To read Rev. Brian Cooper’s speech, click here.
Organised jointly by Uniting for Peace [Scotland Programme, UfP Inter-Faith Peace Work], the Edinburgh Inter-Faith Association and the authorities of Annandale Street Mosque, the event venue, and attended by some 70 people,the occasion was opened by Mosque Council member and event co-chair Mr. Mohammed Aslam, who stressed the vital importance of co-operation among the faiths to promote peace. “The three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Judaism – especially have responsibility to work to bring peace.” Rev. Brian Cooper [Churches/ Inter-Faith Secretary UfP] said the event was latest in a series of such joint occasions at the mosque, previous ones being on such issues as ‘Clash of Civilisations?’, ‘Religion and the Arab Spring’, ‘Understanding ISIS’ and ‘Globalisation and Faiths’.
After Bible and Koran readings, Professor Jolyon Mitchell [Director,Centre for Theology and Public Issues, Divinity Faculty, Edinburgh University] spoke on ‘Faith and Peace-Building in a Divided World’, with global images of separation walls in and between many countries – from Northern Ireland, Cyprus and India/Pakistan to Morocco[Western Sahara], Israel/Palestine and USA/Mexico. The past twelve years had seen 6000 miles of new separation barriers erected in sixty-five countries. To build peace and overcome divisions needed top-level action by leaders, grassroots-level action by local activists and communities, and [often-neglected] middle-range action where religious leaders were very important.
For Imam Amin Buxton [Annandale Street Mosque],”rectifying the heart of the individual” was vital “to help rectify the world”. This time of great uncertainty – also “a deeply irreligious age” – demanded ‘a pact of the virtuous’, unity of faiths against oppression, and solidarity of the ‘wise against the corrupt’. Leaders’ posturing based on ‘saving face’ derived from their pride and desire to control. ‘Purification of the soul’ was very important in the creating of non-violence and reconciliation.
Rev. Brian Cooper spoke on ‘Populism and its Moral Challenges’. He discussed moral and ethical dimensions of the election of President Trump in USA, the Brexit vote in UK, and far-right populist movements across Europe such as Front National in France, Alternative fur Deutschland and Pegida in Germany and Five Star Movement in Italy. He said key features of populism were: racial and religious intolerance, narrowness and inward-looking vision, appeal to fear, unreason and xenophobia, isolationism, scapegoating of ‘the Other’ and minorities, creation of division, and rejection of compassion and minority rights. “Populist parties present a fundamental moral challenge to long-held social ethics shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims – and Enlightenment humanists.”
Imam Hassan Rabbani [Annandale Street Mosque], expressing anxiety and sadness over the rise of Islamophobia, said the current situation of Muslims in UK in terms of discrimination and hostility experienced in society, was “much worse now than ten years ago.” Evidence from Edinburgh schools indicated many Muslim girls were afraid to wear their headscarf in school, for fear of being harassed. The situation was becoming reminiscent of the 1920s, when Scotland’s small Muslim community experienced hostility because it was wrongly associated with the Ottoman Empire. Hostility usually derived from ignorance and lack of contact, so it was very important for Muslims to engage with the non-Muslim community – “we need to build bridges”. He planned to make Annandale Street Mosque as open and welcoming as possible to wider non-Muslim society. He cited a new ‘British-style’ mosque being built in Cambridge with a range of facilities for the local community, with a Muslim garden symbolic of the Four Paths of Paradise open to all, as exemplifying such openness which should be the way forward.