. Faith leaders have had to grapple with these new methods of delivering the message and in many cases this challenge has been met with enthusiasm and thankfulness by leaders and congregations alike. One of the main benefits of online worship has been its accessibility to those who who are unable to physically come to a service.

Places of worship are now opening gradually, practising Covid secure procedures. The latest Government rules announced today are warning of a ban on gatherings over 6 people. There are exemptions, but possibly churches, mosques and other sacred spaces will have to revise their practise again and revert to online delivery of worship.

Whatever the challenges, people of faith can be reassured that God is with us in these difficult times. In the Old Testament Psalm 103 has these comforting words :

v 8 ….the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.

Faith informs action, and we have witnessed many faithful people and others inspired to help during this difficult time.

It has been a positive and heartening aspect of the Covid 19 pandemic to see the way in which so many people have helped their neighbours, with shopping, checking on them daily, contacting people to have a chat, using their time and talents to help the NHS (Thank you, Knaphill Syrian refugees who made laundry bags for the NHS staff at St Peter’s), delivering food parcels and generally being more aware of each others’ needs. Kindness and compassion have been expressed between strangers as communities have worked together to deal with the issues raised by the pandemic.

So there is plenty to talk about and share with each other as we contemplate the uncertainty of the months to come and recall with thankfulness the many inspiring stories of human and godly love that have already resulted from the strange times in which we are living.

As people of faith and other beliefs take time to talk to each other, may grace and love be at the heart of all their conversations.

On the beach at Gravelines – a migrant’s story

On a beach at Gravelines,

the dawn sunlight touching the waves with gold

so beautiful.

I shiver, not from fear,

my jacket’s worn and thin. I’m cold.

The boat’s in the water, the waves not too high.

The traffickers are shouting, come on, get in, this is it, no more chances.

I know that. My money’s gone. This is my third try.

If I look hard, I think I see the cliffs of white

the slightest glimpse of freedom in the early morning light.

Will I drown on the crossing,

will I make it over?

I’ve faced fear before, my home was bombed, my father killed,

my twin brother left for dead

in the street,

I see the blood on his head

on his hands, on his feet.

We survived, we three,

my mother, baby sister Rana, and me.

They cried a lot, but I did not.

We fled our country with other families,

found a damp basement to share,

we were refugees.

I scavenged in the gutters for anything to sell

picked up old cabbage leaves in the market for Mum to cook

took any sort of work, exploited, hardly paid, look

this is no life, she said.

You have to go, for a better future,

but standing on this shore I don’t know anymore.

Sara runs past me, she’s preganant 8 months gone,

her husband follows quickly, he’s sure it will be a son.

They’re clutching bags, a blue blanket, a plastic sack.

All they’ve got now after months of walking and waiting and trying to get a visa.

Their home and shop were destroyed, they won’t go back.

They’re from Syria, I am too.

We didn’t know each other then

but I shared my tent in Calais with them

so now I do.

They’ve got in the boat, they’re smiling with hope.

I feel numb and lost, but I jump in too

with 19 others from Sudan and Yemen Iraq and Syria.

The men we paid laugh, shrug and fling us the rope.

We’re on the sea now and this dinghy is deflating

I can hear the air hissing out but I don’t say anything.

I miss my Mum. she told me to go, it seemed right at the time but now I don’t know.

Will I make it to the UK, will I be safe?

will I get an education, be a doctor, that’s my dream,

will my Mum and sister be able to come,

will I ever be happy again,

will I get a welcome?

I’m freezing, wet through, we’re all frightened,

this rubber boat is sinking fast,

will this day be my last?

Then on the horizon a UK ship appears.

Everyone sees it, everyone cheers.

There are tears

of relief.

We’re rescued, given a strange sandwich, taken to Dover

and processed.

My name’s Khalid. I’m fourteen.

This nightmare isn’t over.

Hagia Sofia – where faiths meet

There was news this week that the Hagia Sofia, the jewel of Byzantine architecture in Istanbul, is to be turned back into a mosque after 85 years as a carefully non-religious museum. Of course the Hagia Sofia, originally the great cathedral of Eastern Christianity, has been a mosque before. The building’s history mirrors the eclectic past of the city of Istanbul itself – an ancient city where east meets west across the Bosphorus, occupied successively by Greeks and Romans, known as Byzantium, renamed Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine in 330, fallen to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, declining in importance over the centuries, so that in 1923 when the modern state of Turkey was formed, it lost its status as a capital city to Ankara. Since 1930 the city has been known by the Turkish name of Istanbul.

