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Report of Meeting on November 19th 2019

We welcomed Mrs Santosh Kundi for a second visit to SAIF, and fresh from her investiture with the British Empire Medal, awarded for services to teaching and interfaith understanding. With her was Harish Dhokia, well-known to me from the days when I worked at Coventry Cathedral, and co-operated with Harish in our joint efforts for inter-ethnic and interfaith harmony.

Santosh had brought with her a number of small brass figures of Hindu gods, Ganesh, Krishna, Durga and others, and the Hindu symbol OM. She handed one to each of us and talked about them, their stories and their significance for Hindus. We learnt about the Hindu ‘trinity’ of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, of how Ganesh, the son of Shiva with a child’s body and elephant’s head, sits in the entrance to many Hindu homes, ready to listen to your problems, and of how Hanuman, the monkey god protected Ram, the avatar or manifestation of Vishnu, with his allies in the monkey world.

This linked to the recent decision by the Indian Supreme Court that the site of the destroyed mosque at Ayodya was indeed the birth-place of Ram, and that the disputed site should be awarded to the Hindu community, with Muslims being given an alternative place for a new mosque.

In this way the rich stories and traditions of Hinduism are alive and significant for the 80% of Indians who identify themselves as Hindu, while Santosh insisted from the outset that the multiplicity of gods and their images simply represented one real deity. The soul takes different forms as it reincarnates, but Santosh was much less enamoured of the other well-known characteristic of Hinduism, the caste system. Harish explained that varna or caste was originally an occupational category, enabling society to function smoothly, but this had long since ceased to prevent people born into one caste from taking on employment in the traditional business of another, except for the work of the Brahmins, the priestly caste. Even so, the policy of reserving places in colleges and government jobs for people from the lower castes remained controversial after 70+ years of independence.

Between them Santosh and Harish gave us a warm and richly textured account of the faith of their nearly one billion fellow-Hindus.

Christopher Lamb

Report of Meeting on Tuesday September 10th 2019

On this occasion Philippa Chatterley gave us an intimate account of ‘How Christian Science has shaped my life’, drawing on many years’ experience since the time of her mother’s discovery of Christian Science when grieving for her own mother. Philippa went to a Christian Science Sunday school, learning the Lord’ Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes and understanding God as Father/Mother.

Christian Science, she told us, is based on the Bible and the laws of God. Its founder, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) established the movement in Boston, USA, aiming to restore the element of healing which had been part of primitive Christianity and was subsequently almost lost from the life of the Church. She published her seminal book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in 1875 after a remarkable recovery from serious illness which came from reading the Gospels, and the first Church of Christ, Scientist began in Boston in 1879.
Philippa left school in Solihull and took secretarial training, followed by a series of jobs, including time in Cape Town, South Africa and the Scottish Highlands. She loved the outdoor life and worked with horses and at a racing stables with great delight, but went to work in the family business in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter which eventually closed. She married an Irishman, but the marriage failed and divorce led her back to Christian Science, which had not been an active part of her life for many years. She was encouraged to find that Mary Baker Eddy had also been divorced and yet had gone on to achieve much, and that Christian Science could help her deal with the feelings of guilt and fear, and the ‘What if...’ spectres of possible disaster which she suffered from. God is a God of love who gives his protection and promises a future of good things (Jeremiah 29.11). After starting a silver repair business, taking an art course and beginning to sell her own pictures, she trained and was registered in 2005 as a Christian Science Practitioner. Practitioners are healers who provide specific prayer for individuals who ask for their help with personal difficulties and physical problems. They point people to the uplifting and healing ideas in the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. Philippa is also a registered Christian Science Chaplain at Long Lartin Prison in Worcestershire.

Philippa’s rich experience was complemented by Gill Hattley’s contributions in responding to questions. These ranged from the kind of worship Christian Scientists engaged in, to relationships with the medical profession (no problems there), to why Christian Science was not part of pan-church groups like the World Council of Churches or the local Churches Together in Stratford (and elsewhere). This was in part put down to the hostility to Mary Baker Eddy as a female church leader who brought out new ways to interpret Christianity.

Philippa convincingly showed us how Christian Science had given shape and purpose to her life.

Christopher Lamb

Talk by Robin Christopherson about the Bab

SAIF members were most grateful to Robin Christopherson for stepping in at short notice to speak on July 9th about the 200th anniversary of the Bab, the precursor of Baha'ullah, founder of the Baha'i faith.

Here are a selection of readings and prayers quoted by Robin.

A selection of readings and prayers

I am the Primal Point from which have been generated all created things. I am the Countenance of God Whose splendor can never be obscured, the Light of God Whose radiance can never fade.
Epistle to Muhammad Shah, Selections from the Writings of the Báb


It is better to guide one soul than to possess all that is on earth, for as long as that guided soul is under the shadow of the Tree of Divine Unity, he and the one who hath guided him will both be recipients of God’s tender mercy, whereas possession of earthly things will cease at the time of death. The path to guidance is one of love and compassion, not of force and coercion. This hath been God’s method in the past, and shall continue to be in the future!
Persian BayánSelections from the Writings of the Báb

Know thou assuredly that the essence of all the Prophets of God is one and the same.
God, the Creator, saith:

There is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message.
They all have but one purpose; their secret is the same secret.
Every true Prophet hath regarded His Message as fundamentally the same as the Revelation of every other Prophet gone before Him.                

Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p.78

Moses, Jesus, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, or Muhammad – were the cause of the illumination of the world of humanity.      …..these holy souls were all sent of God.    All of them have sacrificed life, endured ordeals and tribulations in order that They might educate us. 

