London Jewish community hosts Iftar for Muslims World

By Murtaza Ali Shah

LONDON: A synagogue in the heart of a diverse East London borough opened its doors to Muslims to break their fast with Jews and members of others faiths including Sikhs, Christians and others.

This  was the first ever Iftar dinner arranged by Woodford United Synagogue, attended by leading local and national Jewish leadership who served food for local Muslims. 

The event included workshops on tackling hate crime, opportunities for local residents to get to know each other and speeches from members of the local community. There was also a delicious meal to break the fast under one roof. At the end of the event guests were encouraged to consider how they could continue to promote tolerance and partnership across their community.

Rabbi Wollenberg, who organised the event with his family said: “The event was a huge success, with Muslims and Jews coming together to learn about each other’s faiths and perspectives. For many Muslims, it was their first time in a Synagogue and for many of the Jewish guests it was their first time at an iftar!”

There were also talks from a range of speakers, including Dr Mohammed Fahim, Head Iman at South Woodford Mosque and Susan Pollack MBE – an Auschwitz survivor who has gone on to campaign for solidarity between people of different faiths. 

Also speaking at the event was Khatira Kazemi, a 15-year-old local resident who is a member of Redbridge’s Youth Council. Her message was that the only way to break down barriers is to work together and get to know one another.

Harris Bokhari, co founder of the Naz Legacy Foundation and organiser of the first inter faith Iftari with the Chief Rabbi at St John’s Wood synagogue, which resulted in a number of synagogues across London hosting their own Iftaris appreciated the synagogue for arranging their Iftar said its important for Muslims and Jews to work together to deal with common challenges. 

Harris Bokhari said that “the same extreme elements of society who are promoting anti-Semitism in the UK are the same elements who are also Islamophobic. We need to call out all forms of prejudice and racism in society and it is important we speak out against anti-Semitism in the same way we have to speak out against Islamophobia”.

Bokhari, who is one the leading British Muslim voices in the fight against anti-Semitism, has brought British Muslim and Jewish communities together over the last 20 years, organising many of his recent events with the Chief Rabbi of the UK including the historic St Paul’s Cathedral iftar earlier this Ramazan.

Bokhari added “we have to speak out against the anti-Semitism in the Muslim communities and Islamophobia in the Jewish communities, as well as educating society as a whole against these forms of hate. Ramazan is the prefect time to bring our different faith and non faith communities together to show we have more in common and speak out against hate of all kinds.”

Official data from the Home Office has shown a surge in hate crime directed at people in England and Wales because of their religious beliefs. With over 50% of these religious hate crimes aimed at Muslims.

This is also the third successive year with a record number of anti-Semitimic incidents reported by the Community Security Trust, which has monitored anti-Semitism for 35 years and provides security to the UK Jewish community.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan says opportunities exist for Pakistan despite challenges

By Murtaza Ali Shah

LONDON: London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Friday that Pakistan faces major challenges like many other Islamic countries, but there are opportunities and hopes of improvement and progress through correct policies. 

In an interview with Geo here at the St Pauls’ Cathedral, London Mayor Sadiq Khan commented that the month of Ramzan teaches compassion and charity for others and this message can be utilised to alleviate common people who face hardships. 

One of the world’s most iconic places of worship, St Pauls’ Cathedral hosted its first ever iftar for Muslims and also invited members of other faiths to open fast with Muslims. The Naz Legacy Foundation together with St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London Corporation had organised the interfaith iftar. 

The Bishop of London Rt Rev Sarah Mullally welcomed the guests. 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said when he was fasting in his youth days, his friends used to ask him how he could survive without drinking water but now greater awareness exists about Ramzan. He said: “We should redouble our efforts in Ramzan to make sure we end inequalities. It’s important we remain optimistic.”

He added: “There is no place like London in this world. It’s the city that got a Muslim elected as its mayor. It brings together everyone irrespective of their creed, colour and ideology. The iftar at this iconic place is a demonstration of London’s togetherness and greatness. I am proud that we are celebrating our diversity.” 

For the past four years, Harris Bokhari, co-founder of the Naz Legacy Foundation, has used his close friendships with some of the UK’s leading faith leaders, including the Church of England, to organise ground breaking iftars in the some of the most important places of worship in London; including Lambeth Palace, Archbishop’s House and St John Wood’s Synagogue. 

