Forum Hosts "Big Iftar"

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Aliya Azam MBE, who represents one of our Presidents, Professor Sayyid Milani, at the Forum, writes about the Peace Iftar at Collaboration House.

"On the 30th June 2015, the Christian Muslim Forum hosted a ‘Big Iftar’ at Collaboration House. The audience was very diverse and with an equal number of people from both faiths and people of no faith as well. Catriona Robertson, the Forum's Interim Director, chaired the whole event which was entitled ‘Peace’.  Catriona also fasted that day to join in the month of Ramadan which was very brave since London was going through a heat wave. The Big Iftar is a national initiative, promoting neighbourliness, strengthening of community relations and sharing. It encourages mosques, community centres, places of worship, to come together and share iftar during Ramadan, by inviting friends and neighbours from different faiths and ethnicities."

Aliya presented the following speech about ‘Peace’.

The word peace is often bandied around today with a whole variety of meanings. We hear of 'peace talks' in industry to settle a dispute in a way that pleases no-one but is an acceptable compromise. We hear of groups 'working for peace' internationally, which really means trying to bring other societies to imitate their own. We hear of 'peace agreements' in conflict zones that just provide both parties with a breather to re-arm and re-group for the next round of fighting. What does it take to bring about an enduring peace between human beings and with God?

If we look back over history, the 'peace settlement' of the last conflict often lays the foundations for the next conflict one that follows. Our children in school look at the causes of the European wars of the twentieth century and can see the way in which the 'peace settlement' of the first led to the second. The same scenario is in evidence in other disputes in South America, Africa and Asia. One group imposes unjust or humanly degrading conditions on the other and the consequence is that these unethical settlements do not last and soon we are back to the cycle of war again. The central Islamic ethical principle is justice and without a just settlement, acknowledged by both sides, no enduring peace results. "No peace without justice" is a frequently heard cry.

Peace-building requires first seeking common ground; that lies in our humanity, in our natural goodness. One does not need to be religious to be good. Healthy human beings can see that peace is better than conflict and fighting; this we call the din al-fitra, the natural way of the human being.

Let's look at peace from a religious perspective. God, the creator of all, created the best of all possible worlds. Everything was created in a state of due order, harmony and balance, which is the way that God wants it to continue. The original 'natural order' of the creation is to live in a state of "everything in its rightful place", which you will remember is the way that the philosophers explain the term justice. This state of safety and security, based on justice, will inevitably lead to a real and abiding peace, which is the way that God wants the whole creation to function. This 'natural way of life' is called the din al-fitra in Islam and it is indeed the definition of the term Islam itself.

What goes wrong when we see an absence of peace in the world? The answer is human beings. We human beings have the ability to live according to God's design for life within the creation or to rebel and go our own way. Such rebellion is a lack of justice to ourselves, to God, to the creation and to human society. This means that for true peace to reign on earth, human beings must learn the will of God and then submit to it in obedience, even if they cannot yet fully understand it. This is why we say that part of the meaning of the term Islam is 'submission to the divine will', which means to live the life of justice, balance and harmony with all creation, which is in accordance with the Great Designer's plan.

We cannot work for peace in our neighbourhoods without knowing one another. This means more than just meeting and talking. We must seek to understand the values, the life-view of those around us. This requires two-way communication: how do we adequately express our world-view and values so that others can understand and how do we seek to understand the same in others? Understanding others, includes understanding their religious communities and ways of life and this exactly the valuable work  that Christian Muslim Forum facilitates.

If I say that I want to get to know you, I need to find out what is important to you and then to learn to value those things. This can range from learning your festivals, when they fall and sending greetings, to learning why you do certain things and being able to mount an explanation for others.

Peace-building requires making common cause in our community. This can be working for a better social provision, trying to stop the closure of a library, working together to make the place nicer in which to live: litter-picking, graffitti-cleaning, verges-gardening.

Peace-building requires also making common cause on a wider canvas: e.g. campaigning together on disaster relief appeals, demonstrating against unjust conflict around the world. We can march under a common banner from our community: "Citizens of X united against Y"

We need to get people across our thresholds so that we can begin to meet. Could we encourage all mosques to have an Open Day one month and all churches an Open Day in another month etc.?

We are impoverished as human beings if we can only feel out own pain or that of our families/clans. We need to learn how to feel the pain of others as though it were our own and then to act on it.

Like all local activities, they require inspirational activists, who do not need to be in positions of authority. Let's not wait for the priests and imams to do something but rather seek out like-minded people to get things done.

To conclude, Peace cannot be separated from justice; both are intrinsic meanings of the root slm on which Islam created. When Muslims like to say that 'Islam is a religion of peace' they necessary also mean that 'Islam is a religion of justice' because peace cannot flourish without the underlying foundation of justice.

The month of Ramadan is a time for Muslims to focus on and examine their following of and obedience to the will of God as revealed in the Qur'an and in the teaching and example of the Prophet Muhammad(PHF). Obedience is meaningless unless it is lived out in day-to-day activities. God calls us to action and not just to words alone. One element of the month of Ramadan is to examine our lives in the light of the Qur'an and ask how we can make constructive steps to be more obedient to the will of God in everyday living. This means living an ethical life based on justice, which we can access through the use of our reason. Peace in society depends on peace within ourselves.

From a Christian perspective Jesus as a Revelation of God, is himself the gateway to peace. Peace then, is coming to share that same relationship with God that Jesus had and personified. As recorded in the Bible in the book of John 20:19-22, after the resurrection, when Jesus was fully revealed in his glory,” He appeared amongst them and greeted them Peace be with you.”

According to Prophet Muhammed (Saw) we must foster the sense of justice within ourselves by creating harmony between our emotions of anger and greed on the one hand and our reason and intellect on the other; between the spiritual dimension and the physical dimension. Only this will lead to true and abiding peace and it is this that we Muslims wish one another and the whole world at the end of every prayer and in our exchange of greetings: "Salam 'alaykum" - "May you come ever more fully to live that perfect peace that can only come about when we and the whole of humankind live according to the Great Designer's plan." And so I wish you all now: Salam 'alaykum!

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