How can such love be forgotten?
The light of Christ is evident.   The candle of Buddha is shining.  The star of Moses is sparkling.  The flame ignited by Zoroaster is still burning……the light of Muhammad dawned.

Abdul-Baha: The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.346

O Lord! Unto Thee I repair for refuge and toward all Thy signs I set my heart. O Lord! Whether travelling or at home, and in my occupation or in my work, I place my whole trust in Thee.

Grant me then Thy sufficing help so as to make me independent of all things, O Thou Who art unsurpassed in Thy mercy! Bestow upon me my portion, O Lord, as Thou pleasest, and cause me to be satisfied with whatsoever Thou hast ordained for me.

Thine is the absolute authority to command.

Selections from the Writings of the Báb

All nations will become one; all religions will be unified; all individual men will become of one family and of one kindred.    All the regions of the earth will become one; the superstitions caused by races, countries, individuals, languages and politics will disappear; and all men will attain to life eternal, under the shadow of the Lord of Hosts.”          

Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 39

And a closing prayer:

O Thou compassionate Lord, Thou Who art generous and able!   We are servants of Thine sheltered beneath Thy providence.    Cast Thy glance of favour upon us. 
Give light to our eyes, hearing to our ears, and understanding and love to our hearts.    Render our souls joyous and happy through Thy glad tidings.  
O Lord! Point out to us the pathway of Thy kingdom and resuscitate all of us through the breaths of the Holy Spirit. 
Bestow upon us life everlasting and confer upon us never-ending honour.  
Unify mankind and illumine the world of humanity.  
May we all follow Thy pathway, long for Thy good pleasure and seek the mysteries of Thy kingdom.  
O God! Unite us and connect our hearts with Thy indissoluble bond.   Verily, Thou art the Giver, Thou art the Kind One and Thou art the Almighty.

 'Abdu'l-Bahá   (Compilations, Baha'i Prayers, p. 99)


Robin suggests going to this web page for more information https://www.bahai.org/the-bab and also looking at the rest of the Baha'i website

This video, played at the meeting, is a useful summary:

Report of the Meeting on March 19th 2019

 Reacting To Gender Transition

John Tooms and his son Al were introduced by Hobbs Bashir, who paid tribute to his police colleague John’s friendship and invaluable support at a difficult time in Hobbs’ life. John described his early life in a Baptist church in Market Harborough, and his subsequent career in Dumfries and eventually Wolverhampton, as still a loyal Baptist. In his own family there are a number of LGBT people, and from the age of 12 Alice, the elder of his two daughters found herself being attracted to other girls and women. At 17 Al was baptised in the local Baptist church and used to occasion to announce in her testimony that she was gay and moreover intended to begin gender transition to being male. During the next few years Alice became Alec, though handily known throughout as ‘Al’. University, studying English Literature and Religion and Ethics, was a great place to be accepted for who s/he was and to begin to find the words he needed to explain to himself and others what was happening.

Christian friends, however, were not uniformly supportive. At their home church John and Al’s Baptist minister accepted Al’s gay orientation, but Christian friends from whom John and his wife expected understanding and support were loudly hostile. Church meetings on the subject became very uncomfortable and comments on the lines of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ increasingly unacceptable. After a time they left that church and began to look for inclusive Christian communities. Al found acceptance in the on-line Diverse Church organised by Sally Hitchen for 18 – 30 year olds, now added to with a parents’ section. John praised people like Steve Chalke and Vicky Beeching for having the courage to come out publicly with support for gay people despite the negative reactions of their church tradition.

We had a rich time of question and discussion. Al was asked if, being now male, he was still gay, and he said No, but he found that in his work as a social worker his personal history was a gift not a handicap. John quoted the words of Martin Luther King, from a different controversy: ‘You won’t remember the words of your enemy, but you will remember the silence of your friends.’ Happily Al and his family have found great support, not least from Al’s young sister Rebecca. No-one, they emphasized, would choose to go through the long hassle of being gay or undergoing gender transition lightly. It is a long and costly business which demands understanding and love before any judgement is made.

Christopher Lamb

Report of Meeting on February 5th 2019

Azhar and Alexandra Kholwadia talk about their mixed-faith marriage

Azhar and Alexandra Kholwadia gave us a remarkably thoughtful and candid account of the steps leading to their marriage and the consequent relations with their families. Azhar is from a Sunni Muslim family and Alexandra from a Greek Orthodox family, originally from Cyprus. They knew each other at primary school and maintained their friendship over 20 years as it gradually became clear that they wanted to spend their lives together. The pathway was not smooth, as they separated more than once to test the reality of their desire to marry. Both sets of families found it difficult to come to terms with the relationship, for various reasons such as the difference in religions, cultural/historical challenges and the relatively young age of them both. The response amongst Alexandra’s family was split, with some members being more ambivalent than others. Alexandra thought the issues for her family were more about ethnic identity and pride rather than about religion as such, but when it came to an Orthodox marriage ceremony the answer from the Greek church was a definite No. Eventually they were able to have a brief nikah (Islamic) ceremony, and a legal wedding in the Church of England, though this entailed Azhar using the Trinitarian formula for God, as required of the bridegroom in such a service.

Otherwise Azhar’s path was somewhat easier where his family was concerned, though they were disturbed that the couple had hidden their continuing relationship during their university years. Azhar’s mother made Alexandra feel at home and became a source of wisdom for her. There is permission in Muslim law for Muslim men to marry women of the Book (Jews and Christians), though not the reverse, and this helped. Some in his family circle still expected Alexandra to convert to Islam – precisely the fