Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi, UK
This week sees thousands of people all over the UK mark Inter Faith Week, an initiative started in 2009 as part of the British Government’s strategy for faith communities, the Government and wider society to work at all levels to bring people of different religious backgrounds together.
That year, in a joint statement, prominent religious leaders expressed a commitment ‘to deepen our work to increase understanding about and between our faiths and to strengthen our cooperation on social issues.’ They also recognised that ‘good inter faith relations are a vital part of a harmonious, just and respectful society.’
Thanks to this vision, a range of activities and events take place annually during Inter Faith Week, ranging from discussions and dialogues, walks and pilgrimages, to local exhibitions and lessons in schools. As Head of RE at an academy in Birmingham, I have provided forums for representatives of different religions to speak to students and answer their questions.
Inter Faith Week has added significance in a year when the highest levels of power reflect the UK’s multi-faith landscape – a Christian Sovereign, a Hindu Prime Minister and a Muslim Mayor of London. Prior to becoming monarch, King Charles III reiterated the Church’s role to protect the ‘free practice of all faiths in this country’; it is also pertinent that one of his first public audiences after his accession to the throne was with 30 faith leaders, sharing with them his pride in Britain being a ‘community of communities’ and his own vow ‘to hold myself bound to respect those who follow other spiritual paths’.
There are many whose personal lives are enriched by religious diversity in their societies and families. I am grateful for being born and raised as an Ahmadi Muslim in what is still considered a Christian country; my best friend at school was a Hindu, my wife’s ancestors were Sikhs, and we have two sons who are named after Jewish prophets. Many will similarly have lots of connections with various religions more than they might know, or even appreciate.
While truth claims are common in all religions, so is a spirit of pluralism.
‘I look upon all creatures equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear’– Bhagavad Gita
‘I am a stranger to no one and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.’– Guru Granth Sahib, pg. 1299
‘Love your neighbour as yourself’– Mark 12: 31
For Muslims, upholding freedom of conscience, and working with those of other worldviews, is a requirement of faith. The Holy Qur’an teaches:
‘O mankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another’The Holy Qur’an 49: 13
A unique tenet of Islam is that all divinely revealed religions originate from the same Deity. Among the six articles of faith is belief in all prophets (The Holy Qur’an 2:286); one cannot be a Muslim unless they accept and revere figures like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and also Krishna and Buddha who are believed to be among the 124,000 messengers chosen by God. Another is belief in the sacred scriptures brought by some of His messengers, such as the Torah and Gospels (The Holy Qur’an 3:4). Allah is called ‘Lord of all the worlds’ (The Holy Qur’an 1:2) – ‘worlds’ translated from the Arabic ‘aalameen which also refers to all the different communities that prophets were commissioned to. Not a single part of the globe was denied the gift of communion with Allah (The Holy Qur’an 35:25),
Therefore, for Muslims, respecting the faiths of others is a religious duty. This was exemplified no better than by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa). When a delegation of Christians came to visit him for a theological discussion and the time of their prayer came, the Holy Prophet (sa) offered them space in his mosque to worship in their own way. On another occasion, when he saw a Jewish funeral procession taking place, he rose to his feet and set the example for his followers to do the same.
The Qur’an also instructs Muslims to have regard for the sentiments of followers of other faiths. Despite shirk or associating partners with God being the worst sin in Islam, Muslims are forbidden to mock the idols worshipped by others (The Holy Qur’an 6:109). Additionally, they are required to protect others’ freedom of belief and places of worship (The Holy Qur’an 22:41).
The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) wrote:
‘As for us, we never use indecent language with regard to the Prophets of other peoples. In fact, we believe that for all the Prophets who have come to different peoples of the world, and have been accepted by millions of people in all parts of the world, and love for them and their greatness has been firmly established in any one part of the world, and further that this state of devotion and love for them has endured the test of time, is evidence enough of their truthfulness. Had they not been from God, they could not have been accepted on such a wide scale by millions upon millions of hearts.’ 
It is thanks to these messengers and their inspired communities that so many moral and spiritual reformations around the world have taken place, and why principles such as harmony, tolerance and compassion remain universal. Sharing such a rich heritage of timeless values makes it all the more reason for religions to continue coordinating, collaborating and cooperating with each other.
One leader who remains at the forefront of this effort is Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), the Fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. On the recent occasion of opening a mosque in Dallas, USA, His Holiness said:
‘Allah the Almighty begins the Holy Qur’an by declaring that He is the Provider and Sustainer for the people of all beliefs, faiths and races. Allah the Almighty has made it clear that He is not just the Provider for people of certain religions or eras, rather, He is Creator and Nourisher of the people of all nations, of all beliefs and for all times. These words are of unparalleled beauty and wisdom, wherein they have enshrined the principle of universal human equality as an inviolable right and make it clear that Allah’s blessings and favours are not limited to a particular race or ethnicity, but rather are bestowed indiscriminately.’
He also emphasised that at a time of dire economic, political and environmental challenges, multi-faith action can provide the panacea for the many problems plaguing our planet:
‘So, my ardent request and message to the world is that we must set aside our differences and work tirelessly to foster peace in society so that we may save our future generations, rather than, God-forbid, sentencing them to lives filled with nothing except misery and despair. Each of us has a role to play in the cause of peace. Wherever there is cruelty or injustice, we must condemn it; we must urge our political leaders that instead of propelling our nations towards war and rather than raising the temperature through threats of retribution and violence, they should endeavour to cool the tensions that exist both at an international level and within nations through diplomacy and wisdom. They must ensure that the peace and security of the world remains their paramount objective.
In this effort for peace, Muslims, Christians, Jews Hindus, Sikhs should play their role. Those who do not believe in God or subscribe to any faith play their role. Rather than isolating ourselves and being fearful of one another, we must come together for the sake of humanity. Religious people should ardently pray according to their respective ways, seeking God’s help and mercy for true and lasting peace in the world to emerge.’
Few will deny the importance of these words, and the need for people of different faiths and beliefs to unite and work together for the peace and progress of humanity. The noble aims and notable achievements of Inter Faith Week reflect this very purpose, and offer a useful reminder of the potential religious communities have to be a force for good. Even in an age of science, it is spirituality that many rely on for hope, inspiration and direction. Now is the time for us all to learn more from religions, and beyond just a single week too.
About the Author: Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi is Head of Religious Studies at a school in Birmingham, UK. He is also a subject consultant, author and tutor. He also serves on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions
1. A Message of Peace, pp. 22-23