Friday, 30 September 2011


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United States 1,565
  2. United Kingdom 621
  3. France 182
  4. Sri Lanka 153
  5. Germany 150
  6. Russia 142
  7. Japan 83
  8. South Korea 74
  9. Brazil 72
  10. Estonia 38

This week's total: 3,080 (last week's: 1,571). These are aggregates of figures from the top ten countries only. Blogger's stats software doesn't show me numbers of pageviews below the tenth-ranking country.

This is the highest number of pageviews in a single week since the blog began - as had been the number last week. This week's figure is almost double last week's. It's the first time that the USA has come out at number one, with the UK at number two. It's also the first time that any single country has topped that 1,000 figure.

The world map at the top of this post is the graphic that I see on the stats page. The darker the green, the more pageviews from that country. I can see different versions of that map for "now" (whenever that is), "today", "this week", "this month" and "all time" (which seems to mean the last 12 months). They're updated each time I look at them.


This poster, created by one or more school pupils, is on the wall of the refurbished RED (Religion, Equality, Diversity) Learning Centre at Forest Lodge Education Resource Centre. I don't know if it's consciously based on the well-known  phrase from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens", but clearly it shares the same sentiment. The incorrect apostrophe is all its own though.


At Forest Lodge Education Resource Centre, Charnor Road, this afternoon, for the launch of the refurbished RED (Religion, Equality, Diversity) Learning Centre. Invitations have gone out to members of SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religions Education) and to other organisations that would have an interest in the kinds of resources available here and the system for accessing them (that includes Global Education Leicester-Shire: and thanks to Claire Plumb for the lift!). Our special guest today is the popular and successful author for children and young people, Bali Rai. Some school pupils have come along (as have some mums) just to hear him read.

Leicester City Council is officially represented by Assistant Mayor Vi Dempster, Cabinet Lead for Children and Families. Now, I've long known that Councillor Dempster is Scots (the accent gives it away) but I've never asked where she might be from, originally. So, while I'm pouring her a cup of coffee, she tells me that she was brought up in Clydebank (although she was born in Glasgow, where she spent her earliest years). Clydebank is just over the border from Knightswood on the west side of Glasgow, where I spent my first 23 years. When I tell Councillior Dempster that I did my Highers at Clydebank Technical College, it turns out that she did too! Small world, eh?

I make sure that Leicester Council of Faiths gets its own library card so we can make good use of the RED Learning Centre.

In the photo above: Councillor Vi Dempster cuts the ribbon, officially opening the RED Learning Centre.


This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:

Labour of love and true faith 
It’s more than a huge, impressive white limestone temple; it’s also a symbol of modern Leicester – and Britain’s biggest jigsaw. Adam Wakelin had a look round the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir off Catherine Street 
It's hard to think of a more potent, self-confident symbol of where this city has come from and what it can do. A decrepit old saucepan and former denim factory, transformed into an impossibly grand £4 million Hindu temple – bought and paid for by the community it will serve, many of whom arrived as refugees in the 1970s with little in their luggage but ambition and a desire to build a better life.
That's a pretty strong message to send out. 
One day, after Leicester's image-makers have reproduced it endlessly on glossy paper to bring in tourists and businesses, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir may well be as ubiquitous as the Clock Tower, Curve and tree-lined New Walk – so familiar you almost stop seeing it. 
For now, though, the temple still carries the shock of the new. 
It slides, almost surreally into view, between the shops, industrial units and suburban semis of Leicester's Catherine Street. 
Surrounded by metal security fencing, not quite finished, shimmering behind a haze of dust, the temple makes your eyes boggle. 
The closer you get to its magnificent domes, pillars and intricate carvings in white limestone, the more impressive it gets. 
Sanjiv Patel, here to give me a guided tour with Nisha Popat, his fellow spokesperson for the project, points out some of the religious and cultural motifs that run through the building.Here, God is in the detail. 
Those things, says Sanjiv, gesturing to the three half-gherkin-like structures rising out of the roof, are known as shikhars. 
"They represent the mountain peaks of the Himalayas," he explains. "In Hindu tradition, the sages used to contemplate in the Himalayas." 
On top of the shikhars, peeking out from behind their protective wrapping, are gold painted pinnacles – "kalashes" – literally their crowning glories, says Sanjiv. 
The temple's six domes are called "gumats". Running along the edge of the roofline are flows of peacock tails. 
Lotus flowers and other blooms fold into one another through the stonework. 
The presence of the peacocks and lotus flowers, like everything else, are significant. Both symbolise peace and beauty in India. 
Everything was hand carved by craftsmen in Gujarat, brought over on a slow boat from India, and painstakingly assembled on site. 
"What you're looking at is basically a giant, 3D jigsaw," says project leader Divyesh Tailor. 
"The whole of this came in thousands of different pieces. It was a case of getting it all off the lorries, laying it out, working out what went where and putting it all together." 
He puffs out his cheeks. 
"It took some doing, believe me." 
We pick a path through the builders, watching our steps in the tyre troughs left by heavy machinery, and go inside. 
The wow factor doesn't stop at the door. 
A 15-metre frieze depicting Swaminarayan – a manifestation of God and the founding guru of this school of Hinduism – stretches out across the back wall of the marble-floored foyer. 
We move through to the first prayer room. The floor and walls are clad in brilliant white marble.Patterns on the ceiling draw the eye to the place where a deity will be installed. All is designed in accordance with Hindu scripture to concentrate the focus of worshippers on the deity, explains Sanjiv. 
Along the corridor, covered in underlay but not yet carpeted, is the main prayer room.In here stands a large, gilded wooden shrine or "sihasan", delicately carved with more peacock tails. 
The sihasan will house the deities – to be installed after being carried through the streets in a grand procession from Belgrave fly-over on Saturday, October 8. 
It is forbidden to take pictures anywhere inside until a consecration ceremony and the arrival of the deities. 
That will mark the building's spiritual transition from marble, limestone and mortar to a place of God. 
"It is the tradition that the deities are first to see it, so sorry, no photographs," says Sanjiv. "Not even the congregation has seen it yet. There's just been too much to do." 
Expectation has been on tiptoe for months. The sect's first temple was a modest semi on Doncaster Road. They moved into their temple in St James Street in 1980, but have long since outgrown it. 
"We've had a 30-year wait for this," says Sanjiv. "So, no corners could be cut. Everything had to be right." 
It's hard to find a fault. The building, in every sense of the word, is immense. 
The main hall, a gargantuan square space adorned with chandeliers made up of cascading lotus leaves, brings another gasp. 
The kitchens, set to be staffed by volunteers, boast facilities that would shame a top hotel.Function and form dovetail immaculately, but much still needs to be done. 
The inside and outside are what they are: works in progress. Everywhere you look, someone in a hard hat and hi-vis jacket is doing something. 
The temple will officially open on Sunday, October 9, an auspicious date chosen by the priests. Miss that date, and there won't be another one this year. 
So no pressure, then? 
"None at all," smiles Divyesh, a building surveyor and property developer, who has masterminded the temple's construction. 
It's been a challenge, he admits, one that has seen his life and business go on the back burner for almost four years. 
This, as you've already gathered, is no ordinary slot tab A into section B new-build. But the complications go well beyond load-bearing joists and putting domes on roofs. 
This is a place that has had to marry fundamental tenets of Hindu temple design – Vastu Shastra principles of directional alignments and geometrics that are laid out in the scriptures and can't be compromised – with modern, British building regulations. 
Two sets of architects have been involved: in-house BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir specialists in India – up to speed on all the religious specs – and Leicester's Kent Porter Warren Associates; experts in more secular rules and regulations. 
Countless e-mails have been bounced back and forth. 
The issue of car parking and congestion have raised some local concerns. 
There will be 100 spaces available for cars on site and nearby. 
Park and ride schemes will operate on busy festival days. Traffic won't be a problem, reassures Sanjiv. 
Getting the temple through planning took two years. 
Nature has had to be appeased by various rites carried out during the construction process. Before a digger moved in, there had to be a khatmuhurt – an inspection carried out by a priest to ensure the soil's suitability. This was followed by prayers to seek permission for the earth to be disturbed. 
A small pot, containing sacraments of five metals, was ceremonially buried under the place where the deities will sit in the main prayer room after the foundations were dug. 
This was to create an awareness that the earth is a dynamic ecosystem and man is to live harmoniously with other life forms. 
The fact that Divyesh has had to cope with all this, while bringing the temple in on time and in budget, does him great credit. If I was in charge of Leicester City Council or a PFI project, I'd give him a job now. 
"A lot of the money to build this has come from ordinary families," he says. 
"I went to one house and I could feel the springs coming through the sofa. They didn't have much, but they wrote out a cheque for £1,000. 
"They could have spent that on themselves, but they didn't. I saw it as my responsibility not to waste it." 
When all this is over, Divyesh and his family will go on a nice long holiday. 
"I'm looking forward to it," he says. "It's taken over my life and I'll be glad when it's finished."It's all been worth it, though, especially now. It's quite exciting, seeing all the plans coming to reality."

Thursday, 29 September 2011


Saw Kill List this evening at Phoenix Square. I've knocked myself out with the job over the past while and thought I could really do with something to blow away the cobwebs.

I've thought a lot about this film since seeing it and have much to say about it, in my alternate life as the (very) poor man's Mark Kermode - but not here. Let me put it this way. If we do the Faiths Film Festival next year and we want to put on something for the Satanists (of which there were just under 1,000 recorded in Britain in the 2001 Census) ...


Rahat Ahmad (left) and Minou Cortazzi at the Counil of Faiths stall
Today we're participating in the Community Fair at De Montfort University Students Union - a marketplace event for Freshers Week. We're up on the second floor, where it's light, bright and airy - a welcome contrast to the darker, sweatier environement in the O2 Academy at the University of Leicester, where we were yesterday.

One of the first people I see here today is Zubair Sidat (Vice President, Welfare), whom I first met during Discover Islam Week at DMU back in February. I interviewed him then and posted the video on YouTube. He's obviously been a busy man and we don't have much time to talk, but Zubair does mention that he'd like to have at least one activity in DMU during Inter Faith Week. I'm not sure whether he means the Students Union per se or the student Islamic Society - but we can get together and work that out another time.

Going around the displays, I spend some time chatting with the good people promoting Islamic Relief and have the welcome opportunity to reacquaint myself with Salim Yusuf Lorgat, their East Midlands Area Manager.

I also do the rounds with flyers for Leicester Speaks, drumming up interest and support for the launch event on Wednesday 12 October as well as for the week-long programme.

I have to say that I'm not in favour of packing up early at these events. If we're booked to be here till a certain time, I would rather be here till that certain time. I feel sorry for those visitors who turn up in good time to go round an event like this, only to find out that half the exhibitors have gone.

Oh, and that Nightline bear is here too - someone different inside (male this time, apparently yesterday at the O2 Academy in the University of Leicester it was a woman).

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


To the University of Leicester, Percy Gee Building (aka Students' Union) this afternoon. We're supporting our friends in the International Chaplaincy with their display at the International Student Welcome Programme. I helped put up all nine banners from our exhibition in Queen's Hall, upstairs in Percy Gee on Monday morning for a couple of days of fairly relaxed engagement with new arrivals from overseas. Today everything has relocated downstairs into the O2 Academy for this more intensive marketplace event.

As well as providing information about the diverse faith communities in Leicester, we're helping offer a more personal service today, by helping students newly arrived in the city find an appropriate community with which to become involved or an accessible place of worship. I've brought with me our list of places of worship in Leicester and it helps us find the right places for a number of students who have arrived here from abroad. This printed list has been in use since 2004 (long before my arrival at Leicester Council of Faiths). Today I realise for the first time that it doesn't include any Roman Catholic churches. How can that have escaped everyone's notice for seven years? And if it has been noticed, why on earth are we still using it?

Something else I notice today is that some students who have come here from other parts of the world where they have not been used to freedom of expression and of thought appear to look on the opportunity to experiment with religion or belief the way we might more traditionally have thought of students experimenting with sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. Interesting thought …

In the photo: Council of Faiths banners on the International Chaplaincy display - Nightline Bear and friend in the foreground.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


At Uplands Junior School, Melbourne Road, Highfields, this afternoon for the scheduled meeting of Leicester SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education).

We see the results to date of a survey circulated around Leicester schools asking if they would be interested in being supported by SACRE – and, if so, what form they’d like that support to take. We have written responses from 19 schools:

Given the recent discussion in the Leicester Mercury about collective worship in local schools (see blogs passim), it’s appropriate that we’re presented here with a draft statement from SACRE, clarifying matters. I’m going to make that a separate blog entry in its own right: it’s too important to allow it to be buried here. Similarly, I’ve posted a separate blog entry based on a handout distributed at this meeting about the Equality Act 2010 and its impact on schools, as well as a workshop task on what makes a good SACRE member.

Under Any Other Business at the end of the meeting, I’m able to share information about forthcoming activities and events:
  • Christians Aware Course on the Psalms at Christchurch;
  • Philosophy Panel at St Paul’s;
  • “Speedfaithing” at Phoenix Square during Leicester Speaks;
  • Inter Faith Week exhibition at Highcross;
  • Faiths Film Festival at Phoenix Square;
  • Favourite Faith Photo exhibition at Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery.


An early start this morning with a breakfast meeting of the Voluntary and Community Sector Chief Executive Officers (VCS CEO) Leadership Network. We're meeting at Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL), starting at 0745. I've been in Caffe Nero, Market Street, since half an hour before, going over the paperwork.

I've mentioned before that we don't have a Chief Executive Officer at Leicester Council of Faiths. It might appear daft if we did, with only 1.5 full time equivalent (FTE) staff (the likely CEO being the 1). However, not all the organisations involved in this network (certainly not all of those here this morning) have someone with the actual title of CEO, so I'm not the only one in this position (also, I've got the agreement and support of our Chair to do this).

