My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A Shared Responsibility, a Shared Sense of Belonging

I write today (24th August) on my Ripples of Hope blog about our flawed economy, inspired by an article at Digital Journal, Op-Ed: The West v Islam? This same article led me to the website of the international Quilliam Foundation “challenging extremism, promoting pluralism, inspiring change”)

The foundation is named after Shaikh William Henry Abdullah Quilliam (1856-1932) who founded one of the first British mosques, in Liverpool, in 1889.

We are told on Quilliam’s website that Quilliam
“was a native Englishman, a solicitor, from Liverpool, England. He, and many of his contemporaries, embraced Islam voluntarily and established Britain’s first mosque in Liverpool, now a national heritage site. This was the first native Muslim community, dedicated to serving fellow Brits on the English mainland. Shaikh Quilliam was one of the first people to grapple with the challenges posed by inter-cultural exchanges which preceded the age of mass globalisation. As such, we have much to learn from the example set by him and his small Muslim community in Liverpool.”

I also learnt that in that same year, 1889, the Shah Jahan Mosque was built at Woking by Dr Gottleib Wilhelm Leitner, a Jewish convert, and that The Holy Qur’an was first translated into English by the Christian convert Marmaduke Pickthall (1875–1936).

I suspect few people know – I didn’t – that Islam was first imported into Britain by white converts as long ago as the 19th Century.

For Americans reading this blog, and by way of comparison, Muslims first entered the United States from the Ottoman Empire, and from parts of South Asia from the 1880s to 1914. It is most likely that Albanian Muslims in Biddeford, Maine founded the first American mosque in 1915. A Muslim cemetery still exists there.

But I digress!
Quilliam claims to be “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank set up to address the unique challenges of citizenship, identity and belonging in a globalised world. Quilliam stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy.

“Challenging extremism is the duty of all responsible members of society,” it writes. “Not least because cultural insularity and extremism are products of the failures of wider society to foster a shared sense of belonging and to advance liberal democratic values. With Islamist extremism in particular… a more self-critical approach must be adopted by Muslims. Westophobic ideological influences and social insularity needs to be challenged within Muslim communities by Muslims themselves whilst simultaneously, an active drive towards creating an inclusive civic identity must be pursued by all members of society.” (my emphases)

So what is this shared sense of belonging?

The Renaissance author and Anglican priest John Donne famously wrote in 1624:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.(1)

The Apostle Paul, writing in his first epistle to the Corinthians, on human worth, likened the worldwide body of Christians with the human body. All parts of the body are essential for the complete welfare of the whole. In the same way we all need each other and the loss of any part weakens us all: there should be no discord between us. He taught his followers that the members of the church should ‘have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.’(2) The ‘body’ in this biblical context is translated from the Greek Soma, related to Sozo meaning ‘to heal, preserve, be made whole.’ We are not whole: we are wounded or spiritually impoverished if we are not a part of the greater body of faith in our community. We all need to feel that connectedness, that relationship. We need to find unity within the wide diversity of all our individual gifts. We all need each other and we all are special in the eyes of God.
Followers of the Baha’i faith see Earth as one country of which we are all citizens.(3) One of their guiding principles is that ‘the oneness of humanity is the fundamental spiritual and social truth shaping our age.’

Whatever our faith, or none, we can be guided by these truths.
This – as the Quilliam Foundation reminds us, is our responsibility.

This then had me musing a little more about our personal and corporate responsibilities.

Viktor Frankl once wrote that ‘Being human means being conscious and being responsible.’ He was writing about the very core of our being, our human conscience, and our personal integrity.
The state of being responsible is to be ‘liable to be called to account,’ or to render satisfaction, or to be answerable to someone for something. In his book To Heal a Fractured World The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes at length on the ethics of our responsibilities. His theme is that ‘Life is God’s call to responsibility.’ While written from a Jewish perspective, his message is equally relevant to those of all other faiths or none. The Jewish ethics of responsibility can be summed up very simply. If someone is in any kind of need, help him. And this, he says, is the best answer he knows to the meaning of life, expressed in the Hebrew word simhah meaning the happiness we make by sharing. It is akin to the joy or ‘blessedness’ of the Christian who hungers and thirsts for justice and righteousness.

The twenty-first century philosopher and social commentator Aldous Huxley also recognized the essential role and responsibility of the individual in determining the events of the world. In a shift away from his early preoccupation with the mistakes of institution and state, he came to believe in later life that ‘the most overlooked cure for social problems is actually the improvement of the individual citizen, and that cultures are only expressions of the collective consciousness of their people.’(D. Sawyer, Aldous Huxley: A Biography, New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002 p. 95, cited at

Perhaps one of the greatest enemies of responsible behavior is to be found in the remoteness that often exists between cause and effect. It is so much easier not to have a conscience about our behavior where the consequences of our actions are not directly experienced. Someone speaking on the radio the other day about the horrors of child prostitution said we should all be screaming to have something done about it. But we carry on our daily lives as if nothing is wrong in the wider world.

We need to remind ourselves that inaction can be as irresponsible as inappropriate action. It can be important that we should take a stand. It is believed to have been said by Albert Einstein that‘The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.’

But one often has to be courageous to speak up about something that is important to us. It is not always easy to try to paddle against the tide. It is much easier to go with the flow. As Voltaire once remarked, ‘No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.’

Quilliam seeks to challenge what we think, and the way we think. It aims to generate creative, informed and inclusive discussions to counter the ideological underpinnings of terrorism, whilst simultaneously providing evidence-based recommendations to governments for related policy measures. I think it deserves our attention.

I suspect that much religious intolerance is born out of ignorance, with no real justification other than the fear that ignorance nurtures. Part of our responsibility demands that we recognize our prejudices and fears born out of ignorance and that as far as possible we keep ourselves informed of the important issues of the day, so that we are better equipped to play our part in discovering our shared sense of belonging and healing our wounded world.

Further resource:
One of the Web's Leading and Original Resources for Traditional Islam since 1996

Lots of relevant media articles at

1. John Donne seventeenth century English poet died 1631. Famous words of prose taken from the final lines of his 1624 Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.
2. Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 12. 25,26.
3. From Baha’u’llah’s Revelation, as he enjoins his followers to develop a sense of world citizenship and a commitment to stewardship of the earth. From Faith in Conservation, 2003, p. 72.

1 comment:

  1. A lot of intolerence is whipped up by people who want to control the lives of others and create a power base for themselves. We've seen it in propoganda in both world wars and in modern politics.