There has never been a more important time to actively understand the “other” - to realise that we have to come together as a country of different communities to move forward together post-Brexit. One of many things the Brexit vote did was show us the clear divides we have in our country, in part fuelled by not knowing those who we perceived as different to us. Alarmingly, the recent increase of hate crime is a clear indicator that tensions are rising.
In 2015, I was honoured to be the only UK-born Muslim to attend a four-day residential course which brought together some of the leading experts in faith communities from across the globe, to discuss ways we would could tackle the growing threat of extremism in faith. There were contributions from some of the leading national and international faith leaders, including a video contribution from HRH The Prince of Wales.
Aside from this being a unique opportunity for us to spend time on spiritual reflection, it also gave us a chance to hear about the personal journey of other people. These journeys haven’t been easy and have involved questioning our own conscious and unconscious prejudices. For me that meant owning my own mistakes of the past and making sure I took positive steps to make sure that I never repeat them.
Some of the most powerful testimonies we heard were from minority Christians who were being persecuted in Muslim majority countries. One Christian leader said he had to teach his congregation the Shahada – the declaration of faith for Muslims – to stop them being killed by local extremists. We see far too regularly how often minority faith communities are being persecuted for their beliefs – such as Christians, Yazidis and Ahmadiyya community in Muslim majority communities – often resulting in exile. This is one reason why it is so important that Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy, is given asylum in the UK.
The sharing of these stories, acknowledging mistakes of the past and championing victims’ rights to be heard widely, helps ensure that we do not tolerate hate crime against minority faith communities here in Britain. We have seen the rise of both antisemitism and Islamophobia across society – a trend we must come to together to stop and fight.
The Naz Legacy Foundation’s annual Youth Interfaith Iftars have brought together over 300 hundred young people from all faiths and helped them to challenge their own conscious and unconscious prejudices of not knowing the “other”. The Iftars have had the support of faith leaders like Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Nichols, Chief Rabbi and Bishop of London and have taken place in such venues as Lambeth Palace, Archbishop’s House and St John’s Wood Synagogue.
Furthermore, encouragingly, a recent study by the Foundation has shown an increased awareness among young people of no faith of hate crime against people of faith – and a desire to tackle this. Such awareness will surely lead to them towards championing minority rights.
It is only when people of different faiths, or of no faith, and from different backgrounds work together that we can truly overcome the prejudices arising from not knowing the “other”.
I am confident that, despite the challenges ahead in a post-Brexit Britain, our values in celebrating our diversity will win. The divides highlighted by the referendum will strengthen our resolve to work harder to join together as one nation and form the way our country will be viewed globally. It is how we embrace our minority communities, how we champion the “other” and how we fight for the rights of minorities all over the world that will redefine Britain’s place on the global stage.