A reflection by Marian Pallister
The voices of insularity and intolerance may be in the ascendancy, as Nicola Sturgeon reminded us at the Third Annual Peace and Unity Conference held in Glasgow’s City Chambers recently. The First Minister was far from despondent, however. She praised the major role that faith groups have played in welcoming Syrian refugees to Scotland, and the inclusive and open attitude that is promoting a celebration of diversity.
No-one can pretend that Scotland has cracked the prejudice ceiling, but two recent events suggest that the will to do so is strong.
As well as the Peace and Unity Conference, there were the lectures, delivered in the Trades House of Glasgow, under the auspices of the Scottish Ahul Bayt Society (SABS) in collaboration with the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Glasgow Ecumenical Relations and Interfaith Matters Committee, the Scottish Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Committee for Relations with People of Other Faiths.
This was SABS theological forum’s inaugural lecture, entitled ‘Christians and the Muhammadan Covenants’. The keynote speakers were Dr Anthony Allison of the Bishops’ Committee for Inter-Religious Dialogue, and Shaykh Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, Director General of SABS. Dr Allison reminded his audience of the Abrahamic tradition shared by Jews, Christians and Moslems and that the Qu’ran calls for dialogue between Moslems and ‘People of the Book’ – Jews and Christians.
The problem today can be what Dr Allison called the Google Bubble, a distorting echo chamber in which people’s own views are reinforced (we’ve all had those ads on the Internet that say ‘If you liked x, why don’t you try y’). This, said Dr Allison, clearly affects our religious literacy, and both Muslims and Christians suffer from it. We become misinformed, too often believing the insidious memes spread about each other’s faiths. Don’t worry – Dr Allison believes the bubble can be burst.
How? Both Dr Allison and Sheykh Sayed Razawi encouraged dialogue and discussion. Sheykh Razawi, however, wanted us to focus on the distinct difference between a covenant and a contract. A covenant is morally binding, offering freedom with responsibilities. A contract contains the element of gain and can be cancelled. A covenant, said Sheykh Razawi, is a moral obligation on people to change, to look after each other. It was this that Mohammed offered to Christians and generously, Sheykh Razawi said it is what he sees ‘being built in Scotland’ – a situation he does not see elsewhere in the world.
That same complimentary tone was adopted towards Scotland at the Third Annual Peace and Unity Conference, organised by Ahl Al-Bait Society Scotland in collaboration with other faith and community groups. Azzam Mohamad, director of Ahi Al-Bait Society, told us not ‘walk away without making new connections’. We didn’t.
Dr Anthony Allison had quoted Hans Küng, the Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic. Küng said, ‘No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.’ Now Professor Saied Reza Ameli, Dean of Faculty of World Studies at Tehran University reminded us that minority discrimination can cause majority discrimination. ‘If a minority is insecure, larger society will feel insecure’.
The professor added ‘Justice is the main source of peace’ - an echo of Pope Paul VI, who said ‘If you want peace, work for justice.’ We really do work towards a common goal.