The Bishop of London said: “What this has demonstrated is that everyone is welcome – people of all faiths and no faith – because that’s London. There is no more important time than now for people of all backgrounds to come together to rejoice at what we have in common, but also celebrate our differences. It is the powerful combination of diversity and unity that helps us thrive and benefit one another.”

The Bishop of London and London Mayor Sadiq Khan both gave speeches at the event and afterwards met young people to hear the challenges they are facing in London and how they think their political and faith leaders can tackle these problems. After opening fast with dates and water under the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the young people, together with members of the City of London Corporation shared a meal together at the Guildhall. 

Speaking to Geo News, Bokhari said: “Sharing food together is one of the greatest ways to bring people of different backgrounds together. From a young age I have always enjoyed kosher salt beef sandwiches and latkes from Blooms or Reubens, iconic London eateries, and more recently the mouthwatering vegetarian food from Shayonas, Neasden Temple. Bringing young people of different faiths together to share iftar together this Ramadan again shows the beauty of food, and the role it plays in bringing our diverse communities together.”

Following the initial celebration in St Paul’s, the group moved to join the Chief Rabbi and enjoyed an iftar meal in the nearby Guildhall.

During the event, the young attendees discussed ways to celebrate diversity and bring communities together. They spoke of the importance of understanding other people’s traditions, and the sense of empowerment brought about by attending such a gathering in St Paul’s.

School children visit NZ High Commissioner in London, offer condolences over Christchurch attacks

By Murtaza Ali Shah

LONDON: British Muslims led by Imam Mohamed Mahmoud including dozens of school children from all faiths paid a visit to the New Zealand High Commissioner to give their condolences in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks last month.

The visit included a minute silence, presentations of flowers and the reading of the names of all the young people who were killed in the mosques during Friday prayers in Christchurch. The attack, which sent shockwaves throughout the Muslim world, brought widespread condemnation from a variety of UK faith and political leaders.

After a private meeting with the New Zealand High Commissioner Imam Mahmoud said, “After visiting the victims and survivors of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, I was overcome by the dignity and patience with which they conducted themselves in the aftermath. I was also impressed with the manner in which the New Zealand government and officials responded – deciding to further embrace their Muslim community and not letting division and hatred win.”

The visit organised by Naz Legacy Foundation follows from their interfaith faith event with the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury held at the Regent Park Mosque’s Islamic Cultural Centre two days after the attack. They were joined by over 250 leading faith and civil society leaders as well the Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire who both reiterated the government’s support for the British Muslim community, and security funding for mosques across the country.

Speaking to The News, Harris Bokhari the organiser of the visit and event said that the memorial served as a “message to the terrorist who sought to sow division in society and spread fear that he has failed; as that which unites us is far greater than what divides.”

This vigil and event was not the first of its kind orchestrated by Bokhari who is one of UK’s leading grassroots experts in Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). He has in the past brought together politicians and faith leaders to unite British communities after attacks, most notably Nick Clegg the then Deputy Prime Minister in 2013 following the tragic murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

Bokhari organised the Woolwich interfaith event following the attack with the former Deputy Prime Minister, who cited verse 32 chapter fice the Koran, which says, “If anyone kills a human being it shall be as though he killed all mankind whereas if anyone saves a life it shall be as though he saved the whole of mankind.”

Bokhari’s efforts in CVE were recognised by the US Embassy in 2017, in which he was one of only seven people and only British born Muslim, including Home Office officials and de-radicalism experts, selected to attend their International Visitor Leadership Programme on CVE.

Bokhari said, “It is important each one of us take an active role, in bringing together our communities, speak and act out against the hate and highlight that we have more in common.”

Record number of Muslims recognised by the Queen in New Year’s Honours list 

By Murtaza Ali Shah

LONDON: A record number of Muslims have been recognised by the Queen in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list including some of the highest numbers from Pakistani heritage in recent times.  

Thirty-five Muslims were awarded an honour in this round, the highest number ever, with 12 percent of those being honoured coming from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. This New Year’s list shows the government’s diversity drive in the honours system has started to work.   

Aamer Naeem, CEO of Penny Appeal, a UK-based humanitarian organisation, was awarded an OBE for his work in the charity sector, and specifically his efforts in developing the British Muslim community. 

