Saturday, 31 December 2011


I spend the afternoon with the local Bahá'í friends, celebrating the Feast of Sharaf (Honour).

Due to my irregular work schedule, commitments to the children and so on, I'm unable to attend as many Bahá'í community activities as I should. This is the first time I've been able to come to two consecutive Feasts since goodness knows when!

I think it appropriate to provide a short extract from the Bahá'í writings here, relevant to the name and theme of this Feast and of the month in the Bahá'í calendar that it begins:
“The Almighty hath not created in man the claws and teeth of ferocious animals, nay rather hath the human form been fashioned and set with the most comely attributes and adorned with the most perfect virtues. The honour of this creation and the worthiness of this garment therefore require man to have love and affinity for his own kind, nay rather, to act towards all living creatures with justice and equity.” ('Abdu'l-Bahá)

Following the devotional section which comes at the start of every 19 Day Feast, there’s the opportunity to share news, discuss the present state of the community and make suggestions regarding future opportunities.

There's an interesting report from some of the friends who attended a recent conference in Watford sponsored by the Persian Society for Art and Letters, on the subject of Modernity. Many of the talks, panels and workshops held there were recorded, and we hope that those of us who didn’t go will soon be able to watch or listen to these.

I say a bit about the three  community celebrations of Chanukah I've been able to attend this month and on the activities I was able to join in around Christmas, through supporting Harry singing with the choir at St Thomas the Apostle Parish Church.

We also discuss upcoming opportunities to get involved in an event for International Women's Day to be held at the University of Leicester on Thursday 8 March and to take part in an event (as yet ill-defined) being organised in Leicester by the Occupy movement on the weekend of Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 March. In connection with the latter, while we’d have to be assured of the political neutrality of any such event before committing a more formal Bahá'í involvement, there’s certainly a lot that Bahá'ís can say and do that would be relevant. One of the principles of Bahá'í life is that we must work toward eliminating  extremes of wealth and poverty. Our belief in economic and social justice depend on that central factor in the Bahá'í programme. The Bahá'í Faith is no "pie-in-the-sky" religion that preaches we should accept our lot on earth for the sake of gaining reward in heaven. While it recognises that there's more to life than merely material well-being, it pulls no punches in stating that inequality and injustice are simply wrong, from whatever perspective we might take. This can be seen in the following statement, from a talk given in Paris by 'Abdu'l-Bahá a century ago:
A financier with colossal wealth should not exist whilst near him is a poor man in dire necessity. When we see poverty allowed to reach a condition of starvation it is a sure sign that somewhere we shall find tyranny. Men must bestir themselves in this matter, and no longer delay in altering conditions which bring the misery of grinding poverty to a very large number of the people. The rich must give of their abundance, they must soften their hearts and cultivate a compassionate intelligence, taking thought for those sad ones who are suffering from lack of the very necessities of life. 
There must be special laws made, dealing with these extremes of riches and of want. The members of the Government should consider the laws of God when they are framing plans for the ruling of the people. The general rights of mankind mankind must be guarded and preserved. 
The government of the countries should conform to the Divine Law which gives  equal justice to all. This is the only way in which the deplorable superfluity of great wealth and miserable, demoralizing, degrading poverty can be abolished. Not until this is done will the Law of God be obeyed.

And this, from The Promise of World Peace, a statement by the Universal House of Justice "to the peoples of the world" made in 1984, coinciding with the United Nations International Year of Peace:
However vital a force religion has been in the history of mankind, and however dramatic the current resurgence of militant religious fanaticism, religion and religious institutions have, for many decades, been viewed by increasing numbers of people as irrelevant to the major concerns of the modern world. In its place they have turned either to the hedonistic pursuit of material satisfactions or to the following of man-made ideologies designed to rescue society from the evident evils under which it groans. All too many of these ideologies, alas, instead of embracing the concept of the oneness of mankind and promoting the increase of concord among different peoples, have tended to deify the state, to subordinate the rest of mankind to one nation, race or class, to attempt to suppress all discussion and interchange of ideas, or to callously abandon starving millions to the operations of a market system that all too clearly is aggravating the plight of the majority of mankind, while enabling small sections to live in a condition of affluence scarcely dreamed of by our forebears.

