Category: Islam

A Visit from Lutheran Pastors from Dresden

In June we were honoured to be visited by a group of twenty Lutheran Church Leaders from Dresden in Germany. They came to Birmingham to learn about interfaith work and the way that Churches relate to people of different faiths and especially Muslims. Dresden has very few people of different faiths living there, but there is fear particularly against a perceived ‘Islamisation’ of Germany. The far right group Pegida was founded in Dresden and holds regular rallies there. The Pastors who came to Birmingham were keen to learn how to help their congregations overcome this fear and offer a genuine welcome to Muslim neighbours.

During their visit we were able to introduce them to a number of innovative ways that the church is reaching out in friendship and gave them the opportunity to visit different places of worship.

On the first day they came to the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre and then walked along the Stratford Road to visit St. John’s Church and the Narthex project. They heard from Rev John Self about the wide range of services that Narthex offers and how the church is seen as part of the community rather than a service provider doing this to people.

Over lunch, from the brilliant Suraj Sweet Centre, they heard from Jessica Foster about the Near Neighbours programme and how it has helped different faith communities meet and work together to improve their local areas.

The afternoon gave them the opportunity to hear from Rev Tom Thomas about St. Christopher’s Church and the Springfield Project. This also gave them an opportunity to reflect on the joys and challenges of being a church leader in a majority Muslim parish. The afternoon concluded with a visit to the Jamatia Islamic Centre where they had a chance to meet some of the committee and to ask the Imam questions about the workings of the Mosque and life as a Muslim in Birmingham.

The second day started with a chance to hear about the work of The Feast and to ask questions about youth work, dialogue and evangelism. Lunch time was spent at the Ramgarhia Gudwara in Birmingham where we had an introduction to Sikhism and fantastic lunch in the Langar Kitchen. The visit concluded with a visit to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Faith Gallery where they saw artefacts and exhibits that reflected the breadth of religious life in Birmingham.

They went away with much to reflect on for their own ministry and having had their eyes opened to the potential for Christian ministry in a multi-faith city. They also had opportunity to visit places of worship and meet people of faiths that they hadn’t had chance to meet before.

If you would like to have this kind of experience for a group, it is something that we can offer from time to time. If you would like to talk to someone about this possibility please contact Canon Dr Andrew Smith, Director of Interfaith Relations Andrews@cofebirmingham.com

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The Importance of Prayer in Islam and Christianity

In April 2016 we held a meeting of Christians and Muslims to reflect on our prayer lives, to look at the similarities and differences in how, when and why we pray. The meeting, which took place at The Institute for Leadership and Community Development,  had four speakers two Christian and two Muslim and about 40 people of both faiths were there to listen but particularly to discuss what prayer meant to them. The speakers came from different traditions within Christianity and Islam and presented their own perspective around the questions of how they pray, why do they pray and what happens when they pray? Much of the evening was spent with small groups of Christians and Muslims talking together about those questions?
What came out during the evening was, perhaps not surprisingly, that there was much similarity between our attitudes towards prayer. I found it particularly interesting to see how much passion there was when people talked about their own prayer lives. The sense was that there was something very deep and profound happening for both Christians and Muslims when they pray;  this is not just ritual, not just out ‘going through the motions’ or performing a task, this was a deep spiritual connection.
Shaykha Safia Shahid spoke about the five daily times of prayer for Muslims, something that non-Muslims can often see, and perhaps dismiss, as mere ritual yet when she spoke there was such passion about what that meant for her daily life. She explained how it constantly reconnected her with Allah, how through those prayer times she was aware of his presence in her life day by day it was a very moving and powerful speech. Nicky Tapper spoke from her Pentecostal tradition and talked about her prayer life again with passion, hers was a much more informal expression of prayer one that can bubble over into all of her life. There was no set rhythm or patterns, no particular prayer books, and yet just as deeply felt compassion that is the more ritualised prayer that we heard about from Safia. In the groups we found this similar passion, this same deep yearning for a spiritual life that came through the pattern and ritual of prayer, but also the informal crying out to God our heartfelt needs.
The second two speakers again came from different traditions within Islam and Christianity. Shaykh Muhammad Yaseen spoke about the informal prayer within Islam from his more Sufi tradition; he talked about the yearnings and the praying to Allah and what that meant for him in those more informal times. Rev Larry Wright shared his ritual of prayer, how he prays at least four times a day at set times of morning, noon late afternoon and last thing at night. He explained that he draws upon the spiritual tradition of scripture and prayer books, how he looks to the Saints as an inspiration for his prayer life. Through all these discussions and talks there was this real sense that prayer was something very deep and profound for both Christians and Muslims. This was not just shouting at the sky or empty words but something really deep, a passionate crying out from our spirit.
Interestingly, perhaps, some of the differences that came up were within the faith traditions rather than between them, there was significant difference between a Pentecostal and catholic pattern of prayer, whereas there was real similarity between the way Larry and Safia described their daily patterns of prayer.  Yet there were also differences on how we talked about God praying through Jesus Christ for the Christians, being submissive before Allah for Muslims. One of the interesting differences came up with a question was asked about how do we pray and make sense of all the bad stuff going on in the world? Do we blame God or do we see God as being somehow apart from the sufferings that we see going on in the world? Nicky, wanted to make it very clear that she did not in any way blame God, that she saw that this was people’s own choices which she linked back to the story of Adam and Eve and how they made the choice to disobey and that actually God grieves suffering in the world, but as humans we have to bear our responsibility. Shaykh Yaseen, however, saw it as God permitting things but not delighting in suffering or evil, he explained that  he believes that nothing happens outside the will of Allah and yet he is not pleased with what people do but neither can we just say he is apart from it.
Perhaps, once again, the most significant part evening were the discussions, where people had chance to talk to another person about their own personal prayer life. Rarely do we get the opportunity to talk to someone from another faith about our own prayer life in an atmosphere where it’s acknowledged as a good thing, where people are eager to understand and share deeply about their own struggles and joys with prayer. We asked groups to consider how they cope when God doesn’t answer prayer, or doesn’t answer as we want.  Many people said that was a very important part of the evening,  to get to some of those difficult challenges of prayer and hear how other people actually grapple with that rather than just hearing the right answer or the theory.
Talking about prayer is perhaps something that in Britain we haven’t got used to doing in public, we might feel a bit embarrassed I will be laughed at or ridiculed? Yet in the right environment it can be one of the most interesting, and profound discussions to have, one that doesn’t just stay at the point of prayer but leads on to other interesting insightful and useful conversations. Where we don’t just learn another faith, but have opportunity to share deeply with new found friends.

