I posted a few weeks ago about a local interfaith initiative I had attended. It was part of an ongoing series of meetings, and another one took place this week. The occasion was as heartwarming and inspiring as the previous ones.
As time has gone on and individuals from within each group have started to get to get to know better individuals from within the other group, a relaxed spirit of optimism is now driving all that happens. Getting to know people and establishing friendships is all about discovering commonality; the common experiences which bind and unite us as human beings. Family responsibilities, jobs, hobbies, a love of sport and engagement with wider contemporary British culture are all matters everyone there can identify with. With commonality acknowledged and recognised, the differences between groups such as Muslims and Jews become a source of intriguing interest, and it is easier to respectfully acknowledge the different views which may be held. And it’s not just about the secular. A Muslim may quote a profound and universal wisdom from a sura (a chapter from the Qu’ran) and a Jew readily finds an equivalent from the Torah. A large plate bought in Cairo before the war is decorated with Jewish symbols and Arabic text. Everyone crowds round with interest to decipher the marks, with expert contributions from all sides.
The challenge on this occasion though was how to move forward; how to take this local initiative and start to move it towards something powerful and sustainable, acting as a beacon of community harmony.
So how to table and listen to ideas? At this point I experienced my third ‘open space’ session of the year so far. This means of facilitating pertinent and productive discussion works every time. Anyone can propose a topic for conversation, and everyone is free to move in and out of conversations as they wish. Here, the ideas burst out and onto the wall, and the only problem was that every proposed conversation was as interesting and enticing as the one before, and everyone wanted to go to everything. There could be no more positive indication of how much energy and potential this entire gathering has.
And so the group has started its baby steps towards specific action, specific ideas, ranging from a Muslim-Jewish film club through to collaborative art projects. And no, I wasn’t the only one there by any means who loved the idea of collaborative art!
I left inspired, with a warm glow about this little group of Muslims and Jews in Leeds where wonderful things are happening. Baby steps they may be, but the steps will get bigger and will be giant leaps eventually, I’m sure.