The Hagia Sofia, meaning “church of the Holy Wisdom”, is an architectural marvel built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century on the foundations of two earlier churches. The vast interior space was designed to portray “an unearthly mirror of the heavens” (Eyewitness Travel Guide to Turkey) and is truly awe inspiring. The upper walls were once covered entirely in gold Byzantine mosaics and intriguing remnants of these remain, depicting Christ, saints, Mary the mother of Jesus, atchangels, emperors and six-winged seraphim. But the great dome itself is decorated with Koranic verses and 8 massive round wooden plaques in the nave show calligraphic inscriptions of the names of Allah, the Prophet Mohammed, the first four Muslim Caliphs and two of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandsons.

This magnificent church was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed in 1453 and the golden mosaics of Justinian and his Empress Theodora, the Virgin Mary and the painted seraphim were covered up for centuries. When Kemal Mustafa Ataturk founded modern Turkey he wanted to turn the nation towards the West and away from strict Islamic rules. So he imposed secularism on the state and Hagia Sofia became a museum. The Christian decor was uncovered and for 85 years visitors to this imposing building have been able to view Islamic and Christian art side by side in this wonderful setting.

Now once again Turkey is seeing change, in a determined swing back towards a stricter Islamic culture, and the current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decreed that the Hagia Sofia become a mosque once again. The Christian images will be covered up during prayer times. Women will be expected to wear headscarves.

On Friday July 24th the newly designated msoque was closed to visitors. Soon Islamic prayer will be heard under the soaring arches of the nave. Some Turkish people deplore the abandonment of the former secular status of this iconic building. Supporters of the President and Turkish Muslims are pleased that the Hagia Sofia will be a thriving centre of Islamic worship once again. Some Turkish Christians see this as an attack on their faith.

Visual symbols of the Islamic and Christian faiths and wonderful Islamic and Christian art have been present together in the Hagia Sofia for almost 600 years. Like the city itself, the great cathedral and its four added minarets stand as a monument to the ever changing world in which we live, a world where faiths and people of different faiths should be able to co exist in respectful peace. I hope Christians and every person of faith or no faith will still be able to visit the Hagia Sofia. Not just to be impressed by its matchless architectural beauty but to pause and recognise and to drink in the atmosphere of mystic divinity and religious harmony. The presence of both God and Allah is embedded in its foundations through centuries of prayer and worship and floats unseen but undeniable from its walls, for Hagia Sofia was dedicated in honour of the “holy wisdom” whose divine power and might transcends any human action and will forever outlast human history.

Photo Mark Hargreaves Original text Claire Hargreaves July 2020

Dangerous Channel hopping

180 migrants crossed the Channel in small boats on Sunday 12th July (Home Office figures). This is more people than ever in one day making the dangerous crossing from France across the world’s busiest shipping lane. And these are just the ones who were rescued by the UK Border Force or made it to the UK’s beaches and were picked up there by the authorities. Who knows how many others landed elsewhere and slipped away undetected?

Another 200 people attempting the sea voyage were intercepted by French patrols and returned to France. It is thought that the good weather and the lack of lorry traffic due to the Coronavirus situation has encouraged migrants to risk the Channel crossing. Home Office Minister Priti Patel is keen to ensure that this surge in illegal crossings is stopped and the ruthless exploitation of vulnerable displaced people by smugglers is tackled. She is demanding that France takes fresh action to stop the crossings and take back those who have succeeded in reaching the UK illegally.

The risk to life of these crossings is immense. Boats are inadequate, leaky and dangerously overcrowded. Often there are not enough lifejackets. It is reported that the people smugglers always cynically insist on including one woman and child on each boat so that rescue is more likely.

On Saturday (11th July), 21 migrants in three boats were returned to France. Their boat had capsized and four people were suffering from severe hypothermia as a result.

In August Iranian migrant Mitra Mehrad, 31, tragically lost her life when she and three others fell from a dinghy off the coast of Kent. There were twenty migrants on board the flimsy boat, mostly from Iran and a few from Iraq. Four of them were children. Two survivors were pulled from the water but sadly Mitra Mehrad was lost. The remaining 19 people were taken to Ramsgate. A survivor said later that Ms Mehrad had dived into the water to try and save the two who had fallen overboard.

Mitra
Mitra Mehrad had a masters degree in psychology

Every person who gets on a small boat to cross the Channel has a story of a life left behind, of a desperate hope and need to find a better future for themselves and their families. Yes, many have made a choice to leave their home but it has been forced upon them by war, persecution, discrimination, hunger, extreme poverty. Many have been terrified into leaving their homes because of threats to their lives and their children’s safety and future. They are all our neighbours.

