Inter Faith Week highlights the importance of faith in our communities, and places a requirement on us all to bridge gaps in understanding and encourage dialogue between people of different faiths.
If there was ever a time when that was needed it is now, following the tragic events in Paris last week – the need to stand united is even more important than ever. I planned to come here today to speak about working together to help the disadvantaged in society; to speak on working together for understanding, but the events of the past six days have changed that. It should not, in that the conflicts from which those actions sprang have been underway for years, with thousands of deaths. Once again, those conflicts have arrived on our doorstep and we have a duty, collectively, to confront the challenges and fears they engender.
Yet those two themes are complementary and inextricably linked. If by the smallest action towards a neighbour we promote understanding, co-existence, a sense of shared values and community, then one leads to the other. As is written in the Quran “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.” “Verily, Allah is with those who do good deeds.”
Nelson Mandela said: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
The council I am so fortunate to lead welcomes this event during Interfaith Week bringing together people of faith and of none, in getting to know each other and working together for the benefit of local people.
We recognise and celebrate the immense work of faith groups in the city and we are grateful for the support faith groups provide, often to some of our most isolated, vulnerable and deprived residents in these difficult economic, political and cultural times. I pay tribute to all those who feed those in the city without the means to feed themselves; surely in this wealthy city in this wealthy country, that such a service is needed at all is a moral outrage, a disgrace to our values as a society, and an injustice we all should challenge.
With increasing pressures on council budgets, on public sector spending and significant vulnerabilities in our local population, it is vital we work together as much as we can. Public services and faith based projects may have different drivers and operate within different cultural frameworks and understandings, and it is likely we will always find things to disagree on. But through dialogue and focusing on our common interests and shared goals, by the strengths of our common endeavour, we achieve so much more than we do alone, and as President Kennedy said “if we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”
We want to bring communities together, faith communities, neighbourhoods, people with shared identities, common interests and needs, and those who struggle with alcohol, with loneliness, with poverty or with poor mental health.
We must stand together in the face of a modern world that seems driven by the needs of the wealthy, and riven by seemingly intractable conflicts that destroy the lives of thousands and displace millions across continents from the place they call home. I’m proud to say this city, the place I have called home all my life, is a City of Sanctuary, and that refugees are welcome here.
As the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” He appealed to our better nature: “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
Please contribute to the work of our Fairness Commission in tackling poverty and inequality, which you will hear more on shortly, and ask what you, your organisation and your community can do to help us build resilience, co-operation and sustainability into everything we as your local council do. We will do less, but we will co-ordinate, enable, unite and lead more.
Join with us in the work of building stronger communities, helping people lead healthier, happier lives here in our wonderful city. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi; “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
(Speech to CommunityWorks Interfaith Week event, Brighton Centre 18th November.)