Diminished interfaith dialogue during the pandemic has strained community relations

Our new global village has produced many changes and benefits to our lives, but it also poses challenges for living as good neighbours. This is where religious scriptures play a significant role in motivating the faithful to adopt moral and spiritual values that encourage peaceful co-existence. The Majestic Quran encourages peaceful co-existence by calling us Al-Ummah, human community, Al-Ummah al-Wasatah, the people of the middle path, the purpose behind human differences is ‘tai’rafu’ understanding each other, Al-Islah, reconciling after quarrelling, Ihsan, doing a favour to each other and Ta’awanu, cooperation and joint-up thinking. From these teachings, we derive four principles of harmonious living; our shared humanity not racism, equality and not discrimination, cooperation and not disengagement, and friendship and not hatred. So, it’s clear that the Quran emphatically promotes interfaith dialogue and through it peaceful co-existence.

Globalisation began to be noticed in the 1990s, it ushered a new period in human history of social organisation where economics, cultures, movement of people and information exchange is inter-connected at an international level. It gave rise to the notion of the global village. The advances in communications have radically changed the world and one outcome of this is the reduction of the effects of space and time on everyday life and on trade. The smartphone has enabled us to talk to one another, view news and documentaries about other parts of the world and other cultures instantly.

We are now next-door neighbours with nomads in the sub-Saharan desert and the residents of the skyscrapers in Dubai. So, Muslims, and people of other faiths live side-by-side, this puts responsibilities on all of us including the media to ensure we do not create mischief and resentment about each other.

Take the example of Islamophobia, the dread and fear of Muslims is widespread all over Europe. This is not to complain about the situation of the Muslims of Europe but to make the point about the significant role of the media. In a detailed analysis of how British newspapers cover Muslims Professor Elizabeth Poole concluded, the media views Muslims as:

  1. A threat to UK security.
  2. A threat to British mainstream values.
  3. Increasingly making their presence felt in public space.

This is creating anxieties and fuelling ‘the myth of confrontation’. How much damage does such an attitude cause to our neighbouring relations is a serious issue. That’s why we must build good community relations. Peace-making is the most striking spin-off from joint interfaith activities, peace-making should not be taken as light work, in fact, it is a virtuous activity in both traditions of Islam and Christianity, “God blesses those who work for peace..” (Matthew 5:9) and the Quran also teaches “Allah guides anyone who follows the path of peace in search of Divine pleasure” (Al Ma’idah: 16). Every time there is a Christian-Muslim skirmish in Nigeria or Pakistan or somewhere else in the world, we must not bailout out of our relationships here in the UK. We can’t have perfect relationships because we will never see eye to eye in all matters, but we can live as good neighbours. Strife and conflict between the faiths will send the wrong message to a watching world.

The impact of the pandemic on interfaith work

The pandemic has impacted society in two ways; firstly it has opened people up. Research suggests that people are more open to spiritual things, to the bigger questions in life. Secondly, the pandemic has stimulated believers both positively and negatively, many of the accepted activities and practices were lost, and whilst some are trying to return to what was before the pandemic, others are looking for something different.

The reconstruction phase and the process of reshaping things has begun. So, what should the people of faith do? It’s time to embrace the other. Here are some suggestions. The Almighty Lord is Al-Mudabbar the Great Strategist, the Amazing Planner, the Caring and the Loving, so what is His mighty overarching plan? Simply we don’t know. However, we must try to bring some normality back to our lives. Here are a few things for you to think about:

  1. During the pandemic little interfaith encounter took place, the momentum built over the years was lost, it’s crucial that we increase our efforts for interfaith work. People must to open up and share their faith. How should we plan interfaith events?
  2. The Pareto principle is helpful here, Insha-Allah 80% of things will return to pre-pandemic state, but 20% will change. What are the likely changes we will encounter? One thing is for certain the future will be hybrid, some face to face and some online. Zoom meetings can be a passive encounter, but they need not be so, the online engagement can enrich the experience.
  3. The future is going to be challenging, we will feel mixed emotions, fear, hope and trepidation. How should we react?

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