A prayer for refugees

Lord Help us to see beyond statistics to the courageous people who are refugees, all with stories of tragedy to tell yet who are still determined to chase the rainbow of hope and life.

Help us to change so that refugees are not seen as problems but as valued people with rich experiences to contribute and who should be treasured as our neighbours, to be loved as we love ourselves.

In Jesus’ name

Amen.

(references : BBC News; Migrant Watch UK; The Independent; the Home Office.)

(original material Reverend Claire Hargreaves)

Refugee Week Address Luke 10. 30 – 37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan

“And who is my neighbour?”

“And who is my neighbour?” asked the teacher of the law. (v29). In response to this question, Jesus tells the story of the traveller, robbed and beaten on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. The man was left injured and bleeding on the side of the road. Who stopped to help him? Not the priest, or the Levite, passers-by who might have been expected to assist someone in need, but a Samaritan. He was the last person a Jew would have thought might help him. Jews and Samaritans harboured a deeply held hatred of each other.

Yet the Samaritan picked up the injured Jew, bathed his wounds, took him to a place of shelter and organised his care.

After he had told this parable, Jesus asked the teacher of the law which of the three was a neighbour to the assaulted man? The teacher answered correctly but could not bring himself to say the hated name “The Samaritan”, instead saying “the one who had mercy on him”. (v37)

“Who is my neighbour?” is a question we need to ask ourselves when confronted by the increasing numbers of migrants and refugees, people so threatened by war, hunger, persecution or discrimination that they have no choice but to leave their homes, livelihoods and countries behind and seek refuge in another country.

Our neighbours are global; it is a small world, brought together by technology that allows us to see and hear situations and people in faraway places. So refugees from Syria are just as much our neighbours as the family who live next door. The Rohingyas forced out of their villages in Myanmar and living in cramped and unhygienic conditions in Cox’s Bazaar are just as much our concern as the homeless man in a sleeping bag on our street.

Refugees run great risks and suffer enormous hardship to reach what is sometimes a fragile safety. They are on a journey to the rainbow’s end with hope in their hearts for a better future. Here are the stories of two such resilient refugees whom I met on a refugee training course for electricians** in Marka, in 2017.

Mohammed Shada Ayash is a 52 year old from Da’ra in Syria. He had been in Jordan four and a half years, forced to seek refuge in Jordan by the war and threat of terrorism. He was a car mechanic who owned his own garage in Da’ra so in the beginning it was difficult as a refugee, to have nothing. Mohammed suffers from cancer and is unable to do the heavy manual work which is the only (illegal) work available. So he took the chance to retrain as an electrician and hopes to find employment to enable him to support his family. His dream is to return to Syria one day when the war is over.

Mohammed Nazal is also from Da’ra. He is 16 years old. His father was killed in Syria. As the oldest child of the family he is the breadwinner for his five younger siblings and his mother who is unwell. He has some (illegal) work at a gas station. Most of his earnings goes on rent. His dream is to leave the Middle East and go to the USA.

Mohammed Shada Ayash and Mohammed Nazal

During the Coronavirus epidemic, refugees in Jordan have been caring for each other. In Za’atari Camp, Jordan home to 80,000 refugees, they are trying to ensure social distancing by marking out spots on the ground outside the camp supermarket and by making and distributing soap to ensure hygiene. (pic.twitter.com/vxrtWrJHwg (UNHCR @refugees March 29 2020). In Azraq Camp, Jordan, a drawing by Zeinab a 12 year old Syrian refugee, shows how the Taekwondo enthusiast plans on fighting the Covid 19 virus.  pic.twitter.com/Gtlaswr8W5 (UNHCR Ireland @UNHCRireland 7 April 2020)

Our neighbours are next door, on the street, across the sea and worldwide. Jesus calls us to love them all, as we love ourselves.

Refugees at risk from Coronavirus

Za’atari Refugee Camp Jordan

Who knows how many refugees are suffering already from Covid-19 ? If this virus takes hold in overcrowded and often unsanitary camps, where refugees have little or no access to medical care, the effect will be devastating. Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Many have already experienced the terror of fleeing for their lives from war and violence. Now there is a new threat to their fragile existence with Coronavirus. How do you practise social distancing or self-isolation when “home” is a plastic sheet or a flimsy shelter crammed close to others in a cramped space?

In Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, the sanitation and hygiene facilities for the thousands of Rohingya refugees are already inadequate. Handwashing is an impossible luxury for the million Syrians trapped on the Turkish border and living out in the open with no formal camp structure to protect them.

