MPs, Jewish Westminster staff give insight into faith in Parliament for exhibition
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MPs, Jewish Westminster staff give insight into faith in Parliament for exhibition

MP Robert Halfon and staffer Abi Samuels speak about their religious identity alongside Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh participants in the Speaker's Roots To Parliament exhibition

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

  • House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle with Abi Samuels who features in Roots To Parliament exhibition (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
    House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle with Abi Samuels who features in Roots To Parliament exhibition (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
  • Speaker celebrates the power of faith in Parliament (credit: Jessica Taylor)
    Speaker celebrates the power of faith in Parliament (credit: Jessica Taylor)
  • Roots To Parliament (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
    Roots To Parliament (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
  • House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle with Abi Samuels who features in Roots To Parliament exhibition (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
    House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle with Abi Samuels who features in Roots To Parliament exhibition (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
  • Roots To Parliament (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
    Roots To Parliament (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
  • Roots To Parliament (Credit: Jessica Taylor)
    Roots To Parliament (Credit: Jessica Taylor)

Jewish MPs and staff working in the House of Commons have given personal insights on what faith means to them for a new exhibition showcasing the diverse community within Westminster.

The Conservative MP Robert Halfon, and Abi Samuels, who works in the Chamber and Participation Team at the Commons joined Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh participants for the vibrant project that was launched this week to coincide with Inter-Faith Week.

Revealing the importance of her Jewish identity to her Samuels said:”For me, Jewish scholarly practice encourages critical thinking and closely aligns with Parliament’s role in scrutinising the work of Government.

“Committee sessions in which each line of a Bill is closely analysed and debated reflects the studying undertaken in Yeshivas, and reminds me of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem where I was fortunate to study a few summers ago.”

She added:”So much of being a British Jew is about being part of a community, and I see the common-purpose, appetite for ceremony, quirks and sense of humour of my Jewish community mirrored across the Parliamentary village, where a sense of belonging and shared objectives can be seen in all corners of the Estate.”

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle is responsible for the Roots To Parliament exhibition, which is currently displayed in Westminster’s Portcullis House building, as part of his ambition to make parliament relevant to a wider cross section of people.

Also answering the question on what faith means to him is the Harlow MP Halfon.

He says: “I am a proud Jewish Member of Parliament.

House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle with Abi Samuels who features in Roots To Parliament exhibition (Credit: Jessica Taylor)

“My faith influences me because Jewish tradition is focused around education, work ethic, compassion and support for the state of Israel. Being Jewish I have always learnt about the Holocaust which forms the backdrop of Jewish historical learning.

“The rise of antisemitism always sadly brings you back to that tragic history.

“However, I am very proud to be a Jewish MP in the greatest Parliament in the world.

“It is a tribute to our country that the son of an immigrant can become an MP on merit and be a former Minister, have attended Cabinet and now be Chair of the Education Committee.”

The MP revealed he had come to value his faith after the car he was driving ended up in a ditch after he took a wrong turn in a remote part of South Africa in the middle of the night.

“Out of the blue, after 15 minutes a tow truck happened to drive past and tow the car out of the ditch at 2am,” said Halfon.

” The chances of a tow truck turning up at the right moment and stopping was all quite remarkable. Most people would say that this was a coincidence, but I had said my prayers that night.”

In a fascinating insight, Rehman Chisti, the Muslim MP for Gillingham and Rainham, recalled how he taken the oath of allegiance when sworn in at the Commons using three different bibles.

Speaker celebrates the power of faith in Parliament (credit: Jessica Taylor)

He said:”I took the oath of allegiance on the Quran, and I believe for the first time in the history of the House of Commons I asked for the Torah and St James’ Bible to be placed on the Despatch Box at the same time to show my respect and reverence to all faiths and demonstrate that across all faiths, there is more that unites us than divides us.”

The Tory MP Michael Fabricant spoke of his mixed Jewish-Anglican background.

He said:”I was brought up in the Jewish tradition, but I am an agnostic – I have no idea whether or not there is a God.

“Since being the MP for Lichfield I have enjoyed the Anglican tradition of music and spirituality and the ability to believe in as much or as little as you want.

“I believe that if there is a God, he measures us all on not how we worship, but how we behave to other people.

“Whether they be constituents or those who work in Parliament, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ and ‘Do unto others as you would wish them to do to you’ are the maxims by which I strive to behave myself. ”

Others to take part in the initiative include the MP’s Cat Smith, Sir Roger Gale, Janet Daby and Feryal Clark – who discusses how she practices Alevism.

Speaker Hoyle said of the exhibition: “For some of us, faith is at the core of everything we do – it is our guiding light, our discipline, and brings us comfort in good times and bad. It is a deeply personal part of who we are, yet it also bonds us with others nearby and around the world.

Roots To Parliament (Credit: Jessica Taylor)

“I am proud that here at Parliament we celebrate many different religions and festivals which is why I am excited to use Inter Faith Week to share our experiences alongside communities across the UK during this nationwide celebration.

“Reading through these stories, I am struck by the common desire to help others and contribute to society, a theme I see repeated across all faiths.

” I hope this exhibition encourages you to take a moment to reflect on your own connection to faith and join others in conversation to learn more about the amazing people who are part of our thriving Parliamentary village.”

The Speaker takes part in prayers every day with the Speaker’s Chaplain at the start of business in the House of Commons Chamber. He also attends many events organised by faith groups in his constituency of Chorley.

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