When I attended the last meeting of this network, I was the only one (well, the only male) not in suit and tie. In keeping with that well known phrase, "If you can't fight, wear a big hat" (a good piece of wisdom that I first heard from one of my ex-mothers in law) I've decided to raise my game, sartorially, for this one.

As well as ourselves, there are ten VCS organisations represented here this morning:

We review notes of our meeting with the Mayor (Sir Peter Soulsby) and Deputy Mayor (Councillor Rory Palmer) at our last meeting (at LASS on 18 August) and a number of actions decided on then and shared among the members.

Beyond these, we discuss what this network is for and how it should go about achieving its aims as it expands. When asked to consider the question, "Why are we here?", these are the answers that spring to mind from my perspective with the Council of Faiths: Leicester's faith communities are often isolated - not only from each other, but also from other agencies, groups and organisations in the city; even the networks that faith communities have established among themselves tend to be isolated from other networks; faith communities are too big, too important and make too distinctive a contribution to the image, life and reputation of Leicester to continue to be isolated in this way. They should have someone here who can represent them and speak up for them.

This network may work best by sharing support and learning for its members. We consider how formal it might need to be in order to serve these ends. in the end, we agree that it's better for us to be driven by interest and action rather than the "gubbins" of running an organisation.

We finish shortly after 0930 - just in time to dash across the road to Voluntary Action LeicesterShire and join in the latest in a series of meetings on Transforming Local Infrastructure.

Monday, 26 September 2011


At Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road, this evening for the first session in a new course on the Psalms. The course is offered as part of Faith Awareness, the Inter Faith programme of Christians Aware.

There are 32 people in attendance, the largest number I've seen here. The room is packed - so much so that it's decided we'll be meeting in a bigger space next week.

Our speaker is Father Fabian, of Leicester's Dominican Priory. Barbara Butler intoruces him as a theologian who works with young people in the church, with a special interest in international students.

Father Fabian started by reading the 23rd Psalm, arguably the best known and most popular of all the Psalms (in the translation from the Book of Common Prayer):
The Lord is my shepherd;
 therefore can I lack nothing.
He shall feed me in a green pasture,
 and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.
He shall convert my soul,
 and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for his
  Name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
 for thou art with me;
 thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
Thou shalt prepare a table before me in the presence of them
  that trouble me;
 thou hast anointed my head with oil,
 and my cup shall be full.
Surely thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the
  days of my life;
 and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Father Fabian asks us to hold in our minds two basic truths about the Psalms: that they are poems and that they are Jewish.

As poems, they speak in images, they don't use everyday terminology or style (but use rhythmic, heightened language, not everyday terminology or style). As a reader or listener, you're not standing on the outside looking in. In the case of a poem, you're drawn into the lived experience. Poems have an unbounded sort of quality, in that they are open to meaning beyond that immediately intended by the author.

As Jewish texts, their origins and meanings have to be understood and appreciated in the context of Jewish culture and history. While he does not intend to mean that we can't do anything with the Psalms without being an expert on Judaism, Father Fabian does ask us to consider in what ways a Christian (or anyone of religious affiliation other than Jewish) can relate to the Psalms. This is clearly a topic of special interest to me (all the more so in that I'm giving a talk on the Psalms from a Bahá'í perspective in a fortnight's time). I'm rather sorry that we're not going to be listening to anyone offering Buddhist, Hindu, Jain or Sikh appreciations of the Psalms as part of this course.

Father Fabian gives us a historical tout of the place of the Psalms in Christian worship and how this has changed down the ages - with particular reference to the changes he has seen in his own lifetime.

In her closing remarks, Suzanne Jones thanks Father Fabian for his talk, which she describes as having set out a "groundplan" for the rest of the course.

Future sessions will include perspectives on the Psalms from Bahá'í, Jewish and Muslim perspectives; evenings devoted to Christian and Jewish singing of the Psalms; hands on experience of Creative Writing and Letterpress Printing based on the Psalms.

In the photo above: Father Fabian with Beate Dehnen.


At the University of Leicester Students' Union this morning, where I'm helping folk from the International Chaplaincy set up their stall at the start of a three-day welcoming event for international students.

Our friends at the International Chaplaincy have borrowed the whole of the Council of Faiths exhibition and have put it up as part of their exhibition in the Queen's Hall at the Percy Gee Building.

I'll be back on Wednesday afternoon (along with a few other volunteers from our various faith community members) to help boost numbers on the stall during the International Students Welcome Fair.

Sunday, 25 September 2011


Today is the second annual Sewa Day. Here's some information from the Sewa Day website. There's lots more of interest and inspiration to be found there.

Sewa is a universal concept, which involves performing an act of kindness without expectation of reward. It is performed selflessly and without ulterior motive.