As countries shut their borders because of Coronavirus, asylum seekers may be turned away forcing them to return to unsafe situations. The UN High Commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, has said that while countries are rightly adopting exceptional measures to combat the spread of the virus, including travel restrictions and cross border movements “wars and persecution have not stopped.” (Church Times online 24/3/20)

Christian Aid’s Senior Advocacy Adviser for Syria Iraq and Lebanon, Mairead Collins, has been quoted as saying “While this crisis is a global one, and all of us are impacted, we cannot take our eye off those who are in a much more vulnerable situation than us in this crisis.” (Church Times online 24/3/20)

Christians believe that prayer can change things. Please pray that the world does not forget vulnerable refugees and migrants. They need our help to protect and save them from the worst effects of Covid 19.

Lord, we pray for all refugees and displaced people struggling with the threat of Coronavirus. May those who are ill be comforted; those who are fearful, be calm and at peace. Uphold aid workers and humanitarian aid agencies as they seek to provide essential care to refugees in camps in difficult conditions.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

Humanitarian crisis in Northwest Syria

People might think of the Middle East climate as being hot but in Idlib right now temperatures drop to -7C at night and there has been heavy snowfall. So in the flimsy canvas tents in makeshift camps the refugees from the fighting in Idlib province are suffering from freezing cold, little food and the terror of not knowing where they can go to feel safe.

On February 16th The Sunday Times reported the tragic death of a seven month old baby boy, Abdul Wahab in Atmeh Camp near Idlib. The camp doctor told the distraught father that Abdul had frozen to death.

The UN Secretary General confirmed that young children are dying from the cold in this region. Since December 2019 almost 900,000 civilians have fled for their lives to escape the bombing and shelling by the Syrian regime and its allies. Many of these homeless families have had to move on to seek safety more than once during the 9 years of Syrian civil war.

Where can they go? The fighting is pushing civilians towards the Turkish border but Turkey cannot take in any more refugees. Relief efforts are hopelessly inadequate for the vast numbers of needy people. Without stoves or fuel, more children will die of the cold.

The UN Secretary-General is calling for an immediate ceasefire. This is a humanitarian tragedy on a huge scale.

These suffering people are our neighbours, they’re like us, families with children, older people, teenagers with aspirations and dreams, but who are all struggling just to survive in a desperate situation.

Jesus calls us to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12.31).

Make your voice heard and call for an end to their suffering. Write to your MP, to the Prime Minister calling for stronger advocacy from the British Government and support for the UN. Give to the All We Can Syria Refugee Appeal (www.allwecan.org.uk) to support their work with refugees .

Pray for an end to this bitter conflict that continues to cause such immense suffering to so many people.

Families like us
A refugee family in Za’atari Camp Jordan

Interfaith Week 2019

Inter Faith Week 2019 10–17 November

Prayer

Lord

Help us to be mediators of peace and understanding between peoples of different faiths, recognising the common ground between us and building strength and trust between communities.

We pray for greater awareness of the contributions that different and distinct faith communities make to society, both locally and more widely.

May we be respectful of difference and reflective of Jesus’ love for all.

Amen.

REFLECT/DEBATE/ COOPERATE/LEARN/ QUESTION/RESPECT/ APPRECIATE/MAKE FRIENDS/CELEBRATE http://www.interfaithweek.org

39 people lost their lives in a refrigerated lorry – their story matters

The deaths of 39 people trapped in a refrigerated container lorry is shocking and tragic. Many wonder whatever made these people, and the other thousands of migrants fleeing their homelands, attempt such a journey and put themselves in such danger of their lives. There is always a reason, often a horrific one.

we know that behind the headlines there is an unheard story of despair”

(From a prayer by the President and Vice President of Conference for the 39 people found dead in a lorry  : https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/prayer/a-prayer-for-the-people-who-died-in-the-lorry-found-in-essex/)

People are driven to these desperate measures by poverty, war and violence, discrimination and persecution. Some people, possibly like the 39 in the lorry, are exploited by people traffickers, and end up trapped into modern slavery.

Reading about the anguish of families who suspect that their loved ones perished in the lorry container, I was once again reminded that “the 39” were all individuals, brothers, sisters, even fathers perhaps. They undertook the dangerous journey to the UK with hope in their hearts that, despite the risks, they would eventually arrive in a safe place that would offer them a chance to improve their lives and the lives of the ones they had to leave behind.

What can we do? We can listen, welcome and respect everyone who comes to the UK in this way, and work to help all who are in similar need. Much good work to support refugees from Syria is being done here in the SE District of the Methodist Church. For example, churches in Knaphill, Horsham, Cranleigh and Guildford and many others are facilitating drop in centres, clothing banks and conversation cafes and social support.

The people behind the headlines are people like the rest of us, with families, livelihoods and professions.

