Address by Sheikh Fazle Abbas Datoo at 20th Annual Interfaith Gathering | 19th January 2015

Resident Alim / Imam
Wessex Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat – Al Mahdi Centre
19th January, 2015

Salamun Alaykum  / May peace be upon you all,

This evening we have congregated for the joint Muslim Christian event, held annually at this historic cathedral. You are now in the season of epiphany remembering how visitors from far away (probably Persia,modern-day Iran), sometimes described as the three kings or three wise men came to find the infant Jesus.  
The joint Muslim Christian event is traditionally held in December to celebrate Christmas, the nativity of Jesus, a great Divine representative of God. This time you agreed to postpone the gathering for 2014, as in December we were in the midst of the months of commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. (peace be upon him). I am grateful for that. And this gesture of yours is an outcome of that which brings us together, where tolerance transforms to respect.

The thought I ask for tonight is: What brings us together. Then the question I plug in is: What thereafter?
Is it not the celebration of birth of Al Masih Isa ibn Maryam Al Muqaddasah Rasulallahi wa Kalimatuhu  the Messiah, Isa son of Maryam the chaste lady,  the Apostle of God and the word of God that has brought us together?

Today all of us as neighbours, members of diverse communities have come together. By this gesture we have practised love your neighbour, love to your community. These are doctrines taught to us by Jesus, Prince of peace and Prophet Muhammad the Rahmatulil ‘aalamin, mercy for the universe. This is truly a blessed gift for our communities. Subhaanallah - Glory to God.

On the Islamic Calendar, based on the lunar dating system, the current month is the third month and is known as Rabi’ al Awwal. During these days majority of muslims around the world celebrate with great fervour the birth of the Noble Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him.).
Sadly these days of rejoicing and praise for the prophet were tainted by the senseless murders in Paris claiming to ‘avenge the prophet’.
In strongly condemning these murders I wish to re-iterate that such barbaric deeds have nothing to do with Islam as guided by teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who is a mercy to the universe.

Violence and terrorism has no religion, ethnicity or morality. If anything it reflects a betrayal of our basic humanity, for in violence we forget who we are.

For Muslims, love of the Prophet is a necessary part of our faith. He is dearer to us than our parents and children. We prefer him to our own self.

The re-publication of the cartoons depicting the prophet, a great personality held in high esteem by 1.8 billion muslims has inevitably hurt, offended and upset most of the muslims.
But our reaction must be a reflection of the teachings of the gentle and merciful character of Prophet Muhammad. (peace be upon him).  
The best and immediate way to respond is through enduring patience, tolerance, gentleness and mercy as was the character of our beloved Prophet.
With dignified nobility we must be restrained, as the Quran says “Idfa’ bil lati hiya ahsanus us sayyiah : Repel evil by best goodness and Wa idha khaataba humul jaahiloona qaalu salama: And when the ignorant speak to them, they say words of peace.”

Dear friends, sadly the publishers of such depictions do not realise we live in a global village, we are neighbours, we are colleagues at work, we serve and are served, we are clients and customers of each other.

It is gratifying to note that the British national paper editors collectively decided not to republish the images, although the Times did reproduce a controversial image.

A question may come across some minds: What does Islam have to say on freedom of speech?
Muslims do believe in freedom of speech. This freedom should not be translated into a duty to offend. Freedom of speech is, or should always be tempered by responsibility.

In today’s Britain people sometimes complain about “political correctness” which refers to the trouble being taken to provide for and not cause offence to certain groups so that there can be mutual flourishing for everyone.
People complain that this can seem cumbersome at times, but it has its roots in the British policy of inclusion, where diversity is regarded as something to be celebrated and there is recognition that it is wrong to cause offence to those whose lives are different from our own.
And isn’t this precisely what both our faiths, Christianity and Islam, uphold?

As British citizens we must not allow hate to creep into our hearts due to the horrific incidents of Paris. Muslims, Christians, people of other faiths and of no faith, and people of all backgrounds must come together and show unity and solidarity and not let it divide our communities.

