Tartan of faith communities makes the fabric of Scotland stronger

An Interfaith Week gathering at the Scottish Parliament

Scotland is a rich tapestry of diversity. Many people from around the world have chosen to make this beautiful land their home, and whilst they bring with them many differences, one of the beauties of Scotland is that she takes everyone in and makes everyone her own.

And within that tapestry, the tartan of faith communities, with all its uniqueness and diversity, weaves a Scotland which stronger and taller as it stands today in the world.

This year, Interfaith Week Scotland is celebrated from November 24th until December 1st, and invites everyone to come together to form a bright and bold pattern of different nationalities and faiths.

The theme of this year's Interfaith Week is "Values and Visions for Scotland", which will be an opportunity for all faith groups to celebrate and contemplate their role in Scotland's future, as well as to learn and adapt to the ever-changing lives and challenges ahead.

Interfaith Scotland, an organization which aims to promote religious harmony through dialogue, has encouraged local groups, networks, and faith communities to engage in interfaith activities throughout the week. The response to their call has been overwhelming and there are 54 reported activities being organized by different networks throughout the week across the country.

So what is it that makes Interfaith Scotland an exciting topic?

Interfaith is a thread which sews together the tartan of faith communities, and it is this patchwork which binds Scotland together. It is a "bridge" to reflect and to be open to each other's faiths in a bid to create a tolerant and a cohesive society. It is a medium to promote understanding and celebration of humankind with all its diversity of faith, colors, cultures, customs, and traditions. Interfaith is cure for many social evils.

From to fascism to ghettoization, persecution to polarization and from fundamentalism to radicalization, interfaith teaches equality and celebrates diversity. It is a bridge from hatred to humanity.

Interfaith serves the purpose of clearing away all those cobwebs created through preconceived ideas which fuelled through extremism and fundamentalism about "other" faiths and traditions, and helps us to understand and respect other human beings.

Interfaith serves as a response to the ever-changing needs of the different communities in a society. It creates sense of duty for an individual as well as on a communal level. When members of different faiths are engaged in a meaningful dialogue or an activity to create better and deeper understanding about each other, it helps them learn new things about cultures, traditions, values and help them to have a stronger connection.

Let us explore some examples of how the tartan of faith communities in Scotland is helping to weave a strong connection:
Among many other community-led programs, in July 2013, Glasgow Gurdwara, a Sikh organization, welcomed the Charity Bikers "Route 13" while they visited Glasgow on route to 13 UK towns and cities to raise funds to fight global poverty. The newly built Glasgow Gurdwara has been shortlisted as a finalist for "Community Project of the Year" at the Herald Society Awards 2013 for making a difference and taking part in the public and the voluntary sector.

The cultural event hosted by a Glasgow Hindu Temple last year to mark Queen's Diamond Jubilee with Indian cuisine and a Scottish Ceilidh [a traditional Gaelic social gathering, which usually involves playing Gaelic folk music and dancing], is still fresh in the memory.

Buddhist Centers held lifestyle-led courses on topics such as acceptance, compassion and kindness, and the Bahá'is of Dumfries "Peacemakers Club" planted flowers at local library to help community and environment. [Founded a century and a half ago, the Bahá'í Faith is today among the fastest-growing of the world's religions. With more than five million followers, who reside in virtually every nation on earth, it is the second-most widespread faith, surpassing every religion but Christianity in its geographic reach].

Night Shelter programs in collaboration with Churches in Scotland have been tackling homelessness, and the Glasgow [Muslim] mosque helps NHS [National Health Service] Scotland with blood donation.

A charity run by the Ahmadiyya [an Islamic reformist movement founded in British India near the end of the 19th century] community has helped the Yorkhill Children Foundation, and the Jewish Council of Scotland organizes workshops under the national counter-terrorism program "Prevent", in collaboration with Police Scotland, to raise public awareness against acts of terror and violence.

These are just a few making a difference across Scotland, and as such there is no denying the fact that members of faith communities are playing their part in the progression of Scotland in almost every sector of life, be that public, private or voluntary sector.

A large proportion of Scotland's ethnic minority population also represent faith communities. According to the Scottish Government website (www.scotland.gov.uk) the size of ethnic minority population is estimated at 192,000, or 3.7% of the more than five million people which make up the diverse fabric of Scotland.

Out of the 129 Scottish Members of Parliament which were elected in 2011, only two are from an ethnic minority background, Humza Yousaf (Scottish National Party) and Hanzala Malik (Labour), both of whom were elected from the Regional List for Glasgow. However, many other members of ethnic minorities are serving in the public sector in various positions such as police men and women or counsellors.

Interfaith Week Scotland 2013 will provide a window to peep into the wider landscape of such faith communities and their roles in Scotland. For the program of events, go to www.interfaithscotland.org/

Interfaith is sometimes mistaken as a means to find a commonality on theological issues. Some believe it as an empty and useless rhetoric which has no meaning to the public or even between the faith communities. These solitary critics of interfaith can never fathom the meaning of a wider world if they are cocooned in their ignorance and self-centeredness.

The meaning of interfaith is not to be underestimated. It provides an open space for all segments of the society to combat extremist powers who strive to drive a wedge between people.

The role of faith communities is undeniable in any society in the world. The only moot point is how we learn to live in respect and celebrate our "humanity" under the name of interfaith or otherwise. It is, after all, the hallmark of any progressive and developed society in the world to respect and tolerate other human beings with equal rights.

The tartan of faith communities is what makes us and binds us together as one piece of fabric, which is why we should celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of all faith with mutual love respect, tolerance and acceptance and move ahead together in the future of Scotland.

Happy Interfaith Week.