May peace be upon you all. This evening we have congregated for the joint Muslim Christian event, held annually at this historic cathedral. It is of significance to note that today, the 2nd February, 40 days after Christmas, is a celebration of Candlemass or Candelaria. This occasion marks an early episode in the life of Jesus. In Christian belief this festival celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth (as Jewish custom required), and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. This is the last festival which brings the Christmas season to a close.
Interestingly on the other edge, the occasion of candlemass has a superstitious side to it. What is it?
The English version of an ancient Scottish rhyme tells us: If Candlemas Day be fair and bright Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, Winter will not come again.
The rhymes mean that if it is nice on Candlemas Day you can expect six more weeks of yucky, winter weather. If it isn’t nice on Candlemas Day, the weather should get nicer. A sort of Catch 22 situation! (http://www.learnenglish.de/culture/candlemass.html)
I wonder if this was of any help to the weatherman when producing the weather forecasts?
In December, 2015 it was a happy coincidence that as our Christian sisters and brothers in Portsmouth, this beautiful city of ours, and across the world were celebrating Christmas, it too was a time of great joy and celebration in the muslim calendar. Just like Christmas (birth of Jesus), mawlid –birth of the Noble Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), is the reason for the season.
The birth of these eminent personalities is a miracle in a world where historically there was little or no hope. Prince of peace and rahmatulil ‘aalamin -mercy for the universe- is how Christians describe Jesus and Muslims the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them).
Beautiful stories from the lives of these eminent personalities- stories of their love and compassion for the needy, of excellence of character, love for the neighbour, caring for the sick and needy, forgiveness of enemies and being a source of reconciliation and peace- making plentifully abound in their lives. Both Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them), they all teach love of God and to be good to your neighbour. They remain an example, a teacher, to all of us in all our walks of life.
Today as Candlemass brings to a close the season celebrating Christmas and having celebrated mawlid, a question we need to ask is: Have our souls been imprinted by these personalities? If yes, then how is our life impacted by their behaviour, their examples and their works?
In January Oxfam, the anti-poverty charity, released a research report titled ‘An Economy for the 1%’. The study found that 62 people own the same wealth as half of the world’s population (3.6 billion). It also reveals a startling fact that we are living in a world where 1% of the people own more wealth than the other 99% combined. This implies that health is concentrated among less than 1% of the people living on earth.
Save the Children revealed that in Britain there are a shocking 1.6 million children living in severe poverty.
Elsewhere Oxfam reports that 1 in 5 of the UK population live below our official poverty line, the UK which is the world’s sixth largest economy.
This means that life is experienced as a daily struggle. Families living in severe poverty often have to choose between heating and eating as they struggle to live on less than £15,000 a year for a household of a couple and 2 children. Obviously this rising inequality in wealth ownership and increasing poverty is dangerous and definitely has severe ramifications on numerous agendas affecting man including peace, governance, happiness and living standards ofthe global citizen.
What then is the message from Jesus, Prince of peace and Muhammad rahmatulil ‘aalamin -mercy for the universe- (peace be upon them)?
These distinguished messengers of God realized the severity of the concentration of wealth in a few, the crisis of poverty and its impact on people. They instilled seeking an honest and fair living and exhorted to be charitable. They treated the poor with mercy and kindness, supported the poor and even lived amongst them.
You and I, as Christians and Muslims, in addition to supporting projects to improve the lives of people living in poverty what more do we need to do?
What needs to be done to tackle the causes of poverty and concentration of wealth in a tiny minority?
Isn’t there need to tackle vested interests leading to this inequality? Public awareness of poverty needs to be raised so as to create pressure for change. Political and Government leaders need to make policies and laws that work for everybody and not just for a tiny, but very powerful minority of billionaires.
This time round this annual gathering marks an important milestone on the journey of our friendship. It is the 21st anniversary of our first meeting in 1994. Friends, we are now 21! This is a landmark birthday. Twenty‐one was once the age of majority. At this age an individual could vote, before it was reduced to 18, way back in 1969. However coming of the 21st, is still the ‘important’ birthday for many people.In many cultures the 21st birthday was considered ‘coming of age’ when one was then considered to be an adult and old enough to have one’s own key to the front door of their parents’ house. It is believed that the meaning of the key is that the birthday boy or girl is now a senior
member of the household and given a key to the house.
What does this 21st birthday or the ‘key of the door’ mean to you? To me it means that our relationship, this interfaith friendship involving different people from the two faiths; Christianity and Islam, has grown, matured and become an adult. Just as the ‘key of the door’ was a tradition denoting that the ‘child’ was now old enough to come and go as they pleased, we –the children of Abraham- who dwell in our huge home, the Abrahamic faiths, have handed each other the keys of trust, respect, openness and communication.
What doors do these keys open?
These keys have enabled us to break down barriers. We come and go about comfortably discussing ‘supposedly awkward issues.’ This is truly a blessed gift for our communities. Subhaanallah – Glory to God.
The thought I ask for tonight is: What shape does our life take by coming together?
Together we show love. Love that, though our faiths separate us and our practices are different, the enduring human spirit that is in each of us remains a ray of hope in the chaos of busyness.
Together we show humility. Humility to each other and others that ourcommunities can co-exist as His servants doing His work in His presence.
Together we show gratitude. Gratitude that, through Prophet Isa (Jesus) who unites us we celebrate our work for our communities.
Together we choose service. Service to others, so that they may be helped Together we choose courage. Courage to show our differing faith as a means of transforming the society we live.
And yet, there is much still to do out there; both, within our communities and in the wider society. There is of course still much to be done to improve relationships locally and in the wider world between our two faiths.
Against the background of the November 2015 Beirut and Paris attacks, the inflammatory remarks by an American presidential candidate and the rising islamophobic acts in U.K. such as placing a pigs head at the entrance to Muslim school or recent threats by Britain First, an anti-Islam group, warning the country was heading towards “civil war” with British Muslims, is it not important to reach out and build bridges between communities?
For me as a muslim, a theme that is quite recurring in the noble Qur’an is the theme of encountering the other, meeting the other. As stewards of God, we Muslims have a calling to constantly be in dialogue with people around us; whether of faith or no faith.
Let us learn from one another and remove misconceptions. We must not allow hate to creep into our hearts. We need to be resilient and not allow seeds of division to be sown. We need to find our way to building a truly united community, to living with our neighbours with compassion and delighting in our differences, and rejoicing in our common values and our common humanity.
Muslims, Christians, people of other faiths and of no faith, and people of all backgrounds must come together and show unity and solidarity and not let our communities be divided. We all carry within ourselves the power to transform our communities, and when we come together, something truly magical can happen!
I sincerely hope and pray that we continue to attain greater heights as we continue to serve in God’s Holy name in our communities.
Almighty God the Most Beneficent, this evening we have come together as friends. We thank you for this gift of friendship. Alhamdulilah. We ask you by Your Hallowed Name, to bless us with Your Grace so that we may continue to remain as friends and as we meet with others in the community we share this gift of friendship so that we may draw closer to you our beloved Creator, the Lord of the Universe, the Lord of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. (peace be upon them).
On behalf of Shia Ithna Asheri Muslim Community of Wessex, the muslims in Portsmouth and on my own behalf, I offer heartiest felicitations, greetings and best wishes to all our Christian brethren and a prosperous Year 2016 !
Sheikh Fazle Abbas Datoo