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Standing together

The UK has a strong pattern of inter faith relations overall. However, tensions and difficulties can arise for a number of reasons.

These might include local disagreements, global issues, or attacks – or threats of attack –   which appear linked to racist or religious hatred or are designed to stir this up.  Local inter faith responses are very important in this context.

Inter faith responses at the local level may include:

  • Issuing joint statements to witness to solidarity between people of different faiths and beliefs and support any who may feel under threat
  • Holding vigils or other gatherings
  • Meeting together with Police, civic leaders and others to coordinate activity
  • Standing together peacefully outside a place of worship which is under threat
  • Coming together to help clean up premises that have been attacked or to raise funds for their restoration

IFN has worked with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the National Fire Chiefs Council to provide guidance on responding to incidents that are, or appear to be, hate incidents. This guidance can be found here: Looking After One Another: The Safety and Security of our Faith Communities.  This is not repeated here. 

Creating a strong base for responding to difficulties – the baseline of positive local inter faith relations

Joint responses to inter community tensions or attacks on community properties or individuals are most effective if they are built on an existing process of strengthening communications and building trust and  friendship. If your area does not have an inter faith body or regular opportunities for inter faith engagement, contact the Inter Faith Network for the UK for a conversation. If you are based in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, also contact the [Make links] Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum, Interfaith Scotland or the Inter-faith Council for Wales.

In some areas, ‘We stand together’ initiatives have been developed by the Police in association with local partners.  These go back to a ‘We Stand Together’ initiative launched by the Greater Manchester Police some years ago and taken forward also by the Metropolitan Police and other Forces.  See for example: http://www.report-it.org.uk/uk_police_launch_westandtogether_campaign_to_br and http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/we-stand-together-campaign-manchester-13667420 

Many examples of people expressing joint solidarity can be seen on Twitter by searching for the hashtag #westandtogether 

Some examples of local responses:

Waltham Forest Faith Communities Forum 

“There are many times over the years where we’ve come together at times of tension to express our compassion and our solidarity together during all the troubling things that are happening in our world. In the last year, as we know, there have been many such. We have come together, made statements, stood together in solidarity and compassion in relation to those things. We have, more recently, been part of the local Hate Crime Strategy Group […] We are taking the work around hate crime very seriously at WFFCF because we know how that impacts upon people in our communities.”

From a presentation given by Canon Stephen Saxby and Cllr Saima Mahmood at IFN’s National Meeting in 2016. https://www.interfaith.org.uk/uploads/IFN_2016_National_Meeting_Report_Faith_and_cohesive_communities_%28med%29.pdf#page=18

A statement on Finsbury Park Incident 19 June 2017 by the Islington Faiths Forum

“On Saturday 17th June, as part of the Jo Cox Foundation’s Great Get Together, members of Islington’s differing faith communities and the wider community gathered at the Muslim Welfare House on Seven Sisters Road. We met to remember Jo Cox, to honour and celebrate her affirmation that we all have more in common than we have things which differentiate us. We met to celebrate our friendship and our cooperation for the good of our neighbourhood.

Less than 48 hours later this same area experienced a terrorist attack aimed at killing Muslims returning home after their Ramadan prayers. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the person who died and with all those injured and traumatised by this event.

An attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths and communities.  Those who try to divide us and who aim to spread fear, hatred and division will not succeed.

The communities at the Muslim Welfare House and Finsbury Park Mosque are a valued part of the Islington Faiths Forum. These faith sites and communities are places of welcome. They are our friends.

We pray especially for the leaders of these two communities. May we and they continue to stand together in these challenging times.”

