Scotland is a rich tapestry of diversity. Many people from around the world have chosen to make her their home, and whilst they bring with them many differences, one of the beauties of Scotland is that she takes everyone in and makes everyone her own.
And within that tapestry, the tartan of faith communities with all its uniqueness and diversity weaves a Scotland which stronger and taller as it stands today in the world.
This year, Interfaith Week Scotland is celebrated from 24th November until 1st December and invites everyone to come together to form a bright and bold pattern of different nationalities and faiths.
The theme of this year’s Interfaith Week is ‘values and visions for Scotland’, which will be an opportunity for all faith groups to celebrate and contemplate their role in Scotland’s future, as well as to learn and adapt to the ever changing lives and challenges ahead
Interfaith Scotland, an organisation which aims to promote religious harmony through dialogue has encouraged local groups, networks, and faith communities to engage in interfaith activities throughout the week. The response to their call has been overwhelming and there are 54 reported activities being organised by different networks throughout the week across the country.
So what is it that makes interfaith an exciting topic?
Interfaith is a thread which sews together the tartan of faith communities, and it is this patchwork which binds Scotland together. It is a ‘bridge’ to reflect and to be open to each other’s faiths in a bid to create a tolerant and a cohesive society. It is a medium to promote understanding and celebration of humankind with all its diversity of faith, colours, cultures, customs, and traditions. Interfaith is cure for many social evils.
From to fascism to ghettoization, persecution to polarisation and from fundamentalism to radicalisation, interfaith teaches equality and celebrates diversity. It is a bridge from hatred to humanity.
Interfaith serves the purpose of clearing away all those cob-webs created through preconceived ideas which fuelled through extremism and fundamentalism about ‘other’ faiths and traditions, and helps us to understand and respect other human beings.
Interfaith serves as a response to the ever-changing needs of the different communities in a society. It creates sense of duty for an individual as well as on a communal level. When members of different faiths are engaged in a meaningful dialogue or an activity to create better and deeper understanding about each other, it helps them learn new things about cultures, traditions, values and help them to have a stronger connection.
Let us explore some examples of how the tartan of faith communities in Scotland is helping to weave a strong connection.
Among many other community led programmes, in July 2013, Glasgow Gurdwara welcomed the Charity Bikers ‘Route 13’ while they visited Glasgow on route to 13 UK towns and cities to raise funds to fight global poverty. The newly built Glasgow Gurdwara has been shortlisted as a finalist for ‘Community Project of the Year’ at the Herald Society Awards 2013 for making a difference and taking part in the public and the voluntary sector.
The cultural event hosted by a Glasgow Hindu Temple last year to mark Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with Indian cuisine and a Scottish Ceilidh is still fresh in the memory. Buddhist Centres hold lifestyle-led courses on topics such as acceptance, compassion and kindness, and the Baha’is of Dumfries ‘Peacemakers Club’ plant flowers at local library to help community and environment.
Night Shelter programmes in collaboration with Churches in Scotland tackle homelessness, and the Glasgow mosque helps NHS Scotland with blood donation. A charity run by the Ahmadiyya community helps Yorkhill Children Foundation, and the Jewish Council of Scotland organises workshops under the national counter-terrorism progamme ‘Prevent’, in collaboration with Police Scotland, to raise public awareness against acts of terror and violence.
These are just a few making a difference across Scotland, and as such there is no denying the fact that members of faith communities are playing their part in the progression of Scotland in almost every sector of life, be that public, private or voluntary sector.
A large proportion of Scotland’s ethnic minority population also represent faith communities. According to the Scottish Government website (www.scotland.gov.uk) the size of ethnic minority population is estimated at 192,000, or 3.7% of the more than five million people which make up the diverse fabric of Scotland.
Out of the 129 Scottish Members of Parliament which were elected in 2011, only two are from an ethnic minority background, Humza Yousaf (SNP) and Hanzala Malik (Labour), both of whom were elected from the Regional List for Glasgow. However, many other members of ethnic minorities are serving in the public sector in various positions such as police men and women or counsellors.
Interfaith Week Scotland 2013 will provide a window to peep into the wider landscape of such faith communities and their roles in Scotland. For the programme of events, go to http://www.interfaithscotland.org/
Interfaith is sometimes mistaken as a means to find a commonality on theological issues. Some believe it as an empty and useless rhetoric which has no meaning to the public or even between the faith communities. These solitary critics of interfaith can never fathom the meaning of a wider world if they are cocooned in their ignorance and self-centeredness.
The meaning of interfaith is not to be underestimated. It provides an open space for all segments of the society to combat extremist powers who strive to drive a wedge between people.
The role of faith communities is undeniable in any society in the world. The only moot point is how we learn to live in respect and celebrate ‘humanity’ under the name of interfaith or otherwise. It is, after all, the hallmark of any progressive and developed society in the world to respect and tolerate other human beings with equal rights.
The tartan of faith communities is what makes us and binds us together as one piece of fabric, which is why we should celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of all faith with mutual love respect, tolerance and acceptance and move ahead together in the future of Scotland.
Happy Interfaith Week.
The author, Shahid Khan, is a vice-chairperson of Global Minorities Alliance, a Glasgow based human rights organisation. For more information, go to www.globalminorities.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.