Church and Mosque join together in ground-breaking bridge building project

mosque
Some visitors trying on Hijabs in the Mosque

An inner city church and mosque have reached out to each other in a special project which has seen bridges built between two religions.

The first event, between the All Saints church in Herbert Road and Hussainia mosque which is round the corner on Regents Park, Small Heath.

After little contact between the two communities, a first interfaith event has been held in a bid to combat ‘negativity’ and build bridges.

Uzma Ali, one of the heads of the mosque’s youth council, describes the interfaith event as “just that, tackling negativity we see in the media by working together on a local level to build understanding and community cohesion”.

She explained: “We had over 30 non-Muslims enter our mosque, that’s just beautiful. It wasn’t about preaching or converting, it was about creating opportunities to learn and understand one another, and i guess by doing that we are naturally tackling Islamaphobia.”

The organisers held a two part event, where Muslim communities were invited to the church for a service, and tour, followed by a Q&A over tea and biscuits.

mosque3
Tour, cake and Q&A in the Mosque

One member of the local mosque, Lubna Suleman describes the church tour: “Going to the church was a great experience as we got to see the way the Christians carry out their sermons and I noticed quite a few things were similar to what Muslims believe which shows how closely related both our religions are.

“The interfaith mosque visit was amazing because there was Christians and Muslims of Shia and Sunni sitting together, learning about our differences, talking to each other, eating cake and drinking tea together”.

The group learned about how the church during World War Two was hit by bombs which cratered the ground, which is still visible today.

mosque4
Tour of All Saint’s Church

In the second half of the event, It was the mosque’s turn to welcome members of the church and wider community inside, and started off the evening with a lecture about Islam. This was followed by a tour of the huge building and finished with cakes, tea and question and answers and opportunity for people to try on a hijab.

Athitaya Chemnan, a student at Birmingham City University (BCU) said the experience opened her eyes to a new aspect of life and belief: “the opportunity of visiting has given me a better understanding of Islam, and their history and ideology of religion especially about respecting woman and their dressing”. This event demonstrates how faith can be a powerful symbol for unity, rather than division.”

Some women were keen to try on a hijab. Everyone at the event was given a rose with an inspirational quote attached.

mosque2
Syed Zafar Abbas, an Islamic lecturer and local Priest, Oliver Coss

Kathryn Smithson, a student at the University of Birmingham said: “Through the interfaith event I was finally able to see that in fact Islam’s main message is peace. Through the event I was able to look past the media portrayals of people and understand them for who they truly are.”

There are plans for increased collaborations, including a recent car wash fundraiser that raised over £200 for both Christians and Muslims fleeing violence in Iraq.

Emotional visit to site in Bosnia where more than 8,000 massacred, for city delegation

art1

This must never happen again.

That was the message heard by Birmingham delegates during a visit to the site of what the Secretary-General of the United Nations described as the ‘worst crime on European soil since World War II’,

20 years on from the Srebrenica massacre during the Balkans conflict the group travelled from the Midlands to Bosnia to learn about the genocide and apply their learnings to their own communities.

It was in 1995 that in the UN-declared ‘safe area’ in the space of 10 days, the Serbian army massacred over 8,372 Bosnian Muslim boys and men after UN peacekeepers handed over the town to Serbian General Ratko Mladić.

11182095_10155455571720459_7942189491433065590_n (1)

Delegates travelled with the Birmingham charity Remembering Srebrenica, which organises educational visits allowing people to talk to genocide survivors and families whose loved ones were killed.

Participants then pledge to take action in their UK communities to challenge hatred and intolerance. Those taking part came from the organisation Community Foundation, an independent, cause neutral charity based in Birmingham that works on grassroots projects.

Nozmul Hussain, Chief Executive of Community Foundation, who led the delegation, said: “Interest to take part in the programme was huge. We were inundated with hundreds of applications from people across the UK. It was quite a task selecting the 17 delegates, as most applicants were of a very high calibre.”

Khadija Allen, 19, who studies Medical Science at Birmingham Metropolitan College, said she learned: “Hate speech was the root of the genocide. This experience completely changed my outlook as I realised how much of an impact a few generalised words can leave on a once harmoniously co-existing nation.

“Dialogue was an important part of my experience in Bosnia” and as a result, she has opted to deliver a workshop at her workplace, a Christian based non-profit organisation, in a bid to increase understanding and promote meaningful discussions between individuals from diverse backgrounds.”

art3

The emotional experience saw the group visit key sites such as mass graveyards, DNA labs and met the women termed the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ who in moving and heart wrenching accounts, relayed their stories of the painful losses of their husbands and sons.

Many have yet to find the remains of loved ones, as mass graves are still being uncovered to this day, with various parts of remains found in several locations. With some families not finding any at all.

art2

art5

One particularly moving moment for the group was when one of the aged mothers explained how if she had the opportunity to take revenge – she wouldn’t.

