Bristol’s diverse faith communities came together for a peace walk from Queens Square, over Pero’s Bridge to the Millennium Square. The day itself was an amazing experience for all those who attended the event. Seeing so many people coming together from diverse faith and cultural backgrounds to stand as one gave hope for the future. There were many memorable moments, including seeing the Bishop of Bristol, The Right Reverend Mike Hill, join in the peace walk. He truly epitomised the role of a faith leader. It was also wonderful to see people remaining in the square after the walk was over, talking causally and exchanging contact details, with a view of keeping in touch after the speeches were over, the media had left the square and the focus from our walk had disappeared. Bristolians are proud of their diverse communities.
Indeed it is a City of Sanctuary where all are welcome and supported. The idea for a peace walk came about as a direct result of a decision by the English Defence League) EDL to march in Bristol. Building the Bridge and Bristol Multi Faith Forum came together to respond to EDL not by counter protesting but by celebrating our diversity. A lot of work went into planning this event not forgetting the support from Bristol City Council, Avon and Somerset Police and many members of the diverse community. Above all the efforts and time given by Simon Bale, committee member, Bristol Multi Faith Forum and Zaheer Shabir, Chair, Building the Bridge and all those who attended planning meetings. A big thank you to all involved. Just before the start of Peace Walk Kalsoom Bashir, a Regional trainer for Avon and Somerset Police was invited to speak. Kalsoom started with a quote from mother Teresa that said
I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.
We were there all from diverse faiths and cultural backgrounds.
Zaheer Shabir, Chair of Building the Bridge said at the start of the walk in Queen Square
These last few weeks have been an inspiring and captivating journey which brought together the faiths and non faiths, BME communities and non BME communities to symbolise what Bristol really means for us. For me, Bristol has an identity that is colourful, powerful and wonderful and it is right in front of me…It is YOU. We often need reminding of this and to celebrate Bristol’s identity. Faith has a common thread of peace and unity that differentiates no one.
When we talk about social justice and socio-economics, we must consider the elements of empowerment and engagement. It’s not having to wait for someone higher up or someone in power to mete out these justices, for me it starts from our hearts, minds and souls. If we expect fairness and respect, we must learn how to deliver it ourselves to others around us. It’s time Bristol reflected its identity of tolerance and unity.
So when I took this discussion around the multi faith forum, there was no turning back. It’s the future we should work to. This is why we start from Queens Square position of the past we rather forget. We then move to the Millennium Square, symbolizing hope for the future, a position we would rather be in.For me it was an occasion not only to remind ourselves of diversity but agreeing to get involved to make our communities more resilient through friendship, meeting regularly, learning skills from one another.
Fr Richard McKay, from St Nicolas of Tolentino, expressed the sentiment well: “we are one despite our differences”.
At the Millennium Square we heard from Tanzil: a young man born in South Africa who grew up in Bristol since the age of four. Talking about his experience he said
Through my years at school I came across Indians, Somalis, Jamaicans and Africans. I sat and ate with Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. As children we looked beyond these things because we just want to be happy with whomever. Unfortunately it is with great emotion that I say life is not plain sailing. The problem with growing up in a multi-ethnic and multi-faith society is that there is a window for people with prejudice to mention their ideologies. In other words people become racist and they discriminate against people. That’s not something I aim to focus on because it’s only a handful of people that behave that way. My message to young adults is that we should go back to our childhood ways. Not in the sense of our behaviour but in the sense of our attitude. Someone once said that our Attitude is how we see things.
Another young man, Zubair Ali, was also invited to speak. His speech was full of praise for Bristol and its diversity. He is passionate about working in the community for the community.
As a local music artist, a lot of the things I write about entail life’s struggle on the whole. Whether it’s Islam or worldly issues for that matter, so for me playing a role in the community is something very close to my heart. My fight is not with the EDL or BNP or any other ‘racist’ organisations for that matter, in fact my fight is against those who failed to educate the people properly making them think that a peaceful religion such as Islam has come to ‘zombiefy’ the nation and that people of colour are not welcome here.
Simon Bale was one of the five speakers. I have taken a quote from his piece written after the event as it summarises the whole event beautifully.
We met, we talked, we shared and we saw each other as members of the same group, as people. Of course there are distinguishing features, and there are differences which challenge. But challenge and conflict are entirely different things. Conflict destroys. Challenge builds. On July 15th in Millennium Square we all challenged. We all were challenged: to live together.*
*For full text please refer to NEW LINK HERE
Compiled by Farzana Saker, Development Officer, Bristol Multi Faith Forum