Sunday, October 15, 2017

Recurrent Lessons in Interfaith

Organised interfaith activity has become an established feature of British society for decades, but the challenges keep coming and so we needed sustained impetus and even basic reminders of what it’s all for.

I recently visited Colin and Friederike Rice, long-time friends in interfaith. Friederike was Coordinator for the Certificate Course in World Religions at the Multi-Faith Centre in Birmingham, throughout the time when my mother, Fuengsin Trafford, was responsible for the Buddhism module. Even though I already had gathered quite a collection of materials for Thursday’s Lotus, Friederike surprised me when she suddenly pulled out a promotional film for the Centre produced in 1993 only a year or two before it closed due to insufficient funds. The 30-minute production was called Daring to Live Together and follows participants in a week-long course, with numerous interviews and featured speakers, including Prof. John Hick and Fuengsin too:

The film shows how the Multi-Faith Centre, directed by Dr Mary Hall, promoted education through encounter, devising and deploying methods that became widely adopted around the world. This was rooted in her experiences of living for several years in Pakistan, where she became headmistress of the Senior Cambridge high school in Lahore, with Benazir Bhutto among her many pupils.

Only a few years into the 21st Century interfaith had become mainstream, particularly following ‘September 11th’, but the injection of resources that followed arguably led to more ‘managerial’ approaches that changed the nature of the more formal interfaith activities. From my own observations in Oxford, organisations that had focused on creating uniquely supportive spaces ironically lost resources and the personal elements of dialogue diminished.

However, much of this follows cycles and there are always opportunities! A few weeks ago I attended as observer a meeting of the Oxford Council of Faiths - I was invited along because they were celebrating their 10th anniversary and I had been on the working group that led to its formation. At the meeting it was recognised that there needs to be more young people involved. Having read about the importance of faith in her life, I suggested that Malala Yousafzai as someone who would be interested and who could make a valuable contribution. I’m sure, for example, that she would wish to join along with her friends the next Friendship Walk on Thursday 28 June.

Actually, faith has been central to Oxford’s development for its religious foundations that led eventually to the present day University owe much to the memory of its patron, Saint Frideswide. Frideswide (or Frithuswith), derived from Old English, means (I think) “peace made strong”. It’s a quality that surely may inspire future leaders.

Malala is studying at Lady Margaret Hall (LMH). Whilst in Oxford between 1998 and 2002, Ebrahim (“Eboo”) Patel, a determined young Muslim from Chicago and Rhodes Scholar at LMH also, grew his interest in interfaith by participating in various activities in Oxford and abroad. I recall that during his doctoral studies he was seeking to enhance interfaith and was already planning what became the Interfaith Youth Core shortly after he obtained his DPhil. He continued to develop his pluralist activism, with a growing record of activities. If Malala continues to move into widening social spheres, then it’s inevitable that she will have to engage in interfaith, so I hope she will be provided the space and support to do so, similar to Eboo.