Now, of course Bahá'ís don't have the monopoly on caring about and acting on issues of social justice. Anyone with a working knowledge of the faith communities that flourish in Leicester will be able to come up with practices, principles and quotations aplenty from each of them in support of equity and fairness. Hopefully, that will make it easier to get a wide range of support and help make the contribution of the faith communities distinctive and unified. Both these upcoming opportunities are linked for Bahá'ís via another core principle of their beliefs: the equality of men and women. It’s become clear that women are bearing the brunt of austerity measures arising from the financial crisis. Working for the improved status of women and girls throughout the world can’t be divorced from the wider call for fairness in the management of the economy.

And if, for some legitimate reason, it’s not possible for the Bahá'í community to be formally involved in one or both of these events, there's nothing to stop individual Bahá'ís from taking part and bringing a Bahá'í sensibility to the table. Notes of our discussion are taken and will be passed on to the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Leicester for further consideration and a decision about the degree of involvement.

In the Bahá'í calendar, the day begins at sunset; the month of Sharaf (Honour), the start of which is celebrated with this Feast, begins at sunset on 30 December. When I was a young Bahá'í in Glasgow in the late 1970s and early 80s, we used to incorporate appropriate aspects of a traditional Scots celebration of Hogmanay into this Feast. I’ll leave it to you, faithful reader, to imagine which aspects they might have been. One of the things that makes the 19 Day Feast such a vibrant element of Bahá'í community life is its adaptability. The three-fold framework (devotional period, consultative period, social period) should always occur (in that order) and there’s guidance aplenty for how each of those sections should go and how they should relate to each other. But there’s also room for the Feast to breathe and expand, according to its national or cultural setting and the make-up of the community celebrating it. The Bahá'í community has always been awash with travellers’ tales of how the 19 Day Feast is celebrated variously in a rural Indian setting, among indigenous tribes people in North Africa or in an Inuit village above the Arctic Circle. But right from the start of my involvement in the Bahá'í community, I was with people who asked why that same variety shouldn’t be appreciated and encouraged here at home. It was things like holding the 19 Day Feast on Hogmanay, reading the poetry and singing the songs of Robert Burns at it and sharing black bun and ginger wine (that’s non-alcoholic of course) with friends of diverse origins and backgrounds that helped affirm my identity as a Bahá'í – indeed, as a Scottish Bahá'í. If truth be told, it was only by seeing those aspects of Scottishness through a Bahá'í lens that I learned how to love my own country and culture.

If you'd like to know more about the Bahá'í calendar and its pattern of Feasts and Holy Days, check out the excellent article on Wikipedia.

Friday, 30 December 2011


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United Kingdom 549
  2. United States 255
  3. Germany 87
  4. France 57
  5. India 49
  6. Russia 37
  7. Ukraine 21
  8. Canada 17
  9. Denmark 14
  10. South Korea 10

This week's total: 1,096. I don't have a comparative figure for last week; I gave my faithful readers the week off for the Festive Season. 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.

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" (i.e. in the last two hours), "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 article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Clear-up begins after protesters move out
The eviction order was made by Judge Alison Hampton who granted possession of the premises above the former Litten Tree pub, in High Street, in the city centre, to leaseholders Safe Computing Ltd.
The future of the Occupy Leicester protest could be decided at a meeting to be held on Monday.
Sandy Scott, managing director of Safe Computing Ltd, applied for the eviction order last Friday saying that the Occupy Leicester group "had no permission to be in the offices".
Occupy Leicester did not oppose the order which said they should be allowed to take their property and vowed they would comply with it.Mr Scott said the protesters left the offices on Christmas Eve within a 24 hour deadline of being served with the court notice to quit.
However, he said: "They left me a note apologising. It said: 'Sorry things got out of hand last night'.
He added: "There are tents, a dozen sleeping bags, toasters, bikes and other possessions which have been left behind. It will have to be tidied up before we can use the offices."
Under the terms of the court order, Safe Computing Ltd, which has now secured the property, must allow members of the group access to reclaim their property.
About 15 members of the group had moved in to the premises via an unlocked door two weeks ago.
Previously they had been camping in tents set up further along High Street but had moved indoors to avoid the cold and had hoped to hold seminars in the building.
Following the hearing, group spokesman Anthony Farrow, 22, an animation and design student at De Montfort University said Occupy Leicester would obey the court order.
But he said the outdoor protest would resume and continue into the New Year.
He added: "We do not apologise for what we did. The building was unlocked and we caused no damage."
The outdoor camp has not re-appeared since the eviction and a meeting is planned at the Clock Tower at 2pm on Monday.
Occupy Leicester supporter Faizah Horreyah posted a message on Facebook saying the meeting would discuss the group's future and "other things". Mr Farrow was unavailable to comment.