She told the delegates: “It is very difficult to live with the pain on a daily basis, but to think about hurting another person – I couldn’t bear that.

“Because finding a single finger of any of my sons is worth more than the whole of this world. And that is why we have to fight together to prevent evil happening, and we have to fight it at the very beginning, not when it spreads.

“The most important thing to us is that what happened here must not be forgotten, and that it never happens to anyone ever again.”

Rešad Trbonja, an ex-soldier who fought in the 47 month Sarajevo siege, and now leads delegations travelling to Bosnia, said that the project between Bosnia and the UK was an: “Opportunity to explain and warn people how things can go wrong if hatred is not tackled at the very beginning.”

Sophie Thornton, 19, who studies International Relations and Politics at the University of Birmingham, admitted having never previously heard of the events of Srebrenica before.

She said: “I felt strongly that such ignorance needed to be corrected, and I would like to pass on my learning’s from the trip to other young people”.

An element she described as “truly humbling” was hearing first hand accounts from the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ which resonated with her deeply, stating: “They taught me that forgiveness is the road to peace”.

A powerful display of faith fuelled friendship between Church and Mosque

An act of unity between two faiths
An act of unity between two faiths

This is the picture of solidarity that has since gone viral on social media.

A Birmingham duo: a Muslim and a Christian who are spreading peaceful messages from their respective faiths, of unity, love and mutual respect.

A Curate from All Saints Church on Herbert Road, Small Heath, has made the decision to join in with Ramadan fasts this year, by fasting the entire month in solidarity with Muslims at the neighbouring, Hussainia Mosque.

This initiative came about after members of the Hussainia Mosque took part in the Lenten season to display solidarity.

Anthony Murley, who is a traditionalist Catholic within the Anglican tradition, when asked, explained this was an “excellent opportunity” to increase understanding between the two faiths and to “share perspectives on fasting and abstinence in each of our traditions.”

He goes on to say: “We are aware of the difference between our faiths, as well as our common desire to serve our community with love. It is great to be able to maximise encounter with one another, to engage in shared learning and true friendship.”

In addition to his endeavours, he is also raising funds for Human Relief Foundation and what he describes as their “valuable work” for persecuted Muslims and Christians in Iraq.

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar and began this year on June 18th. It involves 30 days of fasting: going without food and drink from dawn until dusk. This currently stands at 19 hours in the UK. Over 1.6 billion Muslims revere it worldwide as the month the Quran was revealed.

quran
Ramadan is widely regarded as the month the Quran (pictured) was revealed.

As emphasised in the Muslim holy book, on a much deeper level, this holy month is a time of purification for believers and encourages them to develop their spiritual growth, self-control, forgiveness and reflection, so that they “may learn piety and  righteousness” (Quran, 2:183).

As a complete detox for the mind, body and soul, good habits are created and expected to be carried forward to the rest of the year. This includes increased giving to charity, volunteering and abstaining from harmful things.

As taught by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): “If one does not abandon falsehood in words and deeds, God has no need for his abandoning of his food and drink”

However, there are exemptions from fasting for the following: children, the elderly, those who are sick or have a mental illness, menstruating or pregnant/breastfeeding women, as well as travellers.

Nasrin Shah, an interfaith link at the Hussainia Mosque, who initially took part in Lent, comments on it as a period of “fasting, moderation, repentance and spiritual discipline”, principles, she highlights it as very “similar” to those encouraged in Ramadan.

She comments, “I felt it was the perfect gesture to show solidarity with my local All Saints Church,who were observing lent.”

She explains that she has always felt driven towards interfaith work by what she describes as the “inspirational example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)”, who had “lived in love and harmony with the Christians in his community. He vowed to protect their rights and allowed them practice their faith freely.”

Thus, she feels Initiatives like these are one way to “honour his beautiful message of love and peace”

The close bond between the Church and Mosque began with the Mosque gifting the Church a box of chocolates at Christmas one year, as a way to reach out, and as Nasrin describes “spread neighbourly love”. This initial ice-breaker was then met with “immense gratitude and a similar gesture where the Church gifted the mosque gifts at Eid”.

Since then, there have been many events organised between the two places of worship, including charity carwashes, meeting for neighbourhood projects and houses of worship tours for the local community.

11133761_1570230019897369_2458173173014770606_n (1)
Community Car wash to raise money for oppressed minorities in Iraq
mosque
Recent ‘house of worship’ tour. Some visitors were eager to try on a hijab (head-covering, typically worn by Muslim women)

Anthony has now reached well over 100% of his goal of £500 with many from the local community coming together to donate and share messages of support.

This is a link to his Just-Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/Anthony-Murley