Qari Asim and David Kibble: How faith communities can help reconcile Brexit divisions

The Brexit referendum revealed a divided nation (Photo: ISABEL INFANTES/AFP/Getty Images)
The Brexit referendum revealed a divided nation (Photo: ISABEL INFANTES/AFP/Getty Images)

by Qari Asim and David Kibble

THE Brexit referendum revealed a divided nation: not just between for and against Brexit but between north and south, rich and poor, young and old and between different communities.

One of the questions faith leaders and government officials have been asking is whether faith communities can help to bring reconciliation where there is division?

If we want to answer ‘yes’, we must first ensure that we can model relationships across those divisions within our own faith communities. So in our mosques and churches, for example, we should have people of all ages, from all walks of life.

In many of our places of worship, we will have worshippers from a number of nations – a mosque may have Arab speakers, Indonesians and Malaysians worshipping alongside
those from a south Asian background. Churches may include Africans praying with Chinese Christians as well as those from a British background and other European countries.

Whether or not a place of worship has people from a wide range of nationalities, it should promote good inter-faith relations. We cannot preach about the need for people of different communities to be reconciled if we are not demonstrating that practically by fostering
good inter-faith relations.

In Leeds, where we live, we have members of the local Jewish community joining Muslims in remembering Srebrenica, in supporting sadaqah day and in discussing issues concerning
end-of-life care.

Jewish, Christian and Muslim university students have devised a Facebook page showing that their faith members can work together. Students from the three faiths are coming together for meals at the homes of members of a city centre church. And members of the three faiths have been discussing the issue of Israel and Palestine in a variety of contexts.

So if we want to help to bring reconciliation, we have first to demonstrate it within and between our own places of worship. We need to practise what we preach or ‘walk the talk.’

But what about the divisions caused by the Brexit debate itself? Can we help to bring reconciliation here? We need to encourage people to recognise that they can be ‘for’ or ‘against’ for good reasons. Faith communities need to enable people to express their differing opinions of both the mechanism of the Brexit vote itself and of the benefits and disadvantages of remaining and leaving.

The crucial thing, however, will be for people to have those discussions while, in the words of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, disagreeing well. We must help people to see the value of another person’s position, especially where it is different from their own.

Our communities should be safe spaces for discussion because our scriptures tell us that we are made to be different from one another.

Faith communities must demonstrate that Brexit is not the be-all and end-all. In each of our faith traditions, we are taught to serve others and look after the poor and disadvantaged. We must encourage our congregations to see that the values we live by are actually more important than a particular political decision.We will not only want to
ensure that the poor and disadvantaged are looked after, we will also want to promote good stewardship of our environment. We will want to promote peace, justice and kindness too. These are values that faith traditions hold dear. We must, therefore, promote such
values in whatever way we can within our communities. Such values will long  outlast any Brexit debate.

So can faith communities help to bring reconciliation to our divided nation? We believe that they can. We need to help everyone to recognise that there is more to life than Brexit and that there is a higher purpose to life than simply debating whether we should remain
or leave. One of the tasks of faith communities should be to enable people to see
that there are values in which we believe that far transcend this particular political debate.

n Qari Asim MBE is a chair of the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board, senior editor of ImamsOnline, and senior imam at the Makkah Mosque in Leeds. He is a trustee of the
Christian Muslim Forum and Hope not Hate, and governor at Leeds Beckett University.

David Kibble is formerly a deputy head-teacher at Huntington School, York; a reader at St
George’s Church, Leeds; and author of Engaging with the Israel/Palestine Issue: How Faith Communities in Leeds Have Adopted a Multi-Faith Approach