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Can the Bishop produce evidence for his view?
I was somewhat surprised to read the assertions in Bishop Tim Stevens' article "No scientific equation will explain God" (First Person, December 17).
Of course, in a way, he is correct because it is an almighty task to try to explain something for which there is no credible evidence of its existence. He was writing of the recent experiments with the atomic particle collider machine at CERN.
He was being dismissive of the idea that the experiments had discovered a "God particle".
He need not worry – as I understand it, the scientists have discovered some new sub-atomic particles of whose existence they had only guessed in the past.
According to him it is not so much scientists making discoveries, but his God kindly gradually revealing the "mysteries of the universe".
There is no evidence at all for this version of events, or if there is I hope he can produce it.
Michael Gerard, President: Leicester Secular Society

Thursday, 29 December 2011


This letter is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Bible, culture and identity 
Allan Hayes, of the Leicester Secular Society, expresses his concern that Mr Cameron's speech about Christianity allegedly misrepresents the past and "shows no understanding of the present" (Mailbox, December 26). 
He states that "it is all 'spin' in pursuance of a personal fantasy". He fears it might be to the detriment of those who "promote the shared values and sense of community". 
He criticises the Church for opposing democracy, extension of voting rights, election of MPs of other faiths, introduction of state education, access of women to universities and birth control. He seeks reassurance from members of the Church that "we are being dealt with fairly" and "we can move on". 
He objects to "a privileged" religion as promoter of values. He feels these should be based on "our common humanity". He criticises Mr Cameron for implying that only "Christianity will save us". 
He claims we are not a Christian country, but a country "that belongs to all who live here". 
And this is the problem. Many people living here do not regard it as such. I venture to suggest that this country belongs to all those who accept its culture. 
VS Naipaul, the Nobel prize winning author (born in Trinidad to Indian Parents) said: "A person can't say, 'I want the country. I want the laws and the protection, but I want to live in my own way.' I think if a man picks himself up and comes to another country he must meet it halfway. If he does not, it's wrong." 
A country can remain cohesive only if there is at least a residual sense of togetherness, in other words, patriotism. 
Olympic Games are an outward sign of patriotism but sometimes it is sad to see that sports people do not sing the National Anthem when representing their country. Ethnicity is not a bar to this idea. It should be noted that Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were truly multicultural societies. 
If one has a different view on multiculturalism one is immediately branded a racist so it thwarts reasoned discussion and results in discontent festering beneath the surface. That is counter productive. Mr Cameron's speech was marking the end of the 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible. He said he was not on a mission to convert the world. He said: "This book is important to understand the past and to shape the future of this country." He said that we should not be frightened to recognise this. 
We should note that: Firstly it "permeates every aspect of our culture (a high point of the English language) and heritage from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art". It is noteworthy that many references to the Bible, in literature, culture or music, are not understood by young people. 
Secondly, the Bible has been a spur to action for people of faith throughout history in "politics, human rights, equality, constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy". 
Thirdly, "we are a Christian country and should not be afraid to say so whilst respecting other people's right to have or not have a religion". 
For the many shortcomings in British history Mr Cameron pointed out that debates in 1647 in the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Putney saw the first call for "One man and one vote" and demand for vesting of authority in Parliament rather than King. 
The Church built hospitals, created charities, fed the hungry, nursed the sick and looked after the poor to whom they gave shelter. 
Humanitarian crises are mainly supported by the Church charities.Mr Cameron stated that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which we should stand up for and defend. Moral neutrality was not an option. 
St Thomas Aquinas wrote: "It is through culture that man lives a truly human life." The words were repeated by John Paul II at the Unesco headquarters in 1980. No country should abandon its own culture or heritage since doing so eventually leads to its loss of identity. 
Michael Myers, Leicester 


This letter is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
How are your quotes chosen? 
I am always pleased to see Thought for the Day published in the Leicester Mercury, but I do wonder how these passages are chosen. 
They seem to have no connection to the liturgical year. 
We have had no Christmas season verses this month, and, indeed, a few weeks ago, we actually had an Easter reading. Would it not be easier to follow the Christian calendar and print the readings laid down by the Church? 
That said, I would rather have any Bible passages than none at all! 
Wendy Geen, Wigston

Tuesday, 27 December 2011


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Muslim leader condemns Nigerain bomb attacks 
A Muslim community leader has condemned the Christmas Day bombing of churches in Nigeria. 
Islamic group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which claimed at least 39 lives. 
Suleman Nagdi, spokesman for the Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO), said: "These heinous acts fill us with horror. 
"Millions of people around the world are engaging in acts of worship and peace. These murderers show no regard for basic human rights and values. 
"Christians and Muslims both revere Jesus and deplorable terrorist attacks such as these show no regard for the principles which our shared great Prophet stood for. 
"Christians and Muslims have been victims of similar attacks by the group. 
"We extend our sympathies to the victims' families and wish the Nigerian government well in its attempts to catch the culprits."

