'L'shanah tovah' ... 'for a good New Year'
Maryam and I arrived at our desks last week to find a jar of honey and a 'Happy New Year' card from the guys at the Jewish Social Action and Innovation Hub (JHUB). The tradition is to eat apples dipped in honey, as a symbol of the sweet New Year that each Jew hopes lies ahead. In the spirit of the high holiday, I began to consider our exciting year ahead.
When I applied for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's Faiths Act Fellowship, it was because I wanted to combine my interests in theology, development and my faith, and I felt that the fellowship offered a unique opportunity to do just that. I was excited to come together with other people inspired by their faith, to take action against the injustice in the world. Just two months into the year, I have already been overwhelmed by how effective this is, how powerful it is, and most importantly how vital it is.
Faith communities already are great leaders in social action. In the UK alone we can look at Sewa Day, Mitzah Day, Christian Aid Week, or Traidcraft's Fairtrade Fortnight to see how effective faiths have been in making a difference. Countless times throughout history we have seen people inspired by faith, fighting against injustice: the anti-slavery campaign and the civil rights movement are just two of many famous examples.
Despite this, the story told of religion is one of injustice, of division and violence. No one denies the horrible things that have been done in the name of religion. So when Dawkins writes that 'religion leads logically to violence', and the story in the news more often than not is of religion inciting hatred and intolerance; we have a duty, not to deny those examples, but provide new examples.
Faiths Act aims to do this; to show how faith can be, and is often a 'force for good'. Furthermore, when faiths unite together, results will only be multiplied, as intolerance and hatred gives way for peace, understanding and love for our neighbours across the world. When people of different faiths come together and engage in respectful dialogue, when they discover their shared values of compassion and service, and act together, we can tell a different story.
This is what the Faiths Act Fellows will be doing across their five countries, and I hope we will be able to offer a different story this year. One of hope, and of a sweet New Year where people of faith come together, and say no to injustice in the world.