His tireless efforts in growing the charity from a £400k a year operation to one that brings in over £20m within five years was rightly recognised by this award in the honours recitation.  

Nasar Mahmood, the chair of the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester, also received an OBE for the many years of work he has dedicated to fostering peaceful community relations. Local interfaith and other community initiatives run by Mahmood led to his successful nomination.  

British Muslim women of Pakistani heritage were also recognised. Jamila Kosser, also from the north of England, was awarded an MBE for the volunteer work she does with the homeless community. 

The recognition of so many from minority backgrounds can be seen as part of an initiative to increase diversity in the UK honours system, typified by the work of Harris Bokhari, an independent member of the honours committee at the Cabinet Office.   

Speaking to The News & Geo, Bokhari said: “The rightful recognition of minority communities in the recent honours list, is no more than they deserve. The government now sets out very clear guidelines, on how to nominate someone for an honour, and it is a simple online process”.

Tales from the frontline: Harris Bokhari OBE

Harris Bokhari OBE knows the value of mentoring, having seen how his father inspired people from minority communities. As a national advisory board member of Mosaic, he is continuing a family tradition
Caption: Photography: Julian Anderson 

Original article published on 8 January 2018 in the Economia

There are too many young people in the UK that don’t have the same opportunity as many in their peer group. This could be because of their socio-economic background, the colour of their skin, or their sexuality. 

Mosaic was founded by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in 2007. It’s one of his key mentoring programmes now housed under the Prince’s Trust. With the help of our voluntary mentors, we aim to be the bridge between aspiration and attainment. We link young people with inspirational role models and try to boost their confidence and their long-term employability. 

Right now, there is nothing more important. I’m involved because of my late father. He was the first Asian Muslim head teacher in the UK and he had a great role in helping support a lot of minority communities that came to the UK. When my father was a head teacher in the early 1980s, there were still posters that would say “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish”. This was at a point when a lot of ethnic minority children’s fathers worked in low-level jobs. So when he got into a powerful position it really inspired them and enabled them to understand they could achieve anything. 

One of the many young people my father inspired is the now mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. He was very gracious, and in his winning speech he talked of how my father was a mentor and an inspiration because he showed him that despite the colour of his skin he could achieve anything. My father was involved in Mosaic and after he passed away it was one of the many charities he supported that I wanted to continue helping.  

One of the most difficult challenges is trying to improve our work and to reach out to more individuals. There is a growing need: unfortunately deprived communities are increasing and young people are facing more difficulties. There is always a case for us wanting to do more. 

In the charitable sector, the generous support we get from donors and volunteer mentors is fantastic. We wish we could expand our work and have a greater impact, but we need the resources 
to do be able to do that. 

The young people we work with face multiple challenges – some may become homeless during our mentoring, or face mental health issues, and there are the basic issues of not being able to afford a good meal during the day or even having the money to travel from one place to another. We always need to be aware of these issues and think ahead of each young person’s needs.

I’m an optimist by nature, and I think you have to be in the charitable sector. I always want to see the best for the young people we work for. I not only want to see each one be able to reach their potential but go beyond it. As a country, as an economy, and within the charity sector, I think we have no choice but to be positive in terms of the road ahead. I think we need to focus and understand that there will be challenges, but there will also be fantastic opportunities. 

The one thing that Brexit has done (that I’ve noticed in this particular sector) is that it has highlighted the divisions this country has always had. If that’s to do with relationships with deprived communities, or the lack of community integration in some areas of the country, at least we have become more aware of the reality of these challenges. The charity sector will have to step up. 
The internet and social media are extremely important to the lives of young people today, so charities are looking at clever ways of engaging with these communities that don’t necessarily require the same amount of resources as before.  

We’ve got some great innovators and some great thought leaders in the sector. The Prince’s Trust under the leadership of Dame Martina Milburn has already launched its e-mentoring programme online, an example of how charities are innovating and proving that we will take on challenges, maximise the opportunities and more importantly work towards ensuring our work is no longer required for future generations. 

In the business world we know disruptive technology is changing the way business is done globally. There is no doubt technology will always enhance the work of business and enhance the work of charities, but I think it is far off in terms of solving the problems.

You can find out more about the Mosaic Network here