Last week the Queen welcomed the heads of state of the Commonwealth nations to Buckingham Palace. To commemorate the occasion, the Hounslow Jamnia Masjid hosted a lunch and invited local people from Commonwealth countries and various community leaders including MP Ruth Cadbury.
Some people question the role of the Commonwealth in today’s world as it seems to be a relic of colonial times. However, we learned through the various speeches that were given that the Commonwealth still has a part to play in our world today, especially given how divisive these times seem to be. A third of the world’s population live in Commonwealth countries, sharing a commitment to peace, democracy and a common life for the common good.
The most moving speech for me came from the Headmaster of the Muslim school that meets in the mosque. He explained that for him the words “Peace be upon you,” which Muslims often say as a greeting is not just an empty phrase, but a serious commitment to uphold and defend the peace and life of the person to whom you are speaking and an invitation to that person to reciprocate likewise – “Peace be upon you.”
Living in London and in Hounslow means a daily encounter with ethnic and religious diversity. In Isleworth, the George pub opposite St Bridget’s Catholic Church has been bought by our friends in the Muslim group who meet in Isleworth Public hall. They are planning to convert the pub into the Isleworth Deen Community Centre, and as a venue for their worship.
I won’t pretend all religions are the same. I don’t think they are – and I think pretending they are can be simplistic and dismissive to those on all sides who take their own beliefs very seriously. We each have a unique set of big questions from within our own faiths that we are grappling with. Rather than point the finger at others though, we will have to look to ourselves first and question our own response to those who are different or strange to us.
As Christians, with our understanding of a God who offers an unconditional welcome to all people made in His image, we have as much, if not more, motivation to extend peace to those around us and work for a common life for the common good for all.