Ruhana Ali is the Tower Hamlets Organiser for London Citizens, and part of the Contextual Theology Centre team of researchers on the Contending Modernities project in east London. Here she blogs for us on how different faiths in London are holding the capital’s politicians to account:
On the eve of Wednesday 25 th April, I was reminded how faith is most powerful when in action. As I joined 2,500 other leaders from 240 different churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, universities, charities and unions gathered in Methodist Central Hall for the 4 th London Citizens Mayoral Election Assembly I could feel the electricity in the room. The power brought from being part of a truly diverse community alliance of faith and civic organizations deeply committed to working for the common good. Working with energetic leaders who were confident in their own beliefs, and who understand the importance of relationship; with each other and their elected representatives.
The assembly organized by London Citizens and a team of leaders who had struck deals with all of the candidates for the next Mayor of London over a Citizens Agenda. An agenda concocted from thousands of conversations in our institutions and on streets and doorsteps about what really matters to ordinary Londoners. Affordable housing, dignity for low paid workers through Living Wages, a brighter future for young Londoners with investment in jobs and work opportunities, a commitment to uphold peace on our streets through the City Safe campaign and more accountable relationships with the elected Mayor for Governance of the City.
The celebratory atmosphere on the night was hard to ignore. This was a night of testimony and sharing. We heard stories of triumph over adversity, progress after pain and daily realities of life in London. The message of hope, peace and change was clear. Critics may argue that it was faith overload as we heard choir music, traditions Jewish ram’s horn calling to action and announcements for Muslim sunset prayer.
Faith was not on the peripheries in this Assembly as it seems to have been in so much of the Mayoral campaign race. However is wouldn’t have been at the forefront either if it wasn’t for Politics. Politics of change, by people with a desire to make change for the better displayed best through their actions together than through their words alone.
The power in the room came from action and history. A track record of working together and acting together in public life which lead to trust and relationship the foundation for common understanding. For three months before this night, institutions across the member network had worked hard to sign people up in the community over this agenda. The energy in the room was an amalgamation of the hard work and organized people tasting the fruits of their efforts. The commitments from the candidates a sweet reward for the efforts put it.
In Tower Hamlets alone I saw how faith was being put into action. Our Lady of the Assumption (the Roman Catholic Church in Bethnal Green) had been inspired by their understanding of Catholic Social Teaching – and the teachings of sacrifice and love celebrated in Holy Week and Easter . A team of 6 young teenagers were trained as part of their confirmation to work with the Priest Father Tom, in spreading the word and encouraging the congregation to support the agenda during Sunday Mass and worship times. The social justice agenda, combined with working in the cause of others married beautifully for those taking confirmation.
Just a mile down the road, two mosques (The East London Mosque and Darul Ummah) were busy spreading the message at Friday prayers to the worshippers to be a part of the community and make their voices heard. Inspired by the teachings from the Quran to call to good and work with each other in righteous deeds, they signed hundreds up during prayer times with tables outside the mosque. A show of solidarity with their neighbours and an important understanding that through service in the community you can serve God.
Universities, unions and schools all taking part in signing people up to the London Citizens agenda. Parents, children and friends working together. Many other examples of joint action were being held across other London Borough and the London Citizens network. Thousands of new people were spoken to particularly in the neighbourhoods and on the streets where these faith institutions are located. This was a way for the leaders to reach the community, engage in politics and get to know their neighbours.
An excuse to talk and an opportunity to relate. An an agitation for many. How can you love your neighbour if you don’t know who they are? An important opportunity through politics, to show where faith leads to action.