Andy Williams introduces an Inter Faith Week project which initiates conversations between local mosques and churches
How would our first mosque and church Zoom conversation go? Tariq, Amer, Colin and Michael all appeared promptly at 7pm and we introduced ourselves and our roles in either mosque or church.
Tariq introduced himself as the treasurer of the mosque, and I commented, “You must be good at maths”. Michael shared that he used to be a maths teacher in a school attended by many Muslim students and that he’d learnt much from getting to know them and their families. After a brief introduction about Inter Faith Week and how the mosque/church conversation pilot project came about, I said I new that Tariq was interested in talking about how, as faith communities, we had coped with Covid 19. Tariq kindly volunteered to begin by talking about their experience at the mosque.
He talked about the mosque being closed for the lockdown and how five or six local mosques had formed a union and established a Covid Action Group who had helped them, as had the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Ramadan had been particularly hard as the congregation had been unable to meet for prayers together in the mosque.
When they re-opened, those coming to prayers had to do their ablutions at home, as this facility at the mosque had to remain closed. The capacity had been reduced to 35 due to social distancing and it wasn’t possible to make the best use of the space in their mosque, converted from houses, because of the need to pray in the direction of the Ka’ba. Tariq was very thankful that no-one in the mosque community had died of Covid.
Michael, the priest, at St Patrick’s Church in Elland, shared his church's experience, followed by Colin the Methodist minister of Southgate and other local Methodist churches. I added brief reflections on our experience at Blackley Baptist Church and also at the Blackley Centre.
We then went on to explore one of the suggested questions. ‘What in your faith encourages you to serve others in society?’
Amer and Tariq shared about one of the five pillars of Islam, Zakat, which is charity. It means giving both money and time to others. The Qur’an also teaches that you should wish for your brother (or sister) what you should wish for yourself. Michael then shared about the Christian understanding of loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself, which had been the Bible passage for the previous Sunday service. We went on to talk about the work of the local foodbank, how some of the mosque congregation had been to a neighbouring town to help with a food project, and how some Syrian refugees go to the mosque for prayers.
It took us by surprise that it was nearly 8.30pm and time to conclude our conversation. As suggested in the guidelines, we agreed to meet for a second time, just before Inter Faith Week. It had been a great, warm conversation and I was surprised how similar our experiences as faith communities had been in responding to the impact of Covid 19. From a Baptist perspective I was fascinated that Tariq had talked about forming a small union of mosques!
The Mosque and Church Conversation is a pilot project from a partnership meeting of the United Reformed Church, Baptist Inter Faith Working Group, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army and the Muslim Council of Britain. This group began to meet in the summer of 2020 and wanted to help Christians and Muslims build relationships and understanding, preferably at a local level. Out of this the Mosque/Church Conversation was initiated as a pilot project involving about 20 mosques and churches across the country. The idea is that each pairing of mosque and church holds two conversations on Zoom in the run up to Inter Faith Week, involving three members from each community.
There was an introductory Zoom meeting for all participants early in October which was a lovely and enthusiastic gathering involving more than 40 Muslims and Christians. On the Monday of Inter Faith Week there will be a celebration for all participants, with the opportunity for a Muslim and Christian representative from each pair to share reflections on how the conversations went and what they gained from the experience.
There is no prior commitment to continue the mosque church conversation beyond this, but if pairs wish, they can explore twinning and resources and help with this is available from the Christian Muslim Forum.
The pilot project will be evaluated and it is hoped that, from the learning, a wider invitation will be made to mosques and churches to open conversations in future.
In Inter Faith Week last year Calderdale Inter Faith and Churches Together in Elland ran a Faith Pilgrimage visiting the mosque and three local churches, spending half an hour in each. This was very successful and made the initial relationships which have developed further this year through the mosque/church(es) Zoom conversation.
The Revd Andy Williams is Joint Minister, Blackley Baptist Church, and Director for Inter Faith Relations, the Blackley Centre
Inter Faith Week takes place 8 - 15 November - visit the website for more.