Islington Faiths Forum

Sheffield Interfaith

Sheffield Interfaith were part of a Stronger Together event on 23 June 2017. This was a Vigil in Remembrance and Solidarity for the Victims of Finsbury Park Mosque, Grenfell Tower, London Bridge and Manchester:

  • To remember those victims and their families
  • To honour the emergency services for their efforts in saving and protecting people’s lives
  • To stand in unity and solidarity with all faith communities to show that the bonds of community, respect and friendship  are stronger together

National responses are also important.  National faith community and inter faith bodies respond in a number of ways to incidents which may have an impact on inter faith relations.  The Co-Chairs and Faith Communities Forum Moderators of the Inter Faith Network for the UK issue statements were appropriate, for example in response to the Parsons Green tube bombing: https://www.interfaith.org.uk/news/parsons-green-responding-together-in-solidarity-statement  Past such statements can be seen at https://www.interfaith.org.uk/news/statements-and-messages

Examples of responses by other bodies to various events can be seen at: https://www.interfaith.org.uk/news/statement

Faith Network for Manchester

The following is a reflection from Rabbi Warren Elf , FN4M’s Development Worker, given at IFN’s National Meeting in July 2017:

“One of the important things about our work as inter faith organisations is that it is not just the response to terror. It’s about establishing the relationships - relationships that we draw on when we need to respond. That was very important for how we were able to respond to the attack at the Manchester Arena at the end of May.

I noticed that all our steps seemed very close to the ideas in Looking After One Another: The Safety and Security of Our Faith Communities. If you haven’t seen that,

it is in many ways a good template for how to approach things.  I actually noticed in one of the voluntary sector meetings looking at responses to the Manchester attack and how to deal with it, the person coordinating the voluntary sector response, was saying that there was no template for the voluntary sector. This is something they might be trying to put together.   It is very good work from the Inter Faith Network, with its partners, to have put the booklet together.

The idea of responding jointly, because an attack on one is an attack on all, is something we were able to emphasise as part of our response. Looking for calm in times of tension, and strengthening the good existing inter faith relations, has been absolutely crucial to what’s been going on in Manchester – and I know in London as a result of the attacks as well, and other places around the country.

The initial response to the Manchester attack, as the news came in after the Ariana Grande concert, was very much for the first and the emergency responders; faith leaders who were local; chaplains at the hospitals; and the street pastors. The work that was done by those people was absolutely amazing. By Tuesday morning it was very clear that a response was going to be necessary more generally, and there were messages and calls – I don’t think my phone has ever been so busy and I wasn’t even an emergency service. There were very clearly faith communities needing to do something together. We issued a statement fairly quickly in our response to the attack.  We actually learned from the Westminster Bridge attack when we put out a statement condemning the actions that some of the faith communities weren’t happy about just condemning the actions – they wanted to convey their message in a more positive way. So we were able to use feedback from that earlier response from only a few weeks previously, and we put out a statement that everyone seemed to grasp.

Very clearly there was horror at the atrocity, but at the same time there was a positive and determined response and a recognition that something very special was starting to happen in Manchester. Manchester was coming together, and the faith communities were wanting and needing to reach out to, and with, each other, coming together to issue a response and to stand together.

Of course there was chaos, and people for hours didn’t know exactly what was going on. But the response was amazing from community, from individuals, all the emergency staff as I’ve said. Very quickly it was clear that part of the response was going to be a vigil.   There was a main one the night after the attack and there have been a series of vigils since then as well. On Tuesday morning phone calls were going round; the Cathedral and others were going to be instrumental in getting a prayer vigil that lunch time. The only problem was that they couldn’t get into the Cathedral because it was inside the exclusion zone after the attack to the arena. So on Deansgate, for those of you that know Manchester, just a block from Marks & Spencer’s where the IRA bomb was 21 years earlier, ironically, some of us were standing reading prayers and psalms and other statements to express our solidarity and try to get something about our response out. Faith leaders were there and it got lots of media coverage because we were standing as close as we could to the Cathedral. There were a number of interviews – some appeared on TV channels around the world. I appeared on Al Jazeera’s English channel, but there were others, lots and lots. That was pretty important.