Monday, 26 December 2011


This letter is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Christianity: Cameron's Wrong 
David Cameron's speech on December 16 about Christianity is deeply worrying for those of us, including many Christians, who are working together to promote the shared values and sense of community that we need. 
It misrepresents the past and shows no understanding of the present. It might be said in excuse that it was put together to please a particular audience, Anglican clergy, on a particular occasion, the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, but I fear that it is all "spin" in pursuance of a personal fantasy which, if realised, would be to the detriment of us all. He links the Bible with parliamentary democracy, but the Church has often been opposed to democracy. 
In the 19th century it opposed the extension of voting rights and the right of elected MPs to sit in parliament regardless of belief; it opposed freedom of expression, of religion and of belief; it opposed the introduction of state schools free of Church control; it opposed access to universities, and, importantly for women, it opposed publications about birth control. 
History must not be twisted, and its proper acknowledgement by members of the Church gives reassurance that we are being dealt with fairly by decent human beings and can move on together – we get similar assurance from the revulsion expressed by Catholics at the abuse of children by some clerics. 
Cameron says we need values: of course we do, and Christianity has much to contribute as have other religions. But the surest way to fail to promote these values is to tie them to a privileged religion. Out of practicality, in a country as diverse as ours and where most people are not religious, values must be based on our common humanity. 
He tries to create a bogey man of a neutral secular society where anything goes, implying that only Christianity will save us. This is cheap: we have a big task ahead building a good society. It will involve upbringing, education, law, and business, and to succeed it must be a society that both cares for its members and makes them responsible active members; a society where life is measured by well-being and community, not just GDP, profit, and markets – it will need us all to contribute. 
And it must be said here that we are not a Christian country: we are a country that belongs to all who live here and where all share equally in deciding its future. 
That brings me to my final, and vital, point: are we not making too much of religious identity? 
Someone's religion does not tell us everything about them – we all have many interests and affiliations that link us. Are we not in danger of using heritages that should enrich us to make boxes that separate us? 
Allan Hayes, director, Leicester Secular Society.


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Protesters leave their city centre base
Protesters from the Occupy Leicester campaign have left the city centre after being evicted from the empty offices they had made their base.
Three members of the group remained at offices above The disused Litten Tree pub, in High Street, when a legal order requiring them to quit the property came into force at midday on Saturday.
They moved in there a week ago having spent five weeks in a tent encampment in High Street protesting against alleged Government corruption and greed. Spud Cabon, 18, from Leicester, said: "We're a bit disappointed because this feels like a defeat and that is not in our nature, but we do intend to come back early in the new year."
The lease to the office is held by Safe Computing Ltd, who applied for the court order.
Safe Computing managing director Sandy Scott said: "There are no hard feelings. I was in the Orange Tree, taking my staff for a drink, and I recognised a couple of them from the court case so I offered to buy them a pint which, eventually they accepted."

Sunday, 25 December 2011


We're in St Thomas the Apostle Parish Church (Glen Parva with South Wigston) this morning for Mass of Christmas Day. We've brought Harry here for the Full Choir Eucharist, starting at 1000, and stay for the service.

I have to admit that this is the first time I've set foot in a church on Christmas Day. We were here yesterday afternoon for Christingle, when there was standing room only and a lot of children. It's not quite like that today but there's still a decent turnout and a good few kids among us.

It was so busy yesterday that I couldn't get a decent view of the Nativity scene at the back of the church, laid out before the Font. It's a lovely piece of work, carved from laburnum wood (there's a more traditional nativity scene in front of the Altar). I particularly like the star!

The service isn't especially Christmassey today; it's very much in the format of the Sung Eucharist that is held every Sunday morning (after all, Christmas Day does fall on a Sunday this year). At the point in the service where we rise from our seats and share the sign of peace with each other, we say "Peace be with you" rather than "Merry Christmas" or something similar, which I'd expected we would do. I wonder for how many people here this will be the only contact they have with others all day. The big difference from a regular Sunday morning service is that today the hymns are all Christmas Carols, so we know the words and the tune and can really belt them out - and I do!

