Meeting held at House of Lords to mark UN Worlds Interfaith harmony week 2017
Unity in Diversity: Facing Global Challenges through Faith Harmony
Dr Sunil Kariyakarawana (Buddhist Chaplain to HM Forces)

First week of February every year marks the world’s (UN) Interfaith harmony week. To coincide with that House of Lords of the British parliament lead by Lord Sheikh and Ajantha Tennakoon brought together all world faiths into one meeting room in the evening of Wednesday 1st of February in one of the committee rooms: Father Alan Green -Rector of St. John on Bethnal Green, Ajahn Amaro-Abbot of Amaravati, Rabbi Dr. Harvey Belovsky-Rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue, Mandeep Kaur-Sikh chaplain to BAF, Dr. Nirav Amin-volunteer at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden represented 6 World Faiths.

Meeting began by Ajantha Tennakoon, a Buddhist executive member of the Conservative Muslim Forum, welcoming all faith representatives and the attendees from all World Faiths. Ajantha also elaborated the purpose of the meeting as bringing people of faiths together for the purpose of social cohesion and community integration. “We may belong to all different World Faiths but we do have a unity of purpose, harmonious living and working together by upholding moral and ethical values which for the most part are shared by all World Faiths. Developing respect and more understanding each other’s faith therefore can only enrich our own faith experience which in turn can facilitate more and more respect and harmony amongst our communities”. She said.

Lord Sheikh reiterated the real need for all World Faiths to work together particularly at a time when divisive forces are gaining ground fuelled by extremist ideologies and destructive forces around the world who will always attempt to divide and rule the communities for their own malicious gains.

Father Alan green pointed out that sadly extremism can raise its ugly head in every world faith if the moderate and genuine faith adherents remain vigilant, intervene and work towards other’s harmony and well-being. Sikh Chaplain Mandeep Kaur explained the “OM-kar” in Sikhism emphasised the one-ness of humanity and therefore as Guru Nanak showed to the world we must endeavour to see ‘oneness’ in every being and learn to love each other even when we have differences and divergent opinions amongst us.

Ajahn Amaro, the Abbot of the Amaravati emphasised the great need to listen to each other deeply in our compassionate conversations: “if we speak to each other without listening to each other properly our conversations and communications fail to be ‘dialogues’ they just become two separate ‘monologues’ instead. This way of communication does not lead to harmonious living but only to develop misunderstanding and mistrust. Therefore at a time when we are so refined in our communication methods we need a good understanding of our communion and communication. We must learn to listen to each other with deep compassion and with a true aim of understanding other’s view. Without that there’s no possibility of reconciling any differences of opinion and we are bound to make enemies and develop frictions amongst our communities. When dealing with multitude of complex issues that we face every day we must develop resilience and forbearance to which mindful communication is a key. Even speaking hardest of truths will have no purpose if that leads to disharmony and disunity leaving us apart rather than bringing us closer”.

Rabbi Harvey by telling a true story at a Synagogue where there was a belief that the Messiah is resident in the place according to the scriptures and therefore all were seeking the messiah in each other not knowing who truly embodied him. Naturally each had to emulate the divine qualities in themselves in case that Messiah resided in them as they religiously believed. The gist of all faiths thus is to emulate the divine. If we see and seek the divine on each other, then there would be a better chance that we live up to the values and standard of our faiths he said.
Dr Amin from the Hindu temple asserted that Hinduism does always is an inclusive faith as it has been demonstrated in India. People of many faiths speaking over 400 languages live in harmony in India. When faith is committed to non-violence then mutual respect and understanding becomes the norm he said.

The audience was highly impressed and responsive to the proceedings. Some expressed the concern that some of the expressions such as “religious tolerance” is not appropriate since that implies negative feeling that others faiths have to be reluctantly endured. Meeting agreed a better expression would be “mutual religious respect” instead. The subject of faith schools also came up and there was a general agreement that the faith schools are needed for orienting children of faith to their respective faiths failure to do so would distance them form their own roots and faiths.


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