‘Through the process of forgiveness you demystify the other person - the person becomes more human just as this film demonstrated’ commented a member of the audience at Initiatives of Change (IofC) and The London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre’s event on 19 November.
Over 40 people gathered in St George’s Square in Central London to celebrate Interfaith week (15 – 21 November 2015). The focus of the event was on sharing knowledge of different religious traditions. There was an opportunity for a leader from each faith to share an exposition of forgiveness and patience. Speakers included Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger (Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue and cross bench member of the House of Lords), Dr Alhagi Drammeh (Interfaith Coordinator London Central Mosque) and Reverend Lusa Nsenga-Ngoy (Vicar of St Aidan’s, Gravesend and advisor to the Bishop of Rochester on Minority Ethnic Anglican concerns).
Howard Grace (IofC) introduced Initiatives of Change’s award winning film Beyond Forgiving. Howard spoke of his and his wife Maria’s time working in South Africa, supporting friends of all races who were working with IofC to bring about peaceful change to the apartheid system.
Howard highlighted that Beyond Forgiving has a universal message that is particularly relevant today with the attacks on Paris and Beirut occurring just a few days before the event. ‘What is the world's response to the attack? Protagonists of the
Beyond Forgiving is a touching film; a film of personal tragedy, political tensions, demonization and most importantly of reconciliation, patience and forgiveness in the face of great struggle. It is a hopeful and inspiring documentary, qualities that the audience agreed are hugely important in our current times as hope is fleeing and despair hangs heavy around the globe.
The post-film activity explored the topics the film raised and allowed questioning around the interpretation and understanding of Divine ideals from the speaking panel. Following seeing the film, one lady in the audience commented ‘I am a Muslim, visibly a Muslim, and I feel vulnerable every day. We all need a deeper understanding and tolerance of people that are different to us, as this film showed’.
The three faith leaders engaged in a spiritual reasoning session which involved dialogue, the sharing of sacred text from the different religious traditions and providing an examination of these texts as a lived guidance relating to Forgiveness and Patience.
First to speak was Dr Drammeh; Drammeh has a pool of expertise from different academic specialisms within humanities coming from both a Political Science and Islamic Studies background, in particular Islamic Thought. ‘For me, forgiveness means removing your right to revenge. If Nelson Mandela had of taken revenge – where would South Africa be now? In my religion, you forgive for the sake of God.’ Reverend Nsenga-Ngoy, speaking from a Christian perspective, commented ‘forgiveness is about reconciling with God and the restoration of ourselves with others – putting the other at the heart. It is about relationships and healing.’ ‘We all seek forgiveness from God; it is a deep spiritual journey that I think we as humans need’ commented Rabbi Neuberger in agreement.
Many similarities around forgiveness were highlighted across the faith traditions, yet there were slight differences. Rabbi Neuberger commented ‘Jews don’t believe you can forgive on behalf of others. So I have a difficulty in the film with Ginn forgiving Letlapa on behalf of her daughter.’ Neuberger told the audience a story of a holocaust victim who ‘forgave’ a man that was partly responsible for the death of 300,000 people. ‘Many Jewish people had a problem with this – the victim could forgive him but not on behalf of others.’
Neuberger pointed out the important difference between reconciliation and conciliation that the film presents; conciliation is one-sided, and reconciliation is both sides at peace. ‘I feel that Ginn is ‘coming to terms with’ rather than ‘forgiving’.
‘We all need to instil these values of forgiveness and patience in our children, across our communities, in politics and practise them ourselves’ stated Drammeh.
One member of the audience asked the panel ‘how does reconciliation and forgiveness go alongside justice and retribution?’ Lusa answered that salvation is about healing and repentance and Neuberger stated ‘you need to face justice; this is one part of it. The two are different but they go hand in hand’.
The audience moved into small groups to share their personal experiences of Patience and Forgiveness and what struck them about the passages shared by the panel and in the film. It was a taster for many to Scriptural Reasoning – a source of stimulating stories and an opportunity for reflection and understanding. The evening highlighted the importance of storytelling and consistent dialogue to heal and develop empathy.
Initiatives of Change and London Central Mosque will plan a follow-up event for spring 2016 using IofC's Imam and the Pastor film, another award winning documentary from IofC that offers a message of hope for the world.
With sincere thanks to St Georges Church, Nehemiah Foundation and West London Synagogue for their generosity and contributions which made this event possible.