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Organisations who coordinated the letter to the Home Secretary

A letter opposing a proposed definition for Islamophobia by the APPG on British Muslims has been signed by individuals from across both religious and non-religious communities.

The open letter published here has been brought to the attention of the Home Secretary by groups including the Network of Sikh Organisations, as a warning of the serious consequences adoption of this definition will have on matters of free speech and the ability to legitimately criticise aspects of Islam or the behaviour of a minority of Muslims.

The letter criticises the APPG definition and argues that it, “is being taken on without an adequate scrutiny or proper consideration of its negative consequences for freedom of expression, and academic or journalistic freedom.”

It goes on, “We are concerned that allegations of Islamophobia will be, indeed already are being, used to effectively shield Islamic beliefs and even extremists from criticism, and that formalising this definition will result in it being employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.”

The letter has been signed by leading Christians, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and others. It includes Bishop Nazir Ali, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Professor Richard Dawkins, Tom Holland, Peter Tatchell and our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon.

Lord Singh said, “The government must tread extremely carefully. There is a real danger adoption of this definition will be weaponised as a tool to silence an important debate in this country.”

He went on, “It is in the interest of the government to listen to minority voices like Ahmaddiyas who face persecution from fellow Muslims, and not create a hierarchy of victimhood amongst different faiths in Britain. Groups like Sikhs without a culture of complaint already face marginalisation, and creation of all these ‘phobias’ does little to promote community cohesion and active cooperation amongst our respective faith communities. The existing legal framework is sufficient to deal with racist and religious discrimination, and we hope the Home Secretary gets a sense of the strength of feeling amongst signatories who oppose this flawed definition.”

For further information contact: info@nsouk.co.uk

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A Report commissioned by the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has found that the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world amounts to what some see as near genocide. Millions of Christians have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against.

Sadly, the experience of Christians is mirrored in the experience of other faiths. Looking at my own faith, Sikhs are prohibited from opening a gurdwara in Saudi Arabia and most Middle East countries. In Afghanistan, a prosperous Sikh population of more than 20,000 has been reduced to a few hundred. Similarly, once thriving Sikh communities in Tehran and other cities in Iran, have almost disappeared without trace. Regular reports of the All Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion and Belief and other agencies, remind us of similar suffering of religious communities across the world.

A follow up report to examine the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to growing religious persecution will be published later this summer. I do hope that this will lead to positive initiatives to counter world-wide abuse of the UN Universal Declaration of the Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief.

I feel part of the problem is a failure of religious leaders to interpret religious texts in the context of today’s very different times. Candle lit vigils and expressions of religious solidarity following an atrocity are fine, but in the Sikh view such sentiments must also be carried to our different places of worship, to replace centuries of easily exploited bigotry and misunderstanding, with emphasis on respect and tolerance for all beliefs.

Two of the Sikh Gurus gave their lives stressing the importance of inter faith understanding. Sikh believe that our different faiths are like paths up a mountain towards an understanding of God through pursuing truth, equity and justice in our daily lives. The further we go, the greater the similarity of the view ahead. Guru Arjan, our 5th Guru, included some writings of Hindu and Muslim saints in our holy scripture the Guru Granth Sahib, to emphasise that no one faith has a monopoly of truth. The freedom to practise our religion, of whatever tradition, should be similarly valued as an important universal freedom in our strife torn world.

 

I’ve been watching a fascinating YouTube interview with Kapil Dev, a former Indian Test captain, feared pace bowler and record wicket taker. Kapil Dev, a Punjabi Hindu, said he had many Sikh friends and had visited gurdwaras in India and around the world. He was saddened by the complacency with which Sikhs took the Gurus’ teaching on equality, service to others and respect for the teachings of other faiths; treating them simply as background, rather than placing them to the fore in all they did.

He saw Sikh teachings as unifying principles of responsible living that could benefit all humanity. He felt so strongly about this that, instead of writing his own cricketing memoirs, he got his friends to help him write a beautiful illustrated book about Sikhs and Sikhism to promote a better understanding of Guru Nanak’s teachings, not only in the outside world, but importantly among Sikhs themselves who did not seem to understand their true worth. Though himself a Hindu, he called the book: ‘We the Sikhs’.

Kapil Dev’s outsider’s view of the true worth of Sikh teachings, often simply taken as a background by many Sikhs themselves, reminds me about the story of an art dealer, who when visiting the house of a friend, was struck by the beauty of a painting hanging on the wall. He pointed out to his astonished friend that the painting was a masterpiece, worth thousands.

Our view of our own religion is often distorted by a parallel immersion in culture and customs that are easily mistaken for religion. The outsider looking in, can often see things in a clearer perspective. As an outsider to Christianity, I sometimes feel, that some of my Christian friends do not fully appreciate the power of the uplifting teachings of Jesus Christ in his sermon on the Mount to move us to more responsible living, or the importance of the parable of the Good Samaritan in reminding us of the good in other people.

Over the centuries, we have erected barriers of exclusivity between our different faiths. I believe that the outsider looking in, can help us understand that what seem like barriers, are simply gateways to a greater understanding and enrichment of life. We will also find that seeming areas of difference, are much smaller than that which we all hold in common.

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