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

Birmingham Conversation: Faith and The Arts

Can art be a positive influence on interfaith dialogue?
How can art create new spaces for conversations between people of different faiths?
How can an understanding of faith and inter-faith dialogue impact the arts?
How do we talk about art or religion that causes offense to others?

These were just some of the questions discussed by a group of people involved in the arts and members of different faith communities.

Following the successful Birmingham Conversations, a second series of conversations was run in the autumn of 2015 to consider the connection or conflict between faith and art. The aim of the conversations was to explore:

‘How artists and people of different faiths can work together to create the conditions for communities to come together in new ways and share conversations that could not otherwise take place.’
The purpose of these conversations was to:
• build mutual understanding and respect for the opportunities and challenges of contemporary artistic work that relates to themes of faith and spirituality;
• increase confidence amongst participants to engage with arts and faith projects
• build new links between like-minded individuals, groups, networks and initiatives and nurture the community of interest in Birmingham and UK around arts and faith;
• develop ideas for high quality arts projects, happenings and events that bring people together in new ways in the city and make a positive contribution to quality of life and cohesion in Birmingham.

As with the first conversations, we were not looking for complete consensus on issues that are raised, but wanted to provide a space for creative, imaginative conversation around these themes.

The conversations took place over three months and was generously hosted by Anthony Collins Solicitors. A full report of the conversations can be downloaded here: Arts and Faith Conversation 2016

Birmingham Conversation Symposium

The Birmingham Conversations came to a conclusion with a Symposium on May 20th at the Saffron Centre in Birmingham.

The conversations had taken place over six months and had explored the theme ‘What does Lived Faith look like in a 21st Century City?’ A group of 24 people from different faiths met once a month for three hours each time to talk through the way faith is lived in Birmingham. The group consisted of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Ravidassi and Sikhs.

The topics were wide ranging and included issues such as evangelism and conversion, gender issues, young people and education, caste legislation, race and global conflicts. The aim was not, necessarily, to reach consensus but to find a way to talk constructively about these topics. At the conclusion of the conversation three reports were produced to share the methodology and findings from the conversations and to encourage others to use this process in their own contexts.

The methodology report can be read here Designing for Discussion

The findings report can be read here Lived Religion and Difficult Conversations

A lay people’s report summing up the process can be read here Birmingham Conversations Report

Symposium 5 Symposium 4 Symposium 3 Symposium 2  Symposium 1

 

 

 

The Birmingham Conversations

The debate over the alleged  ‘Trojan Horse’ plot, along with other local issues and tensions have highlighted the need for people of faith in Birmingham to be able to discuss the way that faith is lived out in Birmingham. This means being willing to tackle contentious issues in a considered and mature way without causing offence or ducking the difficult questions. The aim is not necessarily to find total agreement but to enable issues to be discussed and offer ideas and a model that others can use to continue the conversation.
To this end Bishop David Urquhart has asked a team to set up the Birmingham Conversations on the theme of ‘What does Lived Faith Look like in a 21st Century City?’. The conversations are being facilitated by Mrs Sian Nicholas who has recently completed a studies in Inter-Faith Peacebuilding for Faith-Based Development Organisations  and lectures at Coventry University on Religion, Conflict and Peace
The conversations will be a series of six sessions between October and March to which we are asking twenty four participants from different faiths to commit to all six sessions. The people are not invited as representatives but are participating in their own right. People were invited from Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.

The conversations are a means of enabling difficult conversations around ‘lived faith’ in Birmingham post ‘Trojan Horse’ and will deliver two distinct outcomes:

Firstly: a model of how people with very different perspectives can be enabled to discuss issues usually seen as too controversial, yet which impact the lives of many people on a daily basis.

Secondly: a record of the conversations including where there were changing attitudes, agreement or disagreement as a way of encouraging others to see how these topics can be discussed.
These outcomes will be disseminated through:
1) An academic report on the nature and conclusions from the conversations produced electronically
2) A lay persons’ summary of number 1 produced in hard copy and electronically
3) An academic analysis of the methodology with recommendations for groups wishing to use this process in the future
4) A day conference in mid. 2015 to announce and discuss the findings with a wider group

The title for the Birmingham Conversations is ‘What Does Lived Faith Look Like in a 21st Century City?’; the aim is to provide a means of enabling difficult conversations around lived faith in Birmingham post ‘Trojan Horse’.