In Jordan in 2015, when the war in Syria was at its height, I met Elizabeta and her two children, an Armenian Christian family, and heard her story. They had been forced to flee Aleppo, Syria, fearing for their lives, threatened by the violence of Daesh (ISIS). She and her small daughters had walked for days to reach the safety of Jordan, across desert, rocky gorges and under disguise when crossing through ISIS-held territory, terrified of being discovered.

Elizabeta was a teaching assistant, her husband owned restaurants, they had a comfortable lifestyle in Aleppo. Now Elizabeta found herself in a profoundly difficult and unexpected situation. The children were asking when they could go back home and play with their toys. Elizabeta knew there would be no going home. Her house and restaurants had been destroyed in the bombing the week after they left. Now the family were living in a rundown tenement block, subsisting on charity handouts. Her husband had been working in Saudi Arabia when the family left Aleppo and was not able to obtain a visa for entry into Jordan.

Thankfully the charity All We Can was supporting a programme of “cash for rent” which was helping Elizabeta and other refugees in similar circumstances. Such projects rely on donations. About 6.7million Syrians have fled their homeland. Another 6.2million are displaced inside Syria. (https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugee-crisis-facts)

Since military operations increased in northeast Syria early in October, more than 130 civilians have been killed and more than 160,000 have fled, including at least 70,000 children, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Migration is a growing global issue. At the end of 2018, 70.08 million people around the world were displaced (https://www.unhcr.org/ph/figures-at-a-glance).

These are not just numbers or headlines. These are people like us. They need our prayers, our help and our action.

https://www.allwecan.org.uk/give/current-appeals/refugee-appeal/

Twelve years to save the planet?

The South East England Faiths Forum (SEEF) 2019 Annual Conference took place on 16th September 2019 at the University of Surrey. Speakers from different faiths and none offered faith and belief perspectives on our common environment and responsibility for our planet.

Rabbi Alex Goldberg, Co-ordinating Chaplain, University of Surrey welcomed attendees and Kauser Akhtar, Chair of SEEF introduced the speakers.

John Paul from the Ecological Conversion Group works with the Catholic Church looking at the spiritual aspect of the ecological crisis facing our world today. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis has addressed all people about the need to seek a sustainable environment .

Buddhists’ perspective on climate change is expressed in the phrase “dependent origination”. That means, explained John Marder, Interfaith Officer for Network of Buddhist Organisations UK, that all things exist in relationship to each other. So our lack of caring and our selfishness results in global problems. We have individual responsibility to do what we can to safeguard the environment, now.

Cosmic interconnection is one of the ways in which we connect with the environment, one energy flowing through the whole the planet, one creator God in everything everywhere, so that a Sikh regards everything as holy and sacrosanct. Kamal Preet Kaur, Sikh Missionary Society spokesperson, told the conference that Sikhs were conscious of the consequences of their actions and tried to balance needs and wants.

Jeremy Rodell, Dialogue Officer Humanists UK , expressed the golden rule of treating other people as you like to be treated yourself. He found little difference between religious and non-religious views on climate change. Humanists believe that science is the best way to understand facts about the world and do not believe in any supernatural creator being. Pressure by both faith and other organisations on governments to prioritise action on climate change is useful.

Rabbi Jeffrey Newman of Finchley Reformed Synagogue asked a question : how does what you have heard make you feel? Grief, anger, despair, concern for the future …………..We are not separate from nature but part of it. What are we able to do together to effect change? Rabbi Jeffrey advocated peaceful direct action as being most effective. He recommended reading “Deep Adaptation” by Professor Jem Bendell.

There are 2 billion Muslims around the world who need to make connection with the environment. Kamran Shezad from the Islamic Foundation for Environmental and Ecological Sciences told us that the Qu’ran 40.57 taught humility, that humanity is not greater than the creation of earth and heaven. While corporates have a huge responsibility individuals also have a responsibility, for example with food, how we obtain it, what we eat.

Finally Dr Justine Huxley (CEO, St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace) talked about spiritual ecology – building a better world, and resilience, preparing for social and ecological collapse. She asked what is the spiritual opportunity in this problem? The climate change disaster could be viewed as a doorway into transformation, living the story we all want to see.

This Conference was an insight into the various ways faith, and non-faith, communities view the urgent issue of climate change. The speakers found many similarities of views and approach, albeit through different faith and non-faith lenses. All agreed that action now was needed. The Conference ended with pledges to do what we can as individuals and communities, to address climate change honestly and with hope.

http://www.se-faithforum.net

“Deep adaptation” Professor Jem Bendell https://jembendell.com