- Iain Stewart
Inside EIFA - How We Respond To The World Around Us
On reflecting on the last few month’s activities I wondered to myself what connects all of these events. It then came into my mind that the events directly or indirectly are trying to respond to the very real threat to the world from passive and active violence.
Arun Gandhi at a lecture in Edinburgh in 2015 described:
“passive violence as the non-physical violence that we commit every day. Exploiting people, discriminating against people, wasting resources, creating disparities in society.”
Picking up on the connected theme of discrimination at our International Women’s Day event in March our cross generational Interfaith panel looked at the remaining barriers to equality for women in faith communities. Although it was encouraging to hear from Trishna Singh OBE Director of Sikh Sanjog and other panellists of how far women had come it was sad to hear that there were still obstacles to genuine equality in faith communities and more had to be done to challenge it.
Similarly, our, ‘Faith and Sexuality event’ at Edinburgh University saw contributions from our interfaith panel which showed that much progress had been made towards equal rights for LGBT members of faith but much still had to be done to help make our faith communities more inclusive.
In June our key note lecture came from Professor Athur Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum reminded us of the very real threat facing the environment from over consumption. However, he had a message of hope that faith communities had a key role to play in helping to save the planet by countering the narrative of the love of materialism and capitalism and reminding people of the sacredness of our planet.
In May, our Annual Interfaith Peace Walk was partly responding to acts of physical violence as we remembered the victims of the Sri Lankan, Christchurch and Pittsburgh and Jallinwala attacks. All innocent people of faith killed as they went about their daily lives some as they worshipped in the once place they felt safe.
At Liberton High School we have been piloting a Hate Crime Awareness course that we have put together with the help of our consultant Sebastian Geller and RME colleagues. As we hear of stories of increasing violence towards minority groups across the UK and internationally it is important that we increase awareness and empathy in our young people for those who the most vulnerable in our society and encourage and empower them to report hate crimes against them.
Finally turning to two last initiatives the, ‘Taste of Faith Community Meal Programme’ and 'Cities, Faith and Community Forum’. The Taste of Faith events have seen communities sharing something of the importance of their beliefs to their community and encouraging respect, understanding and dialogue. Two such events recently took place as we learned more about the Unitarian Church and the importance of faith from our guest panelists at the, ‘Meet the Imam, the Priest and the Rabbi event’ at Christ Church Morningside.
In Dublin we had a meeting of the rebranded, ‘Cities, Faith and Community Forum’ formerly known as the Capital Cities Interfaith Network. This group looks to bring together European Interfaith organisations together to share best practice and tackle issues of common concern such as the rise of faith based Hate Crime and extremist ideologies. These initiatives as with other programmes are looking to break down the barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice and encourage greater respect and stronger relationships between people of different beliefs.
As an Interfaith organisation we must remain apolitical but at the same time we must challenge any political rhetoric that endangers our community relations and support the work of those such as Greta Thunberg fighting to save our sacred planet.
Returning to the words of Arun as I conclude:
“A nonviolent society and nonviolent individual he explained, “would be one who lives in harmony with all of creation; one that has a lot of love and respect for everybody considers everybody to be equal, learns to share things with other people, and not to be selfish and self-centred.”
To live with harmony with nature and to protect and help the most vulnerable in society are key values that unite people of faith. In order to achieve that goal, we all need to work on our tendencies towards non-violent behaviour and ‘become the change we wish to see in the world.’