Below are some definitions from the title to unpack what our intentions are:
Enabling Difficult Conversations: facilitating the creation of safe space, whereby participants feel able to freely express the deeply held convictions of those within their faith traditions with each other. Within this safe space participants should feel heard and understood, and feel able to discuss issues and to disagree in a respectful manner. The space should allow participants to be challenged and to be challenging in a constructive way that informs the reality of daily life for participants.
Lived Faith: Religion is often expressed as a series of propositions, belief, practices or assertions that those who adhere to that religion are supposed to hold. Faith is a much more difficult term to define, but often speaks to the individual’s own commitment to those beliefs or practices, or on occasion the way in which the beliefs and practices are expressed within a particular community. By ‘lived faith’ we are looking to move beyond a purely intellectual understanding of religion to see faith as something that not only affects the way each individual member of a religion lives out their faith, but also the way in which that living inevitably interacts with those who live around them.
Lived faith is probably best understood in relation to identity. It is that expression or practice of the faith that is most intimate and personal for each individual. It can be expressed in terms of a relationship, particular values, a series of practices, law or encapsulated in specific words and passages of scripture. To engage with lived faith at this level is to touch that which is most personal for the faithful individual, that which has evolved from childhood, or that which drew a specific person to the faith in the first place. It cannot always be expressed in words, and questions of memory, emotion and embodiment are essential to any expression of lived faith. It is also rarely something that is uniquely individual; a lived faith is shared, lived out within a community of faith, even if the different members of the community may not choose to express their faith in identical forms. The community of the faithful is clearly important, but in practice lived faith also engages with, and may even share values or practices with, those of other faith traditions who live close by creating particular synergies and tensions within the expression of the faith.
Post ‘Trojan Horse’: Whilst the ‘Trojan Horse’ episode has brought the way faith is expressed in schools to the fore, it is our contention that the beliefs and values that led to some of the issues (e.g. gender separation) are not limited to schools or to one community. Furthermore there are other issues that are more relevant to people from other faiths that can also lead to tensions or conflict between people. It is this underlying way that faith is lived that we want to discuss in these conversations rather than ‘Trojan Horse’ per se.

Whilst the process and selection of invitees might not be perfect we hope that it will serve as a useful group to tackle some of these important issues and be a model that can be repeated enabling different people to participate.

 

Birmingham Faith Leaders’ Pilgrimage to Amritsar

Worship Leaders Mohiwal Golden Temple Diwali Golden Temple 1PictureFLG Discussion 2 FLG Discussion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chance to go on a visit to Amritsar as part of an interfaith pilgrimage is not something that comes along everyday, so when Dr Andrew Smith from the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre received the invitation he started packing immediately.

Andrew writes

The visit gave us a chance to visit some of the most sacred sites Sikhism and to visit them in the company of Sikhs for whom this was a very significant spiritual journey. We had the privilege of being in Amritsar for Diwali and to share in the celebrations of that day. We also visited Sultanpur, the site where Guru Nanak meditated and where in 1496 he stepped into the waters of the river Bein and disappeared. After three days he returned with a  divine glow and started his mission to fight hypocrisy, preach the word of God and show people how to live in peace.

The trip also included a visit to Anandpur and the site of the first Amrit ceremony in 1699 and the foundation of the Khalsa.

As well as visiting the sites there was also much chance for discussion around faith and belief, interesting resonances between faiths were explored such as the experience of exile and the way that can lead to growth and the nature and response of a call to live a holy life. As our friendships grew during the week we were also able to discuss issues that we disagree on, including profound questions about where we have come from, where we are going and what we are called to do? Whether one beliefs people are created in the womb or reincarnated or their soul has transmigrated leads to very different understandings of humanity and the human condition. The depth of discussion led to new insights and scope for much deeper discussions in the future.

Our thanks go to the leaders and volunteers from GNNSJ in Birmingham who organised and hosted this fascinating visit.

 

 

The Feast

The Feast is a Christian charity based in Birmingham, working to promote community cohesion between Christian and Muslim young people. The Feast strives to see Christian and Muslim young people come together to form real friendships that move them to be change-makers and peace-makers amongst their local and wider communities.
Established in Sparkhill in 2009, we now work across Birmingham, in Bradford and Keighley and in Tower Hamlets, and have developing works in other locations across the UK and the world! We work with Christian and Muslim young people in their own school, faith or community setting and bring them together at ‘faith encounter’ events where they join to do something fun like art or sport.
The Feast is all about…
Exploring faith – young people are equipped and empowered to discuss their faith in a safe and respectful way, drawing out both the similarities and differences.
Creating friendships – bringing together young people in small groups to do something they all enjoy creates the opportunity to get to know one another, work together and build friendships based upon trust and respect.
Changing lives – having been to our events, young people are challenged and enabled to live out the lessons they have learnt in their everyday lives, overcoming prejudice and working together on social action.
‘Project Ghana’ is an interfaith social action project enabling eight Christian and Muslim youth in the UK to share this learning around preventing and appropriate responses to religious conflict, with teens in Ghana whilst working to sustainably enhance the lives of local children. You can stay up to date with the Facebook page.
The Feast is excited to be running our second Engage Training Course. Commencing in October 2014 we are offering a Certificate at Level 3 ‘Assistant Youth Support Worker’ training course for Christian and Muslim youth workers. The course includes dedicated theological reflections for each faith and is the only course of its kind in the country. It is the ideal ‘foundational’ qualification and provides the knowledge and skills needed to be a competent and confident youth worker in your youth work setting.
As The Feast marks its fifth official birthday, we remain committed to promoting community cohesion amongst Christian and Muslim young people, and are excited to see more young people explore their faith, build friendships and ultimately, to see lives and worlds changed. The Feast has now helped approximately 400 young people through events, plus many, many more at the schools where we work. These young people have been given the opportunity to meet with people of a different faith, and have been able to impact their families and communities.
www.thefeast.org.uk | 0121 675 1158 | contact@thefeast.org.uk | @thefeastproject

