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As part of our interfaith activity, Muslim Aid has supported six people from different faiths who come from around the Sandwell, Birmingham area, to visit holy places from different faiths in India.
The Faithful Friends span Christian, Sikh and Muslim religions. Sandwell has been compared to Tower Hamlets for its mixed ethnicities; the majority of its population is Sikh or Muslim.
“Sandwell felt like a disparate community, not at war, but in too many parts,” explains Reverend David Gould, vicar of Holy Trinity Church in nearby Smethwick, a founder member of the Faithful Friends. “So we gathered together a mixed-faith group and started meeting for a monthly dinner.”
The group consists of eight members, Reverend David, Sikh prison chaplain Sukhwinder Singh, Imam Nasir Zameer of the Abrahamic Foundation, Andrew Smith, interfaith officer for the Bishop of Birmingham, Ragih Muftili, Chief Executive Officer of the Yemeni Community Association in Sandwell, Nick Ross, curate at Holy Trinity Church, Smethwick and Harmohinder Singh Bhatia and Gary Bowman both from Sandwell Council. The first six are on the India trip, which has an interesting background.
“One evening I asked the group a particular question - what’s your spiritual place?” said Reverend David. “We got fascinating answers, from Cornwall to Yemen. So we decided that we should go as a group to visit each place, as an expression of solidarity for our different faiths and to show that a disparate group of people can agree and disagree well – we honour each other.” The India trip is the spiritual place of Sikh Faithful Friend Sukhwinder Singh.
Imam Nasir, speaking from the Garden City Mosque in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, said: “We really appreciate Muslim Aid’s support in enabling us to make this important trip. I know so many Muslims who follow the teaching of Ahmed Raza Khan, peace be upon him, whose tomb is at this mosque. This will feed many conversations with my Muslim community in Sandwell in the future.”
“There are 53,000 primary school children in the borough of Sandwell,” said Ragih Muftili. We would like to influence them, to demonstrate to young people that adults from different faiths can be good friends, to interest them in the faith of the child standing next to them in assembly. We’ve sent cards to all the schools, inviting them to follow our trip on social media and we gave talks to schools before we left.”
Muslim Aid's Zac Hussain hopes the Faithful Friends trip will enrich the community of Sandwell and send a wider message to mixed-faith areas. “We at Muslim Aid are inspired by what Faithful Friends are achieving and are excited about the future for interfaith engagement between religions and between young people in particular,” he added.
As well as the Bareilly Madrasa, the Faithful Friends on Tour India trip included visits to the North India Theological College, Christchurch Cathedral, Amritsar and the legendary Sikh holy site, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the special place chosen by Mr Singh.