"He’s really into Egyptian football which surprised me!"
Karem Issa, 27, is a British Egyptian Muslim from Birmingham and was formerly a Tony Blair Faith Foundation Faiths Act Fellow. Here he tells us about his Christian friend, KB, who is from Ghana.
KB’s family hosted me the first time I went to Ghana as a volunteer in 2008 and they invited me to stay for the duration of my next visit in 2010. They treated me like part of the family, sharing their home and food with me for nothing in return. As KB is around my age we felt more like brothers. It was quite an eye opening experience for me to have a close friend who was not only of a different faith but also from a different culture and nationality.
There were a few other volunteers around when we first met and he was quite quiet and reserved. Once I got to know him he got more comfortable and vocal and we were able to have really good conversations. I could see he was a very open minded individual and very inquisitive, really wanting to learn about my faith and culture. I think we both realised how much we had in common and how much we could learn from each other. He’s also really into Egyptian football which surprised me!
He lives in a village near Kumasi, where about a quarter of the population are Muslim and the rest are Christian, so interacting with Muslims was not new to him. But what’s special is how he manages a great balance between loving his own faith and being open minded enough to share with and learn from others.
Whenever I needed to pray he’d always provide for me and very often would ask me to pray for him. One time when I was heading to the mosque, he suggested I took one of the other volunteers with me; this guy was Christian by name but not practising, and KB said ‘take him with you to the mosque – maybe he’ll convert.’ That was pretty surprising. It was important to him that everyone had some faith commitment - even if that meant a different faith. I found that sentiment among people there quite a lot. It seems like in Ghana it’s important to believe in a greater cause, so if you don’t have any faith then it’s frowned upon.
Before KB went to law school he was teaching IT at a school, and he invited me along to one of his lessons. I was surprised at how theoretical it was. He was teaching people how to use a mouse and how to navigate on a computer screen using chalk on a blackboard. He was telling me afterwards that this is one of the issues; there’s a big push to teach technology and IT in Ghana but there’s no way to match what’s in the curriculum with more practical teaching. I’ve always had an interest in development issues and studied them at university level, but I’ve learnt so much from him as he’s living through them.
I think faith and development fit in very well together; faith not only inspires people to make a difference, but it gives them hope that things can change. People sometimes assume there are vested interests at play in friendships between people in developing and developed nations. But I feel my friendship with KB is different and I hope this friendship can help break down some of these stereotypes.