Non-identical twins: launch of new programme for mosques & churches
- Created on Wednesday, 11 November 2015
What drew 40 Christian and Muslim leaders from across South West London to St Barnabas’ Church, Southfields on a November Monday lunchtime? I think it was Hope.
Hope that here in South London we can find ways to work together, live together and bring Peace to our local communities together. The project they came to take part in is called the South West London Church Mosque Twinning Project. It aims to encourage strong, purposeful engagement or ‘twinning’ relationships between Churches and Mosques. Twinning is about relationship, it is not about being identical.
The leaders that came were both male and female, conservative and liberal, of different denominations and different ethnicities. Some had very little experience of working outside the boundaries of their faith, some had been doing it for years. We heard from two Bishops, from the Christian Muslim Forum, from the founder of Sadaqa Day and we also heard from grass roots practitioners about why this is so important.
Bishop Richard urged people to acknowledge that there are enormous differences in our faiths but it is important to look for the areas of where we can engage - and we need to have strong relationships in order to do this.
Some of those strong relationships already exist. Revd Andrew Wakefield and Imam Shoaib Vawda from Wimbledon, who have known each other for decades, shared how Andrew had been invited to speak at the mosque during Ramadan after the daily fast was broken. He spoke about the huge privilege it was to be invited to speak and a mark of the long-term trust and friendship they enjoy.
Julie Siddiqi came up with some practical ideas of what to do. She is the founder of Sadaqa Day. This is an annual day in March when Muslims are encouraged to give their time volunteering in the community. She urged Mosque leaders to get involved and to invite local Churches to join with them. Julie also works with the Big Iftar – another great example of a growing movement gathering momentum across the country. For one night in Ramadan Mosques are encouraged to open their doors to all and invite non-muslim neighbours to share in a meal at sundown.
Next up were Fr Martin Hislop, Revd Ken Walker and Rashid Laher – Anglican, Baptist and Muslim leaders from Kingston. They told us what happened when Kingston Mosque burnt down just before Ramadan. At the time of the fire over a hundred children were in the Mosque at their after school Islamic classes. The children ran out of the mosque in their bare feet and across the road where staff from St Luke’s Church of England primary school quickly made arrangements to welcome them and make sure no-one was hurt.
This was a difficult time for the mosque – it was just before Ramadan, attendance at the five daily prayer times increasing but where were people going to pray? Rashid had already met Fr Martin through their work in a local hospice and he knew he could trust him. He called him on the phone. Fr Martin was immediately able to arrange for the mosque to use his Church hall for their daily prayers. ‘Nothing surprising about that ‘ he says,’ I was just doing what any good neighbour would do’.
Then, because there was a need for a bigger prayer space on Fridays the Baptist minister, who also knew Rashid, was able to offer his larger Hall. How many people are we expecting? Revd Ken asked the Imam. ‘Well, lots of people will go elsewhere, and some of the women will stay at home.’ This was a bit vague so Ken asked again and the Imam quietly asked, ‘is 1000 going to be alright? They managed.
Why did this happen so easily? Because the relationships already existed: Rashid and Martin and Ken all knew each other. Loving your neighbour happens when you know your neighbour.
The Twinning project aims to support this further, so that all across South West London a network of strong relationships exist between Churches and Mosques. One mosque leader said to me, ‘I came today because I really want to connect more and work more with Christians, it is good for us to know each other – and it is great that churches are taking the lead’.
Over lunch a lot of business was done. People sat together in their local groups, Church and Mosque leaders talked together about ways of working more closely and created plans to suit their local context.
The ideas that emerged are inspiring and exciting! Joint training for volunteers to talk to group of schoolchildren, pairing people up from the different communities to have a meal in each others homes, setting up a mini football league, working on a night shelter for homeless together, doing a litter pick in a park that sits between church and mosque, going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land together with the Christian Muslim Forum… and that was just the ideas that I heard. Each area now has a convenor who will set up the next local meeting.
This Christian Muslim Forum initiative is funded by the Near Neighbours Programme. Other Near Neighbours funded projects in South East London have supported long lasting and important new relationships between people of different backgrounds. It seems to me the same thing is starting to happen in South West London.
I have learned so much from this project so far. As I went around meeting people I was amazed by the connections which exist and the actions which Churches and Mosques are already taking together, I was inspired by hearing again and again the strong desire for a closer connection, I was moved by the stories of individuals.
So get involved! If you live in South West London make sure your church or mosque is taking part.