Mystery Mission Trip Lands at the FNC

For three days in July the FNC became home for 20 young people and leaders from Knowle Parish Church. They eat, worshipped, and even slept at the FNC which they even found to be quite comfortable! However this wasn’t just a luxury city break they were here as part of their church’s annual mission trip for young people. So whilst they were with us they went litter picking with the Balsall Heath Forum, helped out at the Sultan Bahu Trust, Got involved with The Feast, did gardening at The Springfield Centre and helped at the Narthex Food Bank.

As well as all this activity they visited shops on the Stratford Road, had a tour of the Hamza Masjid and were there for Iftar and had a delicious meal at Hajees Restaurant.

Although Sparkhill is only 15 minutes away from Knowle, it’s a different world, one which many of the young people had never visited. However, they got stuck into the work and were enthusiastic and hardworking volunteers.

 

Near Neighbours 2 – all you need to know.

Near Neighbours is back and includes more areas than before in the West Midlands. We have some new areas as well as our 13 wards and there is a new programme running in the Black Country.

Near Neighbours is a Government – funded programme which runs until March 2016.  It aims to bring people together; to meet, build friendship and work together to improve their neighbourhood.

Where does Near Neighbours work?
Near Neighbours funding is available in parts of London, Leicester, Birmingham and parts of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley, Leeds and Manchester, Nottingham and Luton.  Within Birmingham we cover most of Aston, Bordesley Green, Edgbaston, Hodge Hill, Ladywood, Lozells and East Handsworth, Moseley and Kings Heath, Stirchley, Handsworth Wood, Hamstead, Hall Green, Acocks Green, Billesley and Perry Barr.

What sort of projects get funding?
In phase one Near Neighbours in Birmingham gave away nearly £500,000 to 140 projects.  Activities supported by Near Neighbours range from volunteer-led job clubs to community meals, or from sporting events to debt counselling.  The fund will priorities applications from small faith-based groups with a turnover of less than £150,000 a year who are developing a new activity with people of different faiths.

How to apply?
All the information you need is on our website.  Your Near Neighbours development worker is on hand to help you with your application.  Jessica Foster can be contacted at jess@nearneighbours.com or by phone on 0121 675 1155.  Near Neighbours is part of Thrive Together Birmingham  and  is based at the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre, 10 Court Road, Sparkhill, B11 4LX.  Please phone if you would like to make an appointment.

Learning About Love

In May 2014 the local organisation, Connect Justice, released a groundbreaking report called Learning About Love: Developing Interfaith Approaches to Promoting Healthy Relationships.  The Near Neighbour’s funded study carried out by Dr. Laura Zahra McDonald and Zubeda Limbada explored what healthy and unhealthy relationships mean in the context of faith, culture, gender and identity for Christian, Muslim and Sikh participants. Six young males, six young females and a mixed group of six parents were consulted in three-hour workshops in three separate sessions to enable honest views and dialogue to be shared. Each of the three groups had equal representation from the three faith groups. The cultural and ethnic heritage of the participants – reflective of Birmingham as a diverse city – included Somali, Black African, white British, African Caribbean, white American, Pakistani, and Indian.

Rather than focusing on the extremes, the researchers wanted to understand how might we better understand the challenges facing all of us, whether young women, young men, parents, family members or as wider community members? Are there different challenges governed by our diversities, including gender, faith, culture or age? How can we resist the tide, and learn about love? For this study, the question posed was ‘How might we as a society better promote healthy relationships’ which reflected the need for a positive, pro-active response.

You can read a copy of the report here.

Doing Interfaith in the Countryside

The Catalyst young leaders group held their weekend away in February and were able to get away from it all with a trip to beautiful Derbyshire. Apart from great food, a wonderful location and lots of laughter there were also significant discussions on leadership, reincarnation, sexuality and discrimination. The weekend started with a lively game about aims and objectives that involved eating quite a lot of chocolate.

The group also worked on a social action project that they will be rolling out in Birmingham in the coming months. Coming from their desire to help those who are struggling with food poverty and to provide a sustainable, regular supply of fresh food they are working on an innovative and exciting project.

We were also challenged to think through our attitudes to sexuality and how we understand the experiences and stories of those from the LGBT community who are also members of faith communities.

As with all the Catalyst events it was a real mix of friendship building and deep conversations that make the whole course such a worthwhile endeavour.

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