As a concept, Sewa in embedded in Indian traditions, and is actively promoted by different cultures and faiths - as the core belief is the same - to sacrifice your time and resources for the benefit of others without wanting anything in return. 

On Sewa Day, thousands of good-hearted people across the world come together to perform Sewa and experience the joy of giving in its truest sense. By participating in this collective endeavour, we hope that the seeds of Sewa are watered so that acts of kindness and public service are performed more often. Sewa Day is a catalyst in making this happen. 

Previously, participating groups have organised Sewa Day volunteering projects in old people’s homes, homeless shelters, schools in disadvantaged areas, hospitals and hospices, country parks, conservation areas and city farms – all with an aim of making a positive difference to someone else’s happiness and prosperity. Join us this year to make our dream a reality.We’re all concerned about disadvantage, deprivation and ignorance. Sewa day provides an opportunity to do something positive that makes a meaningful difference to someone else’s quality of life. 

We discourage all projects that involve fund-raising; as the purpose is to give your time. So, let’s focus on that. 

It really doesn’t matter if you’re a pensioner or a young child, whether you’re physically able or not, or whether you black, brown or blue. 

All that matters is that you commit to doing a good deed on Sewa Day, which takes place on Sunday, 25th September 2011. 

Sewa UK is a secular, non-political UK registered charity.

While Leicester Council of Faiths is not, itself, participating in or promoting any particular activity for Sewa Day 2011, I couldn't let the occasion go by without reflecting on how selfless service is treated in the scripture or inspirational texts of our eight member faith communities.

In the extract from the Sewa Day website above, it states, "As a concept, Sewa in embedded in Indian traditions, and is actively promoted by different cultures and faiths - as the core belief is the same - to sacrifice your time and resources for the benefit of others without wanting anything in return." This does not suggest (indeed, it counters the suggestion) that such a concept and practice is the domain of the faiths, religions or philosophies of Indian origin alone. They can surely be said to be common to all religions, sometimes being expressed in more general terms as "The Golden Rule"). But whether it is called sewa, service, charity, caritas - or some other term - it is one of the core principles, central practices and essential virtues of the spiritual life. It may be expressed in a myriad forms and practices, but its presence enriches the world and its absence devalues religion itself.

Here are some quotations from each of our eight member faiths that I have found myself. No doubt you could come up with many more, faithful reader.

"This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer." ('Abdu'l-Bahá)

"The greatest quality is seeking to serve others." (Atisha)

"Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:9-11)

“Give. Give with faith. Do not give without faith. Give with sensitivity. Give with a feeling of abundance. Give with right understanding.” (Taittiriya Upanishad)

"In making a gift one gets over greed, which is a form of Himsa, and hence gifts made to the worthy recipients amount to a renunciation of Himsa (i.e., amount to observance of Ahimsa)." (Purusharthasiddhi-upaya)

"He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing." (Deuteronomy10:17-19)

"Worship God, and join not aught with Him in worship. Be good to parents, and to kindred, and to orphans, and to the poor, and to a neighbour, whether kinsman or new-comer, and to a fellow traveller, and to the wayfarer, and to the slaves whom your right hands hold; verily, God loveth not the proud, the vain boaster" (Qur’án, 4:40)

"A place in God's court can only be attained if we do service to others in this world." (Guru Granth Sahib)

Friday, 23 September 2011


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 560
  2. United States 519
  3. Russia 122
  4. Brazil 72
  5. Germany 69
  6. Palestinian Territories 54
  7. Switzerland 50
  8. France 50
  9. Ukraine 42
  10. Ireland 33

This week's total: 1,571 (last week's: 836). These are aggregates of figures from the top ten countries only. Blogger's stats software doesn't show me numbers of pageviews below the tenth-ranking country.

This is the highest number of pageviews in a single week since the blog began. Occasionally somewhere in the world features in the list for the first time - and that's the case this week. I don't normally highlight or comment on this, but there's an unexpected synchronicity between this week's visitors and today's world news. Whether or not the United nations recognises certain parts of the world, perhaps Blogger leads the way. Nuff said?

The world map at the top of this post is the graphic that I see on the stats page. The darker the green, the more pageviews from that country. I can see different versions of that map for "now" (whenever that is), "today", "this week", "this month" and "all time" (which seems to mean the last 12 months). They're updated each time I look at them.