I wanted to be able to include something a wee bit different about the spirit and true meaning of Christmas, something that perhaps I haven't seen anywhere else during this Festive Season. Here's the second reading from the service this morning, from the letter of Paul to Titus (Titus 2: 11-14)
The grace of God has appeared, bringing slavation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present have to live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Grace gets a kick out of hearing here name included in the readings and hymns. She's well aware of the meaning and it never gets old for her.

Saturday, 24 December 2011


To St Thomas the Apostle Parish Church (South Wigston with Glen Parva) this Christmas Eve for Christingle, held in aid of the Children's Society. Many of those attending bring a Christmas present for a deprived child, suitably wrapped, with appropriate gender and age clearly marked on it. these toys will be collected and distributed to children here or abroad by the Salvation Army.

Christingle (which means "Christ's Light") is a tradition dating back some 300 years ago to what is now the Czech Republic. The custom of giving out lighted candles in these services originates from the Moravian Church in Germany in 1747 but they weren’t introduced to the Anglican Church in England until 1968. Christingle can be celebrated any time from Advent in December till up to three weeks after Christmas in January. Christingle celebrations take place in schools, youth groups and churches, with more than half a million kids taking part each year all over the country.

During the singing of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" we are all invited to come to the front of the church and receive a Christingle. We filter down the central aisle, then return to our seats via the two side aisles.The Christingle consists of an orange with a candle protruding from the top of it, a red ribbon around the middle and sweets on cocktail sticks (jelly babies today). Each part of a Christingle stands for something:
  • Orange – the world
  • Candle – Jesus, light of the world
  • Red ribbon – the blood of Jesus, shed for the people of the world
  • Cocktail sticks and sweets – the seasons and all the good things in our world

When everyone has their Christingle, the lights are put out and we sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" with the church lit only by the candles in our oranges (as seen in the photo above). The Vicar gives the blessing then, on the count of three, we blow out our candles and the Christmas tree lights come on.

Friday, 23 December 2011


Official lighting (at 1700) of the public Menorah for Hanukkah in Victoria Park (opposite Mayfield Roundabout). This is hosted by the Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation, with special guest, Deputy Lord Mayor, Cllr Abdul Osman (on the platform on the left of the photo above). The programme states that Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor of Leicester, would be attending, but due to extenuating circumstances, who is unable to do so.

Despite having received an invitation to this open air event each year since I took up my post with Leicester Council of Faiths, this is the first time I've actually been able to attend. Cold or flu or bad weather (or a combination of both) have prevented me from coming along to this before. It's been bucketting down most of the day, but thankfully it stops half an hour or so before the ceremony begins.

This is the last of three community celebrations of Hanukkah to which I've been invited this week. I was correct in thinking that I'd be the only person in Leicester to attend all three of them (having been to the communal indoor lighting in the Town Hall with the Leicester Hebrew Congregation on Tuesday, then the celebration at Teshuvah Messianic Synagogue last night). I wasn't going to let a bit of rain or a few sniffles keep me from setting that personal record. After all, I can't assume I'd be able to do this next year.

There are speeches and songs of course, although they're kept to a minimum, since we're out in the cold and the dark (and at rush hour, the Friday before Christmas in one of the busiest parts of the city for traffic). Then we go back to Neve Shalom on Avenue Road, for a brief Shabbat evening service and refreshments, continuing the celebration of Hanukkah. 

I enjoy the hospitality, informality and spontaneity at Neve Shalom, emphasised this evening in several ways. The seats are arranged in a circle, there's a variety of Menorah on a central table (some homemade, one where the candlesticks take the form of stereotypical Jewish community characters) which the children light. When the table is cleared away after the service, the children play with their dreidels, winning chocolate coins.

The plaque attached to the public Menorah (photo above) contains the following words:
The lights on the Menorah commemorate the miracle of Chanukah. They celebrate religious freedom and the ever growing victory of light over darkness

Below this text, the plaque bears the seal of Leicester City Council. I wonder how many other cities in the UK have a public Menorah - if any. A quick google search proves inconclusive (it's hard to find the right search terms that will yield the answers I'm looking for). This Menorah is a very distinctive feature, especially as it's not in the grounds of one of the city's synagogues, but in such a prominent public place. Arguably, more people will have seen the public Menorah than will know actually what it is, due its busy location and the fact that it isn’t a permanent, fixed feature and is taken down as soon as Hanukah is over. I'd be interested in finding out if there's anything similar to this in other parts of the country.

Just as there are variations in the way that Hanukkah is celebrated, so there are various ways of spelling the name of this special occasion in the Jewish community calendar. In each of these three blog entries, I've spelled it as it appears on the invitation from the respective host community.


