As the dust settles on Interfaith Week 2016, I thought it would be apt to share my thoughts and reflections on the Interfaith Summit with my colleague Keerti Rajagopalan.
Despite living in, arguably, one of the most multicultural and diverse cities, the increasing need to build good relationships between different communities and celebrate diversity has been made abundantly clear in 2016. The Three Faiths Forum has an extensive history of doing incredible work to bring together members of different communities, notably through their initiatives within schools and universities, namely the ParliaMentors political leadership scheme. The programme gives students across the country the tools to initiate real social change and gain access to the world of British politics by being mentored by prominent members of Parliament. The Alumni Committee is formed by a group of young leaders, all of whom have graduated from the ParliaMentors programme at some point in the last nine years, and together, they are responsible for creating events and initiatives to bring together and empower young people across the country.
Enter the Interfaith Summit. The brainchild of the Alumni Committee, supported by the Three Faiths Forum, the summit is primarily a youth-led forum for insightful discussion and mobilising political participation, that is currently in its second year of existence. It aims to be topical and relevant, and given the state of current affairs at the moment, very much needed. It’s about bringing young leaders from different faiths and backgrounds together to learn and understand each other in a different way. One that inspires them to go off and make meaningful change in society. For some attending, it’s the first time they have ever spoken to someone from a different faith but for others it’s a chance to experience something quite unique. It gives them a safe space to air their voice but also to listen to one another.
This year, the topics at the centre of the summit ranged from mental health, hate crime to the refugee crisis. Structured as a mix of discussion-based and practical sessions, with the support of some incredible organisations, charities and individuals, the summit’s primary objective was to bring together people and get them motivated about inciting social change. Alongside these sessions, attendees of the summit this year were able to hear from two incredible speakers, former Apprentice star and founder of Inspire Engage, Melody Hosseini, and founder of the Advocacy Academy, Amelia Viney. Both speakers were incredibly inspiring, articulating the need to enable the younger generations, particularly those from marginalised communities, with the skills and confidence to be our next generation of leaders. The summit also welcomed a wide range of musical acts, thanks to ParliaMentors alumni and creator of the Faiths In Tune initiative and some incredibly appetising food from The Chickpea Sisters, a social enterprise run by refugee and migrant women.
All in all, the summit had an incredible turnout, with over 400 people joining us throughout the day. It was heartening to see people, young and old, from various communities, cultures and walks of life, coming together for some much needed community healing and reflection in a time where societal fragmentation has become worryingly evident. The event provided an opportunity to meet people they might not have otherwise and form friendships & lasting connections over spirited discussions in a safe space. Whilst it sometimes might be easier and less controversial to avoid talking about more contentious issues, feigning ignorance and overlooking these issues contributes to perpetuating close-minded and prejudiced ideas. In 2016, it’s high time that we begin breaking down barriers and creating a space for open dialogue and discussion; it’s time we begin moving forward, rather than standing still. Although the Interfaith Summit by no means solves all our issues, it’s an important stepping stone towards more positive and progressive change.