A meeting of the steering group for Leicester Speaks 2011 this morning at Leicester Adult Education College, Wellington Street. As well as Leicester Council of Faiths, there are participants here today from:


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:

Worshippers unite for teatime treat 
Worshippers of different faiths united yesterday to give help to people in need. 
Volunteers from Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh organisations gave out food and spent time with members of the West Indian Senior Citizens' Project, in Highfields, Leicester. 
The event, Talk Over Tea, was held in the run-up to Sewa Day, an annual day of volunteering which sees thousands of people of different faiths around the world doing good deeds to help others. 
The group in Leicester was also joined by staff from Bobby's Restaurant, in Belgrave Road, who helped to give out food and refreshments. 
As well as giving help to people in need, Talk Over Tea aimed to build bridges between people of different faiths. 
St Philip's Centre, a charity in Evington which works to build bridges between people of different religions, helped to organise the event. 
Riaz Ravat, who works at the centre, said: "It has been a special day for us. The number of people of different faiths who have put a smile on the faces of those who came has been fantastic. 
"There was so much enthusiasm from all the volunteers." 
Volunteer Kartar Singh Bring, who is Sikh, said: "Working hand-in-hand with other faith communities in Leicester to celebrate our shared values is a great way to bring people closer together." 
Sewa Day itself takes place on Sunday.

In the photo: Stephenie Spiby and volunteer Vandana Patel share a joke and a cuppa at the West Indian Senior Citizens' Project, in Highfields, Leicester, during yesterday's Talk Over Tea event. Picture by Will Johnston

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Downstairs in Phoenix Square's cafe bar, after the launch of Listen to the Boys, I sit with Simon Parker and Steve Beverley (cue shameless plug for their radio show, The Jazz Shambles) for a brief and amusing chat about Scandinavian crime fiction. I'm taken by surprise to see the Council of Faiths logo appear on the cafe bar's matrix screen. The logo is attached to our tweet about the upcoming Faiths Film Festival during National Inter Faith Week, which is on display on the screen - there then follows half a dozen or so retweets from different sources (@breadandvirtue@Clarendon_Park; @IFWeek; @me_positive; @My_MECFSPortal; @sky_like_you@things2doinleic).

The matrix screen is displaying tweets of all sorts that mention Phoenix Square in an animated, multi-colour dynamic display. Nice idea! Quite a lot of my tweets mention Phoenix Sqaure, as you can imagine, faithful reader. This will only encourage me to do more.


At Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre this afternoon, for the launch of Listen to the Boys: Family Action Post Sexual Abuse Project.

In the photo above: Simon Parker of Citizens' Eye Community News Agency and Tina Barton of Wot Box Particpation, both of which are actively supporting this project.


Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) is the venue for this morning's meeting of the Core Partners of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) with Dennis Fisher, Grants Officer at The Big Lottery. It's The Big Lottery's Basis Fund that bankrolls REDP and Dennis is charged with overseeing our project. We've met with him several times in different settings over the past couple of years; he's here today to talk about our work so far and how we're going to make progress in the final year of this intial funding period.

Round the table for this meeting with Dennis are the Chair of REDP, Iris Lightfoote (The Race Equality Centre), Dee Martin (Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living), Ian Robson (Leicester LGBT Centre), Laura Horton (Project Manager, REDP) and myself, of course, representing Leicester Council of Faiths.

Ian, Iris and I are here until lunchtime, to join in an overall discussion of the project. Dennis spends the rest his visit with Dee (since LCIL is the accountable body for REDP) and with Laura.

We all get the chance to speak this morning; Dennis asks me directly about the "diversity" dimension of REDP.

There's a convivial atmosphere in the meeting today and our funders seem pleased with how REDP has performed.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Suleman Nagdi has written the First Person column in today's Leicester Mercury:
Inter-faith work shows the Big Society in action 
Suleman Nagdi reflects on projects that help to make our city stand out from the rest 
Riaz Ravat's first person article (Mercury, September 15) was an excellent description of his efforts through St Philip's Centre at working with people of diverse backgrounds. I say this by virtue of my association with Riaz, whom I hold in high regard, and the article truly represents his honest views about how we can build a city which stands out from the rest. 
The Sewa Day effort to help elderly people from the African Caribbean community who are often forgotten and helped build key services we now take for granted, is a project which is rooted in the best traditions and values of Britain. 
There are those voices out there who may throw doubt on inter-faith work but we need to convince them that their doubts should be put aside so that they can witness the immense confidence-building work which communities do for vulnerable individuals every day of the week. This is the Big Society at its best. It is alive and kicking. Last year I had the pleasure of working with Riaz and our Jewish friends for Mitzvah Day. 
As a Muslim representing the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO) it was poignant for me to stand with volunteers from all faiths and none, outside supermarkets collecting toiletries for people suffering domestic violence. 
I fondly recall our gathering in the Jewish communal hall to assess our collections which were staggering. I am proud to say that already this year, even before the Mitzvah Day campaign has been launched, that the FMO and the Islamic Society of Britain whose "Eat n Meet" campaign was endorsed by the imams and Bishop of Leicester, have offered their support. 
Last October when our relations were tested, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and those of other faiths and beliefs stood shoulder to shoulder with Muslims on a day when our city was challenged. The recent riots highlighted just how vital it is for us to renew our commitment to British values. In these most testing of economic times, when many members of our local community have fallen on hard times due to the cuts made by the Government, strong community and inter-faith work is needed more than ever so that we may all support each other to face the many and varied challenges that we all face in today's society. 
Let us take a page from Riaz's book to show how our young generation can be great visionaries for our nation. Riaz's vocation brings to mind the Qur'anic verse 49:13 which reads: "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." 
Suleman Nagdi is spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations.