This article is published in today's Leicester Mercury:
Protesters face eviction hearing
Members of the Occupy Leicester movement were today facing action in court to remove them from an office in the city.
The Mercury reported on Tuesday how the protesters had moved from their camp near the Clock Tower and entered a disused first-floor office in High Street, owned by Safe Computing.
Safe Computing is seeking repossession of the office and a hearing was due to be held at the County Court this morning.
Safe Computing employs 80 people at its adjacent offices on Freeschool Lane, and acquired the occupied building in October with the intention of developing it in the near future.
The company says the occupied offices form part of the building's fire exit.
Managing director Sandy Scott said: "From a health and safety point of view we had no alternative but to seek repossession of the building.
"It was a bit of a shock when they moved in but their intentions were not malicious.
"We've followed the course of the law, taken advice from the police and solicitors, and left them in peace.
"I just hope they can go home and spend Christmas with their families."
Anthony Farrow, from the group, said: "We have spoken to the landlord, there's no tension between us and we are complying with the law."

Thursday, 22 December 2011


This article, first published in 2006, has been doing the rounds recently, mainly in the Twitterverse. It was written by Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra (in photo above), Chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's Inter Faith Relations Committee. Regular readers of this blog and those who know me personally or professionally will know that my admiration and respect for Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra know no bounds. He is one of the leading lights of inter faith work in this country and farther afield. There can be few people dedicated to fostering good inter faith relations in the UK who have not shared a platform, a microphone or a cup of tea with him. He was a regular and reliable source of advice and guidance to me when I was writing the introductory leaflets on Muslims in my early days working for Leicester Council of Faiths. He is based at Masjid Umar in Evington Road and was a member of our Council of Faiths for several years,but had to resign recently to dedicate his time and effort more to the national (and international) scene. Our paths don't cross often enough these days for my liking and I'm glad to put my blog to good use by giving him a platform for his compassionate, good-humoured, rational and tolerant views. This article has been lifted from the Muslim Council of Britain website
Muslims are not offended by celebrations of other religions 
Muslims regard Judaism and Christianity as divine religions. Islam is a continuation and an extension of those great religions. In order to qualify as a Muslim, one has to believe in Moses (Musa) and Jesus (Isa) along with all the Biblical prophets, peace be upon them. Muslims have to believe in the Torah (Tawrat), the Psalms (Zabur) and the Gospel (Injil) although Muslim scholars do have some issues about the accuracy of a few parts of these scriptures. And although Islam declares that it is the way of life chosen by God for humanity and that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the final messenger of God, and that the Qur'an is the final message, the Qur'an affectionately refers to the followers of these previous scriptures as the People of the Book.
Muslims see these religious communities as cousins not only in faith but in ancestry also, through Abraham, that great pillar of monotheism. Islam encourages invitation (da`wah) to Islam though wisdom and good speech and through constructive and dignified dialogue. Muslims are not allowed to use force or coercion in order to convert others. Islam calls on Muslims to respect all human beings and all religions as they are. Muslims are not allowed to force Islam and its practices upon others in society. They are encouraged to set a good example, show alternatives to lifestyles and to be good role models and to refrain from and to declare their condemnation of all evil in society without inciting hatred for the perpetrators. 
So we Muslims are baffled when we read and hear that Christmas is being `banned' and replaced with something else because the organisers do not want to offend Muslims. Where do they get this idea from? Who told them that? Such actions lead to comments like, `It's those Muslims again. They always have a problem with everything we do. Why don't they just leave and go back to their own country?' A majority of British Muslims were born here. Where do we want them to go? Local authorities, organisations and businesses trying to avoid offending Muslims and trying to be politically correct actually cause more harm to cohesion and understanding. There is a need to stem the tide of such ill-thought-out decisions where ruling bodies try to 'second guess' the attitudes of the communities and seek to defuse conflicts before they have even been felt or arisen. To suggest that calling Christmas with its proper name and that Christmas decorations would offend Muslims is absurd. Why should Christmas not be celebrated openly and wholeheartedly in our country when a vast majority of people identify themselves as Christians. This country owes a lot to Christianity. Its moral values and ethical codes have been moulded by Christian teachings for centuries. In fact the whole planet has benefited from Christian teachings and continues to do so. Muslims would adopt all those values and moral codes without question or hesitation. Even if the Christian communities in our country were a minority, we would want Christmas to be celebrated because ours is a multi faith, multi cultural, pluralist and democratic country.
We have been calling on Christian friends for a long time now to reclaim Christmas from the commercialisation of it. We have been encouraging them to bring back the religious and spiritual richness of Christmas. Last year, a delegation of Christians and Muslims were in Brussels for a conference. For dinner we went to a restaurant in the centre of the city. I was thrilled to see that the nativity scene was re-enacted with life size figurines of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, the wise men, stables, straw and even live sheep! Why have I not seen this in Britain? It would be wonderful to show my children what the very special Jesus means to Christians and to discuss with them what he means to us and to learn the different beliefs we all hold. Merry Christmas to all Christians and whoever else chooses to celebrate it. 
By Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Chairman, Inter Faith Relations Committee, Muslim Council of Britain

