by Dr Harriet Crabtree, Director, The Inter Faith Network for the UK
Inter Faith Week happens in November each year and its aims are to: strengthen good inter faith relations at all levels; increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK, celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society; and increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious beliefs.
Why does it matter? Do we really need an Inter Faith Week?
We certainly live in a country where there is much that is good about inter faith relations – indeed the UK has a proud track record of this. But we have much more to do. In recent times we have been made all too painfully aware of dangers of extreme voices and of the vulnerability of some communities, including their places of worship.
Inter Faith Week helps raise the profile of work to tackle ignorance and prejudice and create and deepen understanding, friendship and cooperation. By doing that – through the hundreds of events that take place – it helps get lots more people and organisations involved. It is just one Week but its impact carries on through the year and beyond.
How we live together in the many different contexts of our lives also has much to do with our level of religious literacy, our chances to meet and engage with others of different backgrounds, an appropriate framework of law, other social and political factors and also, and very importantly, a sense of common values and purpose. All of these issues are in focus during Inter Faith Week. It is – it has to be – a time to debate tough issues as well as enjoy and celebrate positive diversity.
The Week is also a platform to remind society of the very significant contribution that faith groups make to local communities. Much of the time – particularly of their volunteers – is a hidden gift. Inter Faith Week is a time when faith groups, local authorities and others shine a light on it.
While many people in the UK identify themselves as belonging to a religious tradition, others do not. Another important dimension of the Week is helping encourage productive dialogue between them.
Finally, and on a lighter note, Inter Faith Week is fun. This year sees, for the first time, a stand-up comedy night arranged by the Faith Network for Manchester as well as many celebrations, concerts, and other such activities like the Faiths in Tune session of 3FF’s youth-led London Interfaith Summit.