Suleman is a long-standing member of Leicester Council of Faiths. I'm sorry to see that he does not mention the Council of Faiths in this article.

Monday, 19 September 2011


To the Albert Hall Conference Centre, Nottingham, this afternoon for an event hosted by East Midlands Councils and the Local Government Group. Four of us from the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP) are attending "Taking Public Services Forward in the East Midlands".

I've come through from Leicester with Iris Lightfoote (The Race Equality Centre), Dee Martin (Leicestershire Centre for Integraqted Living) and Kelly Jussab (Project Officer, REDP).

East Midlands Councils demonstrates how local councils in the region can work together on  issues such as housing, transport and the environment. It represents the interests of local councils to Government and national organisations. It supports the improvement and development of local councils and their workforce.

The six organisations of the Local Government Group work together to support, promote and improve local government:

Core Partners of REDP (and members of its more extensive Core Reference Group) are here today to listen to a presentation on the Open Public Services White Paper by Alison Adams, Policy Manager, Local Intelligence Team, Office for Civil Society, Cabinet Office. We have the chance to discuss this presentation and to raise questions from the floor.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Up early this morning, to head out to Arthingworth Lodge (near Market Harborough) to take part on the Sunrise Walk. This annual occasion is a sponsored walk to raise funds for The Laura Centre.

Did I say this required getting up early? Rising at 0400, leaving the house at 0445, registering on site at 0530, then setting off together on the Sunrise Walk proper at 0600. There are around 100 people doing it, on five miles of road, tracks and fields. I officially finish last. But part of the reason for that is that I hung around at the back to get some nice photos, like the one above - a small number of the walkers (those tiny dots) moving along the top of a hill as the sun rises.

There's a lot of time for thinking while walking. I can't recall the last time I walked this long without having my iPod on. For much of the way, the walk itself offers a good analogy for life: just keeping going, try not to step in too much sh*t on your way. I'm deep in thought for the first mile or more, but before long I find my way back into the shallows.

At the end, a hot breakfast is provided (including vegetarian sausages, I'm glad to say). The morning ends with a balloon launch. Attached to the balloons are labels on which we've written things about the children whom we've lost and whom we miss.

The Laura Centre is a wonderful thing, supporting those bereaved by the loss of a child. You don't have to get up four in the morning then go walking five miles in order to raise funds, faithful reader. You can donate much more easily here.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


A group of Leicester Baha’is bundle into a minibus this morning, heading for London. We’re on our way to take part in a weekend of rolling celebrations of the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 1911 visit to London.

Our first stop is the National Bahá'í Centre in Rutland Gate, Knightsbridge. The centre has recently undergone renovations, entirely funded (like everything else that the Bahá'í community does) by voluntary donations from the members of the Bahá'í community themselves. Small parties of two dozen at a time are being given an hour-long tour of the building  together. We mingle downstairs, have the chance to spend a few minutes in the public reception area (and spend a few quid in the bookshop). Then we're led upstairs to the Parvine Room, which is often used for official reception of visiting dignitaries. There's a brief introduction to the Centre, its history and the story of its various renovations. For those with an interest in the historical development of the UK Bahá'í community, or in historic events associated with faith communities in this country, it was from this site in Rutland Gate that Shoghi Effendi's funeral cortege departed in 1957 and it was where the first meeting of the Universal House of Justice took place in 1963. The image of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the top of this blog entry is from a painting, the original of which hangs in the Parvine Room

Half a dozen or so prayers and readings are distributed - all of them, bar one, are read by Leicester friends. I read the following passage, written by Shoghi Effendi (grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Guardian and World Head of the Bahá'í Faith, 1921-57) about the station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
He is, and should for all time be regarded, first and foremost, as the Centre and Pivot of Bahá’u’lláh’s peerless and all-enfolding Covenant, His most exalted handiwork, the stainless Mirror of His light, the perfect Exemplar of His teachings, the unerring Interpreter of His Word, the embodiment of every Bahá’í ideal, the incarnation of every Bahá’í virtue, the Most Mighty Branch sprung from the Ancient Root, the Limb of the Law of God, the Being “round Whom all names revolve,” the Mainspring of the Oneness of Humanity, the Ensign of the Most Great Peace, the Moon of the Central Orb of this most holy Dispensation—styles and titles that are implicit and find their truest, their highest and fairest expression in the magic name ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He is, above and beyond these appellations, the “Mystery of God”—an expression by which Bahá’u’lláh Himself has chosen to designate Him, and which, while it does not by any means justify us to assign to Him the station of Prophethood, indicates how in the person of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the incompatible characteristics of a human nature and superhuman knowledge and perfection have been blended and are completely harmonized.

