Multifaith Celebration 2019 – Human Rights and Interfaith Harmony

The annual commemoration of Gandhi Ji’s assassination took place this year on 9th February as part of Interfaith Harmony Week and also to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the 150th anniversary of Gandhi Ji’s birth year. The evening was organised by Saara Majid on behalf of the Gandhi Foundation who also performed with Sacred Sounds. The setting was the beautiful Unitarian Church in Golders Green. The church has been lovingly maintained with many original features, such as a beautiful painted pastoral scene depicting a deer park which had been created especially for the space, as had the organ, nestled neatly in an alcove beside. This formed the backdrop to a rich offering of prayers, thoughts and music from many traditions which was enjoyed by a large audience of all ages and backgrounds.

The evening began with the familiar chanting of Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo, by Reverend Nagase from the London Peace Pagoda who was accompanied by Sister Marutasan, the nun in charge of Milton Keynes’ Peace Pagoda.

There followed an address by Rev Feargus O’Connor, Minister in charge of Golders Green Unitarian Church, who spoke on ‘The Golden Rule, Compassion and World Religions’.  Drawing on The Charter for Compassion Rev O’Connor described how the principle of compassion is the Golden Rule that lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, ‘calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves’. As the Charter states, “Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect”. This ethic inspired spiritual teachers from all faiths, such as Confucius, Buddha, Rabbi Hillel, St Francis of Assisi, the Sikh gurus and many others. Rev O’Connor then went on to quote from a selection, including Gandhi Ji: “Our innermost prayer should be that a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian. I broaden my Hinduism by loving other religions than my own … All religions are true”. This sentiment is echoed by HH Dalai Lama: “My fundamental belief is that all religious traditions have the same potential to make better human beings, good human beings, sensible human beings, compassionate human beings”. Rev O’Connor concluded by hoping that each of us “pledge ourselves to … build that ideal human commonwealth which alone can bring about the happiness and wellbeing of all”.

2nd Left – Rev Feargus O’Connor (Golders Green Unitarians), 3rd L – Mark Hoda (Chair, Gandhi Foundation), Far Right – Saara Majid with members of Sacred Sounds

There followed a series of beautiful musical and poetical offerings, including a Hebrew Prayer, ‘Ma Na’vu, al heharim’; a Medieval Christian Hymn, ‘Balulalow’; a Bosnian Sufi Blessing, ‘Salla Aleijke’, and a selection of poems by Dennis Evans, a member of the Church and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. They offered deceptively light hearted, closely observed vignettes of everyday life:

Bubbles for Peace

There were Reverends and Rockers

Housewives and children.

There were old friends and new friends,

Politicians, policemen.

There were Christians and Muslims,

Communists and Buddhists.

And banners, such banners,

Banners for peace.

There were dancers and drummers,

And children in pushchairs.

There were priests and our poets,

And grannies in wheelchairs.

There were students and stilt walkers,

And a brave paraplegic.

And a many with his toy gun,

Lit by his laughter,

Blowing bubbles, such bubbles.

Bubbles for Peace .

London Peace March, 15 February 2003.

After a short tea break which gave time for people to mix and chat, there was an address on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018.  This was concluded by an appeal on behalf of Medical Aid for Palestinians towards which all proceeds from the evening were donated. There followed a beautiful 13th century Iranian song, ‘Bani Adam or Sons of Adam’ by Saadi which described all our lives as limbs of the same body. Mark Hoda, Chair of the Gandhi Foundation, spoke on Gandhi Ji’s emphasis on duty rather than ‘rights’.  This was echoed by Saara Majid who reflected on how each of us can help make the standard of universal human rights a reality in society, by quoting from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.  Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works.  Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.  Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.  Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Beautiful renditions of Bikhodee, ‘Without Self’ by Rumi, Gandhi Ji’s Salt March song, ‘Ragupati raghava …’ and ‘Bread & Roses’, a protest song from the American Women’s Movement (1912), brought to an end an evening celebrating the richness and diversity of our common humanity.

Jane Sill

Categories: Uncategorized


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