London’s faithful walk together in show of solidarity
This Article by Jenni Frazer appeared in The Times of Israel
Marchers in the Coexist Pilgrimage go from mosque to synagogue, to church and parliament, to demonstrate tolerance after European jihadist attacks
London – If there were a simple illustration of the gulf between the faith groups, it was the sight of member after member of London’s Jewish community walking through the imposing gates of the capital’s Central Mosque, offering their bags to be searched by the security guard, and being casually waved through.
“No,” he told one Jewish woman, “I don’t need to search you. I trust you.”
It’s not an answer to which Jews in Britain are accustomed. But as they walked, wide-eyed, into the airy piazza of the mosque, to greet and meet people of all faiths and none, there was a palpable relaxing of shoulders and a cheerful atmosphere.
The mosque was the first stage in a simple but charming initiative, called the Coexist Pilgrimage, devised by faith leaders in response to the attacks in Paris in January. The alumni of the Cambridge Coexist Leadership Program already knew each other. So when a rabbi – Masorti Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg — and a Christian minister, the Rev Margaret Cave, put their heads together with the assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sheikh Ibrahim Mograbi, it wasn’t hard to come up with the idea of the faith walk.
Nearly 200 Londoners, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus, were welcomed to the mosque by its senior imam, Sheikh Khalifa Ezzat.
“We need to be together to demonstrate coexistence and tolerance,” he declared, adding that, as a religion, Islam could coexist with every faith and no faith, and that it had more in common with British values than what separated it.
“Above our religions, ethnicities, cultures, social and financial standings, is our common humanity and respect for life, and care for God’s creation,” said Mograbi.
Shepherded by smiling marshals in hi-visibility purple vests, the marchers set out on their five-hour walk, which took them from the mosque to the Central Synagogue, and on to Westminster Abbey, Parliament (where they were greeted by the Speaker, John Bercow), and finally, St Thomas’s Hospital.
The dean of Coventry Cathedral, the Very Rev John Witcombe, welcomed the marchers at Westminster Abbey. He told them: “Bad things happen when good people don’t stand up to be counted. The overwhelming majority of faithful people in this country are on the side of the angels, and want to live peacefully and safely in our democratic society. Love, justice and compassion lie at the heart of all our faiths.”
The director of the Cambridge Interfaith Program, David Ford OBE, who is also Cambridge University’s Regius Professor of Divinity, warned: “The religion agenda is too often hijacked by extremists who pervert the message of their faith to meet their own political ideals.”
Ford said interfaith programs Coexist and Cambridge are “working hard to emphasize the distinctive nature of the different faiths while also celebrating their common ground and their shared imperative for peace.”
One striking aspect of the march – as far as Jews were concerned – was the participation of both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. The fact that Wittenberg is a Masorti rabbi and that Rabbi Barry Marcus, minister of the Central Synagogue, is Orthodox, was irrelevant. It is hard to think of another platform on which both might appear at the same time.
As Dean Witcombe joked, “Sometimes it’s easier to get over your internal differences when you are reaching out to other faiths.”
The walkers said that the march was intended to demonstrate “our fellowship across our different faiths, for though our paths may be different, our deepest values are the same.”
Wittenberg said the event should be a symbol of freedom and “deepest respect” for all religions.
They were joined by the Mayor of Camden, Councilor Lazzaro Pietragnoli, who has chosen the interfaith group, Three Faiths Forum (consisting of Jews, Muslims and Christians) as his selected charity during his tenure as mayor.
“We have a very mixed community in our borough,” Pietragnoli told The Times of Israel, “and we all need to live in peace. People may think this is a posh event for middle class people who are already involved. It’s not.
“I want people here today to feel a little bit uncomfortable about how they have dealt with other faiths – and to try to improve on that,” said Pietragnoli.
As the walkers crowded into the Central Synagogue – bombed during the Second World War and rebuilt immediately after – Marcus said he hoped a seed had been planted.
“I want this event to stretch out a hand in an effort to make our society a better one,” Marcus said.
Mavis Hyman, whose daughter Miriam was killed by al-Qaeda extremists in the London bombings of July 2005, spoke of the foundation set up in her memory. Money from the Miriam Hyman Foundation enables operations in India to help blind children to see. Hyman also hoped that education, and the spirit of the marchers, could change “the metaphorically blind.”
Violence between faiths, she concluded, was not inevitable.
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Christians, Jews, Muslims hold peace pilgrimage in London
This Article written by Arutz 7 Staff appeared in Israel National News
London (AFP) – Christians, Jews and Muslims from all walks of British life made a pilgrimage through central London on Thursday, in a show of unity against the hatred that drove recent attacks in France and Denmark.
More than 100 people, including faith leaders, children and pensioners, walked in the rain from London’s main mosque at Regent’s Park to the Central Synagogue and then through the bustling crowds of Soho to Westminster Abbey.
At each venue they gathered for a moment of reflection, led variously by the local imam, rabbi and priest, to emphasize their shared values and hopes for peace.
“The terrorists hope to divide us but these atrocities are uniting us,” Sheikh Khalifa Ezzat, chief imam at London Central Mosque, told AFP.
The march was called in response to last month’s Islamist attacks in Paris, by a group of religious leaders brought together under the inter-faith Coexist program.
Since then Europe has been rocked by the shootings in Copenhagen, which once again targeted free speech and the Jewish community.
“The Paris attacks were extremely frightening. The violence — it was an assault on freedom, on the sanctity of life and it’s an assault on Judaism, which again we saw in Copenhagen,” said Jonathan Wittenberg, rabbi of the New North London Synagogue.
“We can’t let that be the last word… I felt it was very important that there should be a response.”
Many of those on the march had traveled to London for the day, including Margaret Lloyd, a 65-year-old follower of the Church of England from Coventry in central England.
“There are so many extreme views flying around, which turn off a lot of people who don’t believe in God and make people think religion is responsible for all conflict,” she said.
Walking through the streets with her husband, she said: “We want to be here — this demonstrates that people of faith can be people of peace.”
Not everybody agreed. Wittenberg and priest Margaret Cave, who walked with a banner at the front of the march alongside Ezzat, were accosted at one point by a passerby.
The man, who wore a smart suit, accused them of “appeasing” Muslims who had murdered Jews.
“I think he rather missed the point of all this,” remarked one of the volunteer stewards.
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Journalists, media and news agencies that covered the event
The Times of Israel (link to article below)
Yahoo News (link to article below)
BBC London TV – lunchtime and evening bulletins (link to report below)
BBC London Radio (MW Live interview 06.15)
BBC 1 Lunchtime News – short clip with pictures (Link to the report
BBC Arabic Service
BBC Radio 4 – The World Tonight (Link to the report below by Caroline
Wyatt – BBC Religious Affairs Correspondent
AFP (Agence France Presse – Global News Agency based in Paris)
Arutz Sheva – Israeli Media Network (link to article below)
Premier Christian Radio (Live interview with MW at 13.30)
RAI Italian Radio and TV
Click links below to see further coverage of the London Peace Pilgrimage
BBC RADIO FOUR
Go to the I player and find The World Tonight on 19th Feb. Caroline
Wyatt’s report is at 10.27.
BBC LONDON TV
Go to this website then click on live coverage and then on the right just above
live coverage, click on BBC London News – fast forward to about 13:30
for a good feature.
BBC ONE O’CLOCK NEWS – BBC 1
For a short clip fast forward to 23:08