Monday, 10 June 2013


Some of the group at the Islam Information Centre this evening
The Faith Awareness series of summer visits to places of worship and other faith-related sites in Leicester continues this evening at the Islam Information Centre, Highfield Street. As well being contracted to work 20 hours a week for Leicester Council of Faiths, I now do a day and a half a week with Faith Awareness, the inter-faith programme of Christians Aware.

I was last here less than a week ago, helping out with a group of Year 5 pupils from Sandfield Close Primary on a visit arranged in association with The Mighty Creatives. The children had cameras, digital voice recorders and all kinds of art materials, to capture their experiences and impressions visiting not only here, but also the Jain Centre, Leicester Cathedral and BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir. Back in the classroom they'll be producing material for a display entitled "Faith in Neighbours" that will be on show in Curve during An Indian Summer later this month.

I'm glad to say that we have the biggest turnout so far for these Monday evening visits, with an even dozen of us at the start. Had any more arrived, the group would have had to be renamed "Christians Galore"!

Each of the three floors in the Centre has themed rooms. The ground floor and reception area is "Discover Islam". On the first floor are two rooms, "Status of Women" and "Islamic World of Science". In the last of these, we watch a short DVD feature, Library of Secrets, starring Sir Ben Kingsley, which reveals some of the contributions that Islam has made to some of the most essential aspects of the modern world. We're introduced to illustrious figures from the Golden Age of Muslim civilization (roughly coinciding with what is still called the Dark Ages in European history) who pushed back the frontiers of theory and practice in matters such as
This is very well made, à la Harry Potter: accessible, enjoyable and interesting for children and adults alike.

I remember when I first heard about characters such as these and their achievements, the glories of the Golden Age of Muslim civilization and how much that magnificent culture has bequeathed to our modern world. That was in 1979, when I was 19 years old. I was astonished at what I learned then and questioned why I hadn't known any of this before. How could I have gone through a liberal educational process, the finest that the Scottish system - long the envy of much of the rest of the world - had to offer, yet been taught nothing about this? Did my teachers even know about these things? Did those who had taught them? I felt like I uncovered these hidden truths, which are now gaining ground as common knowledge, through the writings of William Sears and George Townshend, little known apologists for what was a little known faith in my late teenage years. Sometimes it felt like being a detective or lifting the lid on a conspiracy theory as I found out more and more. It's good that institutions such as the Islam Information Centre exist today to redress the balance and close some of these yawning gaps in our knowledge.

Kamran Qayyuam & Abu Bakar
Kamran Qayyum and Abu Bakar are our guides through the rooms. They're supported by Daud Sameja (Joint Coordinator of the Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group), who gives a short introductory talk and fields the Q&A at the end. In the photo above, Kamran and Abu are seen with a display of copies of the Qur’án in different languages. To the left of the picture are translations of the Qur’án in Albanian, Chinese, French and German; to the right, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil and Urdu translations. This in "The Noble Qur’án" room, one of the two themed rooms on the top floor. The other is dedicated to a display on "The Prophets of God (Peace Be Upon Them)".

After we've toured the themed rooms, we return to the reception area, where some food is laid on for us. We end with a relaxed Q&A and I present Kamran with a copy of Meeting Muslims, the latest in a series of books on encounters with people of different faiths published by Christians Aware. I checked beforehand that they didn't already have a copy of this. They didn't, surprisingly, since it was done with the help of several friends in Leicester (including Daud) and is published by an inter-faith organization based a mere stone's throw away. I'm glad to be able to rectify that omission this evening.

I get the remaining members of the group to pose for a photo at the front of the building. As we're leaving, I encourage our Muslim friends to join us on the visit to Neve Shalom - Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation's synagogue - next Monday evening. I hope that some of them will be able to take us up on the offer.

This is the fourth of six Faith Awareness visits planned for Monday evenings in May and June, the others being

I may not be ale to attend every visit personally, but I hope to arrange for a blog post on each of them. Watch this space!

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