Dear friends this evening as Christians and Muslims coming together we have shown love. Love that, though our faiths separate us and our practices are different, the enduring human spirit that is in each of us remains a ray of hope in the chaos around us.
So the celebration of togetherness tonight is not only about nativity of Jesus, but of his message of love. Not only of Jesus, but of his message of compassion. Not only of Jesus, but of his message of goodness.  

The assembly this year is a particularly significant one as it will be the twentieth anniversary of the first meeting in 1994.  It marks an important milestone on the journey of friendship. Like any relationship, this interfaith friendship has involved different people, it has grown and it has matured.
(View the documentary 20 years: A Celebration of Friendship)

Some may be wondering: How has this worked?
This is a unique relationship where we did not have to have terms written down. We neither had to do that nor had we sought to do that.

Why? Because the relationship is between humans who are friends and neighbours. It is a relationship of friendship built upon trust, respect, openness and communication between respected friends.

Much has been achieved over these last twenty years not least a strong bond of friendship between the Cathedral and Wessex Jamaat based at Al Mahdi Centre. Amongst other fruits that have been reaped from this treasured tree of friendship in faiths includes enabling us to have a common voice in times of difficulties, participating in round table conversations, attending services / prayer meetings and commemorating events at the mosque and churches respectively and not forgetting to mention that the food varieties have increased.
Through this valuable relationship barriers have been broken down where we now feel comfortable to discuss “supposedly awkward” issues.

In celebrating this 20th anniversary I humbly present abundant- hamd-praise and -shukr-thanksgiving to Almighty Lord.  SubhanAllah Glory be to God.
Indeed such deeds are cause of receiving perpetual reward from Almighty God.

On behalf of my community I pay tribute to one and all involved in this valuable journey of friendship. I sincerely hope and pray that we continue to attain greater heights as we continue to serve in God’s Holy name in our communities.

Dear friends, needless to say the road for this journey has had its own potholes and speed barriers. Honestly there have been and perhaps may still be exclusivists on both sides.

However we need to be resilient. There is of course still much to be done to improve relationships locally and in the wider world between our two faiths.  

For me as a muslim, a theme that is quite recurring in the noble Qur’an is the theme of encountering the other, meeting the other. As stewards of God, we muslims have a calling to constantly be in dialogue with people around us; whether of faith or no faith.

In conclusion, now that we know we have come together to celebrate Jesus birthday, on this 20th anniversary the question that is begging for an answer is: So what shape does our life take by coming together?
What thereafter? What from now?

In this blessed gathering let us now mention our prayers :
Almighty God the Most Beneficent, this evening we have come together as friends. We ask you by Your Hallowed Name, to bless us with Your Grace so that we may continue to remain as friends and as we meet with others in the community we share this gift of friendship so that we may draw closer to you our beloved Creator, the Lord of the Universe, the Lord of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them).

Almighty God, the Most Beneficent, He who takes away grief, removes sadness, disposes of sorrow, answers the prayers of the needy. O the Merciful of this world and the hereafter.
You are Merciful to me and to all things, so be merciful to me....

O Lord grant good health and swift recovery to the ill persons, bless the soul of the departed members of our community, grant strength and relief to the distressed, persons affected by violence and various calamities round the globe, protect our scholars whose prayers protect us, continue to abundantly shower upon us your blessings and bounties upon us.By Your Mercy O the Most  Merciful…

On behalf of my Shia Ithna Asheri Muslim Community of Wessex, the Muslims in Portsmouth and on my own behalf, I offer heartiest felicitations, greetings and best wishes to all our Christian brethren and a prosperous Year 2015!

Fazle Abbas Datoo
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Resident Alim
Wessex Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat

Al Mahdi Centre
Fontley Road
Titchfield, Fareham
Hampshire, PO15 6QR

The World Federation of KSIMC

The Council of European Jamaats