Starting in 2008, members of SGI-UK* initiated two projects named “Three Faiths Community Leadership Training Project” in a diverse, multi-cultural borough in South London. The focus was on leadership training for 34 young people aged 18-26 from Muslim, black Christian and Buddhist groups. Both projects met on a monthly basis over a nine-month period.
Inspired by the words of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda who said:
“The most important thing is to initiate dialogue…from one perspective; certainly human history has been a history of religious warfare. That is precisely why dialogue among members of different religious groups is needed to ensure a new era of peace. This will be especially crucial in the future. Though our perspectives may differ, we all share the ideals of peace and happiness. Simply put, we are all human beings, and it is this common humanity that is the key to uniting the human race.”
The project sought to respond to prevalent issues dominating UK society for example ‘Islamaphobia’, the polarisation between Christianity and Islam and the increasing number of racial attacks and violence against black and Asian communities by creating a platform for friendship based upon true humanistic exchange which could facilitate the forging of bonds of trust at the deepest level between young people of different faiths.
Dialogue took place in a workshop setting and the programme included reflections on themselves, their backgrounds and the nature of their faith. They also examined and reflected upon themselves in terms of their personal identity, gender and race. They explored some key tenets of their faith that inspired and motivated the participants to develop altruism within their families, communities and beyond. Sessions were interactive, required the participants to work on tasks together and created bonds of friendship that transformed their lives.
Participants subsequently designed and delivered workshops based on their learning and experience to fifteen young people from each faith at their respective centres; the Mosque, the Church and the SGI community centre. The young people attending the workshops commented how impressed they were about the unity, friendship and depth of learning they were able to convey. In the autumn of 2009 they organised a conference on community cohesion attended by their friends, family, members of the public and local and national politicians.
The fundamental challenge and transformation for the young leaders was a journey through a deeper inquiry into the notion of ‘otherness’. This stimulated self -examination and reflection and an opportunity to create an understanding of reality beyond themselves. In exploring how ‘otherness’ is created, constructed and often demonised, they needed to examine more deeply questions of identity, race and racism. This challenge was necessary so that they could open up and build relationships that transcended the differences they had with each other and draw upon the most noble of values that are at the heart of their religious beliefs and traditions. Moreover, following this, the young people were able to have dialogue within their own religious organisations, sharing the learning and understanding they had gained.
The Three Faiths Project is in the process of applying for funding to run another programme with the goal that this type of initiative will take root in the reality of British Society. We have seen that the group process of shared learning opens up a deep empathy and appreciation that allows the dignity of each participant to shine and believe that the genuine bonds of friendship forged through this intense process of self-evaluation and reflection are the cornerstones of peace.
*SGI is a lay Buddhist movement whose members practice the Lotus Sutra based teachings of the 13th-century Japanese sage Nichiren. As a worldwide organisation, active in 192 countries and territories, it’s members strive to create value in their local societies through activities embracing culture, education and peace. SGI is part of the European Buddhist Union, which is a member of ENORB.