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


I've accepted an invitation to celebrate Chanukah this evening at Teshuvah Messianic Synagogue. The invitation has come from Rabbi Dr Yehoshua Scott. He and I have spoken on the phone and exchanged emails over the past few months, but haven't met in person till this evening. That's Rabbi Scott in the photo above, beside the banner that’s put up outside Brice Hall (in Queens Road) whenever the congregation is meeting here.

This is the second of three Chanukah celebrations to which I've been invited this week. I attended the communal indoor lighting in the Town Hall with the Leicester Hebrew Congregation last night and have an invitation to the lighting of the public Menorah in Victoria Park with the Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation on Friday. If I'm able to attend all three, then I reckon I'll be the only person in Leicester to have done so.

I'm greeted at the door by the Rabbi's wife, who seats me beside Vickie Simpson, with whom I chat for the few minutes before the programme starts. I'm pleased to discover that, among other things, Vickie is an artist. Her work can be seen online here.

Rabbi Scott leads us through several songs, in Hebrew and English, accompanied by a small band, comprising a singer, a keyboard player and a violinist. We also see a number of musical video presentations, each one portraying something different about the celebration of Chanukah:

Rabbi Scott reads a learned yet accessible drasha telling the story of the historical event which is commemorated and celebrated annually at Chanukkah, setting it within the wider historical context of its time and place.

A young man named Marcus shares his testimony with us. He reads three poems of his own composition, based on his experiences, each illustrating a different stage of fatherhood (and each an analogy for his changing relationship with God). To tell the truth, normally I don't find it easy to relate to this sort of thing, but I find Marcus's contribution to the evening was genuinely affecting, touching and moving. I think it brave of him to bare his soul before us (and I make a point of telling him that afterwards).

The attendees this evening are quite a mixed bunch, which is reflected in the food and drink on offer: Indian, Indonesian, Thai, as well as more traditional Chanukh fare (e.g. latkes and jam doughnuts).

I meet people this evening who have travelled from as far afield as Birmingham, Cambridgeshire and Coventry. Teshuvah Messianic Synagogue is the only one of its kind in the Midlands. Presently, there are two other Messianic Jewish congregations in England: Adat Yeshuah, in Norwich, Norfolk and Zera Avraham in Coulsdon, Surrey. All three are affiliated to the Union of British Messianic Jewish Congregations.

I enjoyed my warm welcome this evening - I didn't get to leave until 2245! I hope to be able to meet Rabbi Scott and his wife again, get to know more members of the congregation, learn more about their beliefs and learn more from their experiences.

You may well have noticed, faithful reader, that just as there are variations in the way that Chanukah is celebrated, so there are variations in its spelling. In each of these three blog entries, I've spelled it as it appears on the invitation from the respective host community.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


Leicester Town Hall
To the Town Hall this evening, for the annual Chanukah lighting ceremony hosted by Leicester Hebrew Congregation. Clare and I are among the last to arrive. Since the Council Chamber is pretty full, we have to find seats in the balcony. I've never been up there before, but we have a good view of proceedings from our place in the gods.

Council Chamber, Leicester Town Hall (photographed from the public balcony)
The programme is introduced by Tony Nelson, who represents the Leicester Hebrew Congregation on the Council of Faiths (of which he is the current Treasurer and past Vice Chair). Tony mentions two things that stand out most in the past year for the community: the physical attacks on the Rabbi's home, the Synagogue and Communal Hall; and the fact that the Synagogue has been put up for sale (all of which received prominent coverage in the media - and in this blog). He counters the negative tone of the former by crediting the Police and the other faith communities (particularly local Muslims) for their support. As regards the latter, he says that the community has really just been "testing the waters" by promoting the Synagogue for sale. While Tony is careful not to make it sound as if the crisis in their resources that has led to the Synagogue being put up for sale has been solved (he describes the community as being "asset-rich but cash-poor"), he does make it sound as if the sale is not a foregone conclusion. As tentative as this is, still you can feel a sense of relief in the meeting at his words.