Then there was the vigil in Albert Square on the Tuesday evening, less than 24 hours afterwards. It was an amazing experience to be there. Andy Burnham, the new Mayor of Manchester, Bishop David Walker, and the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police all spoke, as did Manchester poet Tony Walsh, who read out his poem, ‘This is the place’, which you probably heard.  It really got the right atmosphere, harnessed things, pulled things together. And it was quite an amazing response. There was very clearly an outpouring, of emotion but also an expression of resilience - people wanted to be able to stand up and say, “We’re not going to beaten by this. We’re not going to be stopped. This is a city which is able to deal with this and come out better and stronger.” They were saying, “We want to be a city united.”  As an Essex boy and Spurs supporter I’m sure I missed some of the finer points on that! But it’s actually quite nice to hear – Manchester, a city united, bearing in mind some of the divisions that those two names cause at various times.  

Yes, it was very powerful – but not everyone was really involved. Hate crime increased.  Islamophobia increased. There were some quite horrendous events within the first few hours, let alone first 24, 48 and 72 hours, in Manchester that needed to be responded to.   Also, not every community in Manchester got involved. We arranged a vigil one month after the attack, on 22 June, in Alexandra Park, partly because one of our number felt that the Caribbean community hadn’t been brought onside and we hadn’t actually tried to reach them. I’m not sure we succeeded – the numbers weren’t great – but the number of different faith communities which came together to respond was very heart-warming at the time.

So there are clearly still responses that were needed. One of the key things early on was people turning around and saying, “What are the Muslims going to say about this?” A lot of people whose views I clearly don’t agree with and with a fair number of prejudices. But very clearly the Muslims did respond, and they came out and spoke. There was a Muslim scholars’ vigil the following night and several of us were invited to take part in that in St Ann’s Square. And lots of other faith and inter faith events were converted into responses to the attack and standing together – at the British Muslim Heritage Centre, for example. Many different things in the first week. There was a procession from the Cathedral to St Ann’s Square where several Muslim scholars and Bishop David Walker and orthodox Rabbi Daniel Walker (I don’t think they’re related!) were walking together. They weren’t sure what response they were going to get, but as all the Muslim scholars walked into St Ann’s Square, there was a round of applause and cheering. It showed the strength of coming together as a community and responding like that.

There clearly has been a significant change, in some ways for the better and pulling people together. There was a Muslim families’ procession on the first Saturday after the attack – that was to St Ann’s Square from Cheetham Hill; the Great Get Together weekend harnessed other things; and the Iftar events during Ramadan. The number of inter faith Iftars increased and became fairly major events. It was so important that we were there together at various times. There were still hate crimes; there was still major concern for the increased number of them. But the message that’s come out very clearly is: ‘Not in our name’, and ‘We stand together’. Almost everyone seems to know someone who was there on the evening, and a lot of people were wondering when it was announced that the One Love concert was to be arranged – was this too soon? But it wasn’t. At Parklife, which happened a couple of weeks after that, again they actually wanted faith people on the platform to respond at the start of the evening part of the concerts.

The voluntary sector response has been quite staggering and it’s been realised that actually, because of the trauma, continuing support is needed and an increasing need for faith and inter faith  responses. Faith communities have been a part of this and it’s been important.

I mentioned the vigil one month on. I’m also aware that one of our members of the Faith Network for Manchester is the biker chaplain, and some of the right-wing bikers wanted to do a ride down through Rusholme, a Muslim area of Manchester, to express their anger. We were able to change that, so a large biker community drove down through Rusholme and delivered flowers to people instead.

Only this weekend, there was a procession with first responders and faith leaders going from the arena to St Ann’s Square, paying tributes and offering memorials to them, and releasing 22 doves in memory of the 22 who died.

It’s so important that we continue this work, to find the opportunity to bring people together. It’s an important message. Existing inter faith relationships have been so important in ensuring that this work is done. Our initial response was important; being there and being part of that journey is important; and it’s also important to identify opportunities to continue, to make sure there’s resilience and cohesion and that we maintain that spirit. There’s probably going to be a march – they’re talking about March of the Millions and already coming up with the idea of Manchester Against Terror and the different communities under their badge.

I’m reminded of the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, “When bad things happen to good people”. It’s important we come up with a positive response, and we have done, whether it’s the Arena attack, Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Grenfell, all these things. We need to try to find something good from it. As it says in the Sayings of the Fathers, “It’s not our duty to finish the work, but we’re not free to ignore it and desist from it.” 

 

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