The UK’s National Interfaith Week, which included art exhibition Urban Dialogues, fell this year at a particularly poignant moment. With Gazans and Israelis 2000 miles away exchanging fire and living in fear of what one “side” might to do to the other, it was a sobering reminder of the importance of interfaith initiatives like this.
“We don’t want communities to go to their separate corners,” says Stephen Shashoua, director of the Three Faiths Forum (3FF) in London, which organized the event. “This is the time when people really need to come together, to ensure that these problems don’t spill out. We have created a shared space here.”
Fifteen years ago, a Muslim scholar, a Christian priest and a Jewish philanthropist came together in London to create Three Faiths Forum (3FF), a platform for community leaders to engage with one another and break down barriers. But today, some of the most valuable work the charity undertakes is in schools, ensuring that tensions between faith communities don’t trickle down to the next generation.
Often this will simply be making sure that children of different faiths have an opportunity to meet one another or addressing a lack of knowledge about other religions; occasionally more severe problems occur. “We’re contacted by RE teachers to help when there’s been anti-Jewish, -Muslim or -Christian sentiment,” says Debbie Danon, the charity’s education manager.
Part of The Guardian’s series, “Can we choose what we believe?”
Are we responsible for what we believe? Do we have a choice in the matter? This is not just a philosophical question but one that has considerable relevance to modern life.
At every point throughout history we have treated people as if they choose to believe. The Spanish Inquisition’s treatment of its hapless victims assumed that they could have avoided their heresies. The Chinese government treats Falun Gong practitioners as if they freely flout the law. More controversially, if US authorities end up executing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, they will imply that he chose to believe he was on a mission from God and that he could have chosen to believe otherwise – and this raises issues about the alleged use of indoctrination in the spreading of extremism and the training of suicide bombers.