Inter Faith Week and A Year of Service speech

This is a speech delivered by Faith Minister Baroness Warsi on interfaith action and identity.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Baroness Warsi


It’s great to be here today.

And I want to thank you all for coming to this a wonderful event, marking both Inter Faith Week and A Year of Service.

Thanks also to the Faith-based Regeneration Network, Mitzvah Day, the Co-exist Foundation and others for their help in making the event a reality.

Of course, for the people here, it’s Inter Faith Week every week and it’s A Year of Service every year.

Because day in, day out, you are giving your time, your energy, your hearts and your souls to making your communities better.

United by faith and driven by faith - whichever faith that may be.

Like the Sikh-run Nishkam Centre in Birmingham, which provides a whole range of training and educational opportunities for local people.

Like Sewa Day, which inspires Hindus across the country to acts of service.

And like the St Vincent de Paul Society, which provides gifts and hospitality to the needy in the run-up to Christmas.

These projects and many more prove that faith motivates good works.

And today you have a government that doesn’t deny that fact.

You have a government that supports, celebrates and - in my case - shares that motivation. A government that does God.

Because we know that people who ‘do God’ do good things up and down the country every single day.

Surveys show people of religious observance are more likely to become volunteers.

And we see that fact in the 30,000 faith-based charities making a difference throughout Britain.

Interfaith action

Apparently, the interfaith movement officially started in 1893 with the ‘World’s Parliament of Religions’.

Some of the world’s major religions came together in Chicago for serious discussions.

Nowadays I don’t think they would have a parliament; they’d have a day of social action.

Because today interfaith dialogue has become much more about interfaith action.

I always argued that interfaith shouldn’t just be tea in a draughty church hall or a samosa in the local mosque between the imam and the vicar.

It shouldn’t just be clergy to clergy: it should be congregation to congregation.

That is why I helped get a programme called Active Faith off the ground - which, of course, became Near Neighbours.

And the wonderful projects we see here today are just a small selection of the 300 local projects that have been supported so far.

Producing projects like the Departure Café, a drop-in centre and community hub for Tower Hamlets, which I hope to visit soon.

The idea of local congregations coming together to ‘do their bit’ underpin our support for the A Year of Service.

I’m sure you’ll agree - there can be no better way of marking Her Majesty the Queen’s many years of service to our country.

The Year of Service has produced some fantastic projects, like the wonderful Mitzvah Mummies, who I went to see yesterday.

Mothers and their toddlers, meeting, talking to and sharing moments with residents of a retirement home.

Integenerational interaction - such a simple idea and so effective.

As Minister for Faith and Communities, every day I see the power and the potential of interfaith action.

Take last Thursday as an example:

I had a catch-up with the Chief Rabbi… A meeting with Christian groups… An introduction with the Buddhist Network… A speech at my department’s Eid event… And a House of Lords debate on the importance of religion in society.

And the common thread running through these events wasn’t the fact these people observed a faith. It was that they were inspired to do good things as a result of their belief.

That is why I’m so proud that we have so many local and national 300 inter faith organisations in the UK - more than any other country.

It’s why I’m so proud that 3 Faiths Forum, the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, the Christian-Muslim Forum are leading the way in the country.

And it’s why I am so heartened to see the launch this week of advice to couples and families on interfaith marriages.

Stronger identities

I’ve always had my own theory on inter faith.

It’s that if you are stronger in your identity then you are more tolerant of others.

Those who don’t associate with people of other beliefs because they think it somehow weakens theirs - they have got it the wrong way round.

Because if you’re a person who unites with people of other faiths for a common goal - it doesn’t make you less of a Muslim, less of a Hindu, less of a Jew - it makes you more of one.

In fact, there is no more powerful demonstration of one’s security in one’s identity.

That’s why I went to the Vatican earlier this year and argued that Europe should be stronger in its Christian identity.

The Christian heritage of Britain is what has made me feel comfortable here in practising my faith.

Sending my daughter to an Anglican convent school made her feel stronger in her identity. When she would swap ‘Amen’ for ‘Ameen’ during the Lord’s Prayer.

The future

Britain leads the world in its interfaith ethos. But I think we can build on the progress we’ve made since that conference in American back in 1893.

I think that if we - people of all faiths and none - pull together, we can defeat the intolerance and bigotry faced by people of faith.

As I’ve said before, an attack on a mosque is an attack on a church; an attack on a gudwara is an attack on a synagogue.

In other words, an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths. So let’s be inspired by the story of Siavosh Derakhi, who has recently been recognised for founding Young Muslims Against Anti-Semitism.

Let’s be inspired by the words of President Obama, following the release of the abhorrent, gratuitously offensive ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film.

When he said: “to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shia pilgrims.”

Let’s be inspired by all the good things that are done and can be done in the name of faith.

And on the subject of inspiration I want to present this beautiful piece of artwork. Doctor Fox, I know you’re accepting this on behalf of the Evelina Hospital, so thank you, and also to the extremely talented artist Sam Cowan.

I’m off to see some more fantastic artwork now as I go and award the winner of the Faith Through a Lens competition.

So let me once again thank you for coming today and thank you for all you do.

Published 27 November 2012