Guests of honour on the platform this evening are Jon Ashworth MP and Cllr Robert Wan, Lord Mayor of Leicester. Also present are Deputy Mayor of Leicester Cllr Rory Palmer, City Councillors Susan Barton, Lucy Chaplin, Virginia Cleaver, Inderjit Gugnani, Rashmikant Joshi, Sundip Meghani, Lynn Moore, Barbara Potter, Manjula Sood (who is also, of course, Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths), Malcolm Unsworth and Ross Wilmott. From the county, there's Leader of Leicestershire County Council, David Parsons CC; Chair of Leicestershire County Council, Jackie Dickinson CC; Past Chair of Leicestershire County Council, Peter Osborne CC; Alan Bailey CC.

Jon Ashworth MP offers his greetings, congratulations and best wishes for Chanukah. Then we watch two video clips on the big screen: A Little Light and A Human Menorah.

Next Rabbi Yossi Jacobs. of Singers Hill Synagogue, Birmingham, speaks about Chanukah's message for our world today. Rabbi Jacobs is the youngest ever Chief Minister at Singers Hill - and he's from Glasgow, I'm pleased to note. He suggests dedicating each one of the lights in the eight days of Chanukah as follows:
  1. to God
  2. to parents
  3. to spouses, children, family
  4. to teachers, religious leaders, mentors
  5. to the leaders of the world
  6. to soldiers on the battlefield and their loved ones at home
  7. to everyone gathered in this room and those who work for tolerance
  8. to the children of the world

The children of the community always contribute something lively to the programme. This year it's Chanukah Bingo! They're rewarded for their efforts by receiving Chanukah gelt.

The key moment is, of course, the lighting of the large Menorah which dominates the platform. Rabbi Pink ascends the ladder, bearing the taper lit by the Lord Mayor (who, with a mind on Health and Safety, provides a steadying hand). All the speeches and activities are interspersed with traditional songs, led by Rabbi Pink.

Rabbi Pink lights the Menorah, the ladder supported by Cllr Robert Wan, Lord Mayor of Leicester
Speaking with the Lord Mayor during the reception after the formal programme has ended, I mention that I've taken notes from his speech for the blog. He graciously reaches into his inside jacket pocket and hands me the text of his speech. It's only when I unfold the pages several minutes later and read it that I discover  he's actually given me the text of his speech to the Thurnby Community Association Annual Christmas Dinner Dance. Since there's no date on it, for all I know, it's one he's still got to give - and he's in the process of leaving the building! I can imagine him standing up to give his address there and pulling out the text of his Chanukah speech. Thankfully, I catch up with Joseph, the Lord Mayor's assistant and we swap speeches so we both come away with the right pages. After all that effort, it's only right that I reproduce the Lord Mayor's speech in full:
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen 
I am privileged and delighted to be here with you all this evening for this communal lighting of the Menorah. 
The festivals here in Leicester are one of the city's great glories and I am very proud to represent the people of Leicester at the beginning of this eight day Festival of Lights. 
Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil. As with all religious ceremonies, it is important, as well as enjoying them, to look to the truths they represent.
In a world where there seems to be much that is of the darkness - economic uncertainty, unemployment, war and violence - it is important that light and goodness should be seen to triumph. 
As we celebrate the triumph of good over evil in the defeat of Antiochus and the Rededication of the defiled Temple all those years ago, let us work for the triump of goodness and justice in our world today. 
Hannukah is also celebrated by the Jewish community in other ways. It is a time for giving and receiving of presents, of traditional games and also an occasion for enjoying traditional foods fried in oils. I am certainly looking forward to sampling the traditional doughnuts this evening. 
I would like to thank Rabbi Pink for inviting me to be here this evening and to be part of the festival that commemorates a momentous episode in Jewish history and to remind us that miracles come in all shapes and sizes. 
Thank you.

This is the first of three Chanukah celebrations to which I've been invited this week. I’ve also received invitations to Teshuvah Messianic Synagogue tomorrow evening and to the lighting of the public Menorah in Victoria Park with the Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation on Friday. If I'm able to attend those two, as well as having been here tonight, then I reckon I'll be the only person in Leicester to have done so.

You may well have noticed, faithful reader, that just as there are variations in the way that Chanukah is celebrated, so there are variations in its spelling. In each of these three blog entries, I've spelled it as it appears on the invitation from the respective host community.