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An unusual Christmas event: countering disintegration through religious unity

At a time when disintegration and division are spreading rapidly throughout Britain, an event
held on 16 December, organized by the League of British Muslims (LBM), at the Ilford
Community Centre in Essex, brought people from all walks of life to celebrate Christmas,
together with Chanukah, Diwali and Eid ul Fitr.

LBM aims to strengthen Muslim and non-Muslim voluntary and community organisations,
improve inter-faith understanding and tolerance, and help develop local and national policies
that impinge directly on the lives of British Muslims. Every year, the organization holds an
annual event to celebrate unity among religions.

This year’s event was attended by religious leaders, councilors, MPs, members of the Armed
Forces, representatives of local and international non-governmental organisations and
community leaders.

Welcoming the audience, Bashir Chaudhry, Chairperson of LBM, said that the Ilford
community centre is transformed into a Mosque on Fridays and often a church on Sundays
and a place that is “open to everyone”.

Speaking against the backdrop of a development earlier in the day, when more than 140
Pakistan children were killed by the Taliban, he said: “We are all concerned about
radicalization and violence. Recent events in Kenya, Canada and Australia, just yesterday,
show this to be a truly international issue.

“We need everyone to play a role. We need to develop a robust counter-narrative to thwart
the arguments of the radicals; and there needs to be more grounded research done into
pathways and prevention strategies – research that can best be conducted by Muslims
themselves and not academics, sitting in University ivory towers. It must be the responsibility
of all of us to work together to find a solution.

“The whole community has a responsibility to guard against extremism.”
Mr. Bashir Chaudhy also highlighted the services the centre provides, including a community
kitchen which offers food to the needy.
In his address, Syed Lakth-e-Hassanian, Chair of Muslim Hands, a leading international
development and disaster relief charity, said: “This event has brought together people from
all communities. It is difficult to bring people together, but the League has succeeded in
doing so.”

He said: “This is a very difficult time for Muslims all over the world. The word “Islam” means
peace. The Holy Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) focus on mercy and
respect, not terrorism.”

He went on to point out that diaspora communities were playing a major role in the wellbeing
of Britain. He said: “Muslim Hands is based in Britain. From here, we are improving the
lives of people in over 50 countries.”
Julian Brazier MP, Minister of Defence, spoke of a view “out there” that religion was the
cause of all troubles. On the contrary, he said: “Religion offers the opposite – to bring out the
best in us.”

Speaking about what Islam has done for the world today, Mr Brazier said: “My own two sons
would not have been alive for if not for the brilliance of an Islamic physician.”
Pointing out to representatives of the armed forces present at the occasion, he reminded the
audience that during mid-December in 1914, before the start of the First World War, the first
28,000 troops from now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, had already arrived in France “to
fight for the Crown”. During the Second World War, “the Indian sub-continent produced the
largest volunteer force this planet had ever seen to fight oppression”, he said.
Ilford South MP Mike Gapes praised the role immigrants had played in shaping the borough.
“Ilford was a very boring place when I grew up 60 years ago. There was a Wimpy Bar and an
Italian, that’s all,” he added.

The Right Reverend Peter Hill, Bishop of Barking, said: “This is impressive. This event is at
the top of the pile. We all have our pasts to regret and repent. The richness of our
differences brings us together.”
Miss Fatima Jamila Anwar, Head of Development at CARE Pakistan, spoke of the
thousands of empty schools in the country, and of the charity’s role in revitalising them to
bring education to all children.

Other speakers included: the Deputy Mayor of Redbridge Cllr Linda Huggett and the Mayor
of Barking and Dagenham Cllr Elizabeth Kangethe.
Rabbi David Hulbert, of the Bet Tikvah Synagogue, Newbury Park, said a prayer and lit a
candle for Chanukah and sang a Chunukah rendering of the 12 Days of Christmas.

(By Maqsood Ahmed OBE Director of Community Development Muslim Hands International)

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Photo credit Hamed Al-Raisi (used under Creative Commons license)