One of the friends read this extract from an article published in a London periodical, in November 1911:
One of the most interesting and significant events which have taken place, has been the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to London. The Persian Mage whose life, passed in prison, has been spent in promoting peace and unity by the one certain method of aiding individual spiritual development, must in a very real sense have “tasted of the travail of his soul and been satisfied”. Not only was he visited privately by nearly every earnest truth-seeker and leader of high thought in London, but his message was made known to thousands who had but dimly heard his name before.

Another read the following passage, a translation of a discourse given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on 13 September 1911 – a hundred years ago, almost to the day:
Thanks be to God, this is a good meeting. It is very enlightened, it is spiritual. 
As a Persian Poet has written:—“The Celestial Universe is so formed that the under world reflects the upper world.” That is to say whatever exists in heaven is reflected in this phenomenal world. Now, praise be to God, this meeting of ours is a reflection of the heavenly concourse; it is as though we had taken a mirror and had gazed into it. This reflection from the heavenly concourse we know as love. 
As heavenly love exists in the supreme concourse even so it is reflected here. The supreme concourse is filled with the desire for God—thank God, this desire is also here. 
Therefore if we say that this meeting is heavenly, it is true. Why? Because we have no other desire except for that which comes from God. We have no other object save the commemoration of God. 
Some of the people of the earth desire conquest over others: some of them are longing for rest and ease; others desire a high position; some desire to become famous:—thank God our desire is for spirituality and for union with God. 
Now that we are gathered here our wish is to raise the banner of the Unity of God, to spread the Light of God, to make the hearts of the people turn to the Kingdom. Therefore I thank God that He is causing us to do this great work. 
I pray for all of you, that you may become celestial warriors, that you may everywhere spread the Unity of God and enlighten the East and West, and that you may give to all hearts the love of God. This is my utmost desire, and I pray to God that your desire may be the same. 
I am very happy to be with you all. I am pleased with the English King and Government, and with the people. 
You may thank God that in this land you are so free. You do not know what lack of freedom there is in the East. When anyone comes to this country he is content. 
I wish God’s protection for you all. Goodbye to you all.

After the prayers and readings in the Parvine Room, we go up to the second-floor room normally used for meetings of the National Spiritual Assembly. Here we see a display of a small number of artefacts associated with the central figures of the Bahá'í Faith and with some of the early British Bahá'ís.

  • Some personal effects of Bahá'u'lláh on display
  • One of his robes
  • A lock of his hair, framed behind glass
  • A brief prayer, in his own handwriting
  • His spectacles (and case)
  • Some personal effects of the Báb on display
  • A plate which belonged to his family
  • A carpet from his house in Shiraz
  • A piece of plaster from the prison at Mah-Ku where the Báb was incarcerated
  • Some personal effects of 'Abdu'l-Bahá on display
  • His aba (long robe) and the shirt he wore under it
  • His spectacles
  • A pair of his slippers
  • The samovar that he took on his tours of the West
  • The chair he used at Lady Blomfield’s house

These and other items shown here today are small-scale, personal (even intimate), accessible. At the Bahá'í World Centre in the city of Haifa, the extensive collection of the Bahá'í International Archives Building preserves and displays a massive range of items that illustrate the story of the Bahá'í Faith, the lives of its central figures and the triumphs and tribulations associated with even the humblest adherents of this religion.

I've been in this room many, many times, from way back when I was appointed to the National Teaching Committee at the age of 21, in 1981 till the last time I sat in here in March 2003. What really takes my fancy today is the 32" plasma screen and webcam. This would allow the National Spiritual Assembly to consult with anyone, anywhere in the world with access to a webcam of their own. To me, that's testimony to the up-to-date nature of Bahá'í life, unifying science and religion (which is one of its central principles).

After we leave the National Centre, we make our way over to Hyde Park for a picnic lunch (above). Then we spend the rest of lunchtime searching out Cadogan Gardens, where 'Abdu'l-Bahá spent several days as the guest of Lady Sarah Blomfield during his first visit to London.

Some of the Leicester friends in Cadogan Gardens today
We round off our trip with a brief visit to the resting place of Shoghi Effendi in New Southgate Cemetery.

And I'm home in time for Doctor Who. Visit the website of the Bahá'í community of the United Kingdom to find out more about 'Abdu'l-Bahá's first visit to this country.