You can watch a video of the event here https://vimeo.com/164685440

The Gift of Giving and Friendship

Today two young men from The Feast project Y4M (Youth for Moseley) visited the Sparkhill food bank for a behind-the-scenes look at what happens to food once it’s donated.

These young men from Moseley School, one Christian and one Muslim, joined forces to make a video encouraging others from their school to take part in a food drive that will start soon.

Not only were these two representing the Y4M after school club, but they were also representing their faith and looking at how they could work together to tackle poverty.

When asked why they were willing to give up a day of their holiday to help out they said:

“It’s important because not only is it written in the Qur’an, but it nourishes your own soul, knowing that you are making a difference. When you give, it removes your own selfishness.” said Bilal.

“I like helping people. I was always taught to respect people and the Bible says to do for others what I’d like them to do for me. It’s part of who I am. Being Tswana (from Botswana) that’s how we’re grounded – you just know someday, someone will need to help you.” Mandla said.

These young men have also become pretty good friends in the short space of time they’ve known each other. Having met in the after-school club (Y4M) just 3 weeks ago, they spent most of the journey to and from the food bank talking about their faith and their beliefs. It was so encouraging to hear them speak so positively about each others faith and to have them both speak so passionately about recent events in the media.

When reflecting on their day, Bilal said: “It’s kinda cool when a non-Muslim defends a Muslim because it shows the brotherhood between them. It touched me when Mandla said he knew that all Muslims aren’t like how the media negatively represents us at times.”

“Bilal called me a friend and a good guy – that’s something I don’t get every day, especially from a Muslim. It made me feel quite good about myself and about how other people from a different religion can still view me an appreciate me.” said Mandla.

Today I thought we were simply going to a food bank to see how food is collected, stored and distributed. What I witnessed, however, was a marvellous gift of friendship, exchanged between two young men of different cultures and different faiths.

The Feast join the team at the FNC

We’re delighted that at the start of May the local charity The Feast moved into the FNC. The Feast is a local Christian charity that works to build relationships between Christian and Muslim teenagers.

The Feast is all about…
•Exploring faith: young people are encouraged and equipped to discuss their faith in ways which draw out both the similarities and differences between them.

•Creating friendships: by bringing together young people in a positive and fun environment we provide the opportunities for them to get to know one another, work on projects together and build on-going friendship built on trust and respect.

•Changing lives: having been to events run by The Feast the young people are challenged and enabled to live out the lessons they have learnt in their everyday lives amongst their friends, family and the wider community.

Their work fits with the three strands of work that we undertake here at the FNC namely: Tackling Poverty, Engaging with Other Faiths and  Transforming Communities.

Do look out for news of what The Feast are up to or visit their website and facebook page for regular updates.

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