The bridge of faith

The bridge of faith

The visit of American Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to the Middle East could be viewed by some as nothing more than a public relations exercise for the building of an Islamic centre in New York, two blocks away from Ground Zero.

But as a witness to one of his talks in Bahrain, I can vouch that the message he came here to deliver is much more than about building mosques in controversial places.

It is about encouraging religious leaders, students and the followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism to come together in a brotherhood, united by a common belief in the same God and many of the same principles.

His call to abandon worship of religion for the worship of God struck a big chord with me, as someone who is a very strong practising Christian but hesitates to categorise my worship to a denomination or sect.

This is not to criticise anyone who is part of a denomination or certain sect, but I think as Imam Feisal said, our loyalty to this shouldn’t come before our worship of God.

Imam Feisal spoke about Bahrain as playing an important role in promoting religious freedom, tolerance and understanding and I for one can testify to that.

I am truly thankful for the opportunity that Bahrain gives me to worship freely and attend church here.

Ironic as it may seem, in some ways being a Christian, Muslim or Jew in Bahrain is much more accepted and understood than in the UK where I am from.

In an increasingly secular society, talking about praying, fasting and believing God for something to people who don’t share the same belief will often be met with an odd look or a raised eyebrow or worse silence.

However, in Bahrain these kinds of conversations between my Christian and Muslim friends and those of other religions are part of a normal day.

If this same understanding, dialogue and respect for each others’ religion could be built upon and used as a global model, I think many of the misunderstandings and conflicts around the world could be solved.

One Bahraini friend of mine in particular has shown me by example how interfaith dialogue fosters respect, understanding and brings different religions and cultures together.

He is a strong practising Muslim, who studies and delivers lectures on the Quran and fasts more than three months of the year, so I was taken back by his interest in interfaith dialogue.

He frequently asks me about my beliefs and practices and the meaning of different Christian occasions, such as Easter and Christmas and has even attended my church.

At the same time, on every Eid and special occasion he has invited me to share that time with his family and understand more about Islam and the significance of each observance and he has also shown me how Muslims pray.

The reasoning behind this dialogue and understanding of each other’s religions is not a matter of trying to convert someone, but rather a way of fostering unity and respect for another’s beliefs and practices.

In this regard I asked Imam Feisal what he thought about having an interfaith centre at the proposed site in New York, with a mosque, church and synagogue side-by-side.

It was nice to hear that he liked the idea and thought it was something that would be accepted by American Muslims and he would pray for that.

I salute him and others who strive to promote unity and peace as opposed to supporting religious conflicts and the politicising of religions.

I hope these efforts will encourage more people to engage in interfaith dialogue and promote religious tolerance and understanding to the end that we can realise a better future for all.