Last year, in the midst of a national referendum so divisive it sowed tension even between family members, one of my countrywomen was stabbed, shot and kicked to death in the street by a man who held different political views to her, who cried “This is for Britain”.
The appalling murder of Jo Cox, the Member of Parliament who in her maiden speech declared “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us,” was a moment that, for many, called British society to account for how divided it had become. It heightened an urgent need to re-examine our assumptions, reach out to one another and work to heal the divisions and inequality silently growing between us. Yet, despite the fact that a life was taken in its wake, the fierce political debate continued with its accusations, insults and intrigue.
Two weeks ago my country was reminded that no security measure can protect a society from hate. 22 people were murdered in Manchester, a fantastically diverse city I had the privilege to live and study in, where I met a Muslim for the first time and we became lifelong friends. As the actions of counter-terrorism officials were scrutinised on TV, I wished that our media would, instead of demanding more surveillance, call for a greater outpouring of love. For the material resources of a country to protect its citizens are limited, and can be overcome by brute force or human ingenuity. But the transformative powers of love and unity are infinite - the more we draw on them, the more powerful and pervasive they become.
So, how can we build bridges? On what basis can we move past the outdated notions of power and identity upon which our rapidly declining social order is built? The writings of my faith - the Baha’i Faith - affirm that the oneness of humanity is the guiding principle upon which a peaceful and united society must be founded. “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” said Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, warning that “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”
For me, belief in the oneness of humanity provides a framework and a starting point for peace and community-building. When we consider ‘human’ to be our primary identity, the identity that comes before any other aspect of who we are, we have a shared foundation upon which to build unity, and we are empowered to effect change wherever we are through acts of kindness for our fellow human beings. When our leaders and communities are conscious of this oneness, their vision expands to encompass the whole world and they make decisions that promote the wellbeing of all.
Next week, people all over the UK will draw on this principle of oneness as they hold more than 100,000 ‘get-togethers’ to promote friendship and community - acts of love offered on the anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox who said, as she lay dying, trying to protect those around her from her killer, “Let him hurt me, don’t let him hurt you.”
And it is on the basis of this same principle that during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslim communities are opening their arms to their neighbours - just a few days ago my brother and his wife (who live in Manchester) attended a special interfaith Ramadan event honouring the doctors, taxi drivers, hotel and restaurant owners who so selflessly gave their services in the aftermath of the attacks on 22nd of May.
‘Tolerance’ is a word we hear so often in these turbulent times. But to ‘tolerate’ differences implies that diversity is an unpleasant thing to be endured. And how can passive acceptance of others ever be enough to build unity? The teachings of religion call upon us to go beyond this, to actively love and care for one another, to see the beauty in our diversity, understanding that we are one family. His Holiness Muhammad said, in words that echo the essence of every religion "That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind."
Let this Ramadan be a time for remembering those sacred words, uttered in a time when, under the holy discipline of Islam, the warring tribes of Arabia were united and forged a civilisation that brought enlightenment to the East and West. Now once again, we find ourselves called upon to become united, but this time as global citizens of one planet. The task is formidable, seemingly impossible, and yet it is the only way forward. How beautiful, how enlightened, could our world become if we achieve it? How wonderful would it be to know that we, in some small way, had contributed towards this goal?
Rosanna Smith's reflection comes to the Parliament of the World's Religions as part of the 2017 Interfaith Ramadan series, empowering interfaith allies, Muslim and those of other spiritual and religious backgrounds from around the world, to share their stories of service, community and gratitude during the month of Ramadan. Please contact the Parliament at [email protected], or tag us at #RamadanPoWR to share your own story.