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Uniting faith groups in Leicester

Pictures representing Islam, Hinduism, Judiasm and Christainity
National Inter Faith Week aims to bring communities together across Leicester

By John Florance
Presenter, BBC Leicester

Inter Faith Week, is a national initiative which runs from 15 until 21 November 2009.

The week has three main aims. Firstly to strengthen good inter faith relations at all levels.

To increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK, in particular celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society; and

Finally, to increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious belief.

Leicester and Leicestershire, with their many well-established faith communities, are playing a full part.

There are exhibitions, displays, lectures, dialogue sessions, concerts and even a multi-faith indoor bowls match!

Questioning the week

No one with any good will would quarrel with an initiative like this. But I wondered what it would actually achieve in actual terms.

After all, most, if not all, of the events will attract those very people of good will who don't need convincing that dialogue, understanding and tolerance are desirable.

Hands together
There are dangers in representing all religions as basically the same but respect and understanding between faiths is possible
Inter Faith Week contributors

But what about those people who never give inter-faith matters a second thought or are actively hostile to the idea of a multi-faith society? How can they be reached?

Further, isn't there the danger of simply representing all faiths as basically the same, other than a few unimportant matters?

I spoke to Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra who is the Assistant Secretary General of The Muslim Council of Britain, Noel Singh Policy Officer at the County Council, and George Ballantyne, Equality and Diversity Officer for the Leicester Council of Faiths.

They all agreed that there were dangers in representing all religions as basically the same, but they said it was important to stress that respect and understanding between faiths was possible even though doctrines might be incompatible.

They were also keen to stress that real understanding takes time and that this was just one initiative in an ongoing process.

Shopping for faith

One of the high-profile events during the week is a specially commissioned exhibition showcasing all eight religions represented on Leicester Council of Faiths.

There's an individual banner for each one, showing the symbol of the faith and a brief quotation from its sacred text, something relevant to how we live today.

The exhibition is presenting something we might call 'spiritual' in the middle of the city's most popular shopping destination
George Ballentyne, Council of Faiths

This will be the single biggest public presentation of the Leicester Council of Faiths.

George Ballentyne has been involved with this project for more than six months.

"It's been an interesting challenge, creating an exhibition like this, that works in the context of a busy shopping mall gearing up for its Christmas rush.

"The exhibition is presenting something we might call 'spiritual' in the middle of the city's most popular shopping destination.

"It wouldn't be fair to trivialise what the faiths have to say, but we've had to find a way of presenting these important, long-standing truths so that busy people passing by can just 'get it'."

The exhibition can be seen in the Lower West Mall at Highcross, during opening hours, Sunday 15 to Saturday 22 November.

For more information about National Inter Faith Week in Leicester and Leicestershire go to leics.gov.uk/faith

Presenter profile: John Florance
14 Sep 09 |  TV & Radio



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