One of the world’s most influential Muslim thinkers joined the Chief Rabbi for a landmark discussion outlining their visions for interfaith ties in the UK and globally.
In an historic event at the House of Lords, a conversation took place between Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, under the auspices of the UK branch of the Forum for Peace.
The sheikh founded the Forum in 2013 and is also Chair of the UAE Emirates Fatwa Council.
The event, chaired by Canon Tricia Hillas, chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, was attended by faith leaders and diplomats, including the Ambassador of the UAE.
Sheikh bin Bayyah and Chief Rabbi Mirvis are long-time friends and have taken part in many dialogues and conferences together.
This conversation, billed as “In Loving Kindness”, drew many mirrored responses from each man, as first the sheikh and then the chief rabbi spoke of the lessons that Covid had taught each faith community.
It had been, said the sheikh, “an opportunity to renew our religious traditions”, while the chief rabbi said that “as far as the virus was concerned, everyone was the enemy — and thus we are all on the same side”.
For Jewish members of the audience there were frissons of familiarity in the sheikh’s remarks, not least when he spoke of the principle that “he who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole world” – an essential platform of Judaism.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis said that the sheikh’s address was “music to my ears”, not least because the founding of the Forum was a prime example of taking matters further than mere words, by showing that deeds were necessary.
“Tolerance”, he said, “is not good enough” by itself, urging his audience to go one step further wherever possible.
Speaking with approval of the Abraham Accords – named for the joint founder of Judaism and Islam – Sheikh bin Bayyah declared: “It is very important for religious leaders not to be demagogues but to be voices of reason and peace”. He agreed with the chief rabbi who said he would like to “encourage dialogue” at grassroots level, not just at leadership level.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis also pointed out that it was incumbent on all people of faith to speak out where there was injustice and persecution, particularly on behalf of the Uyghur people. “We can’t be silent”, he said, “we have a responsibility to speak”.
The Chief Rabbi – to the pleasure of founder Laura Marks, in the audience – praised Mitzvah Day as a great example of people of all faiths and none working to help other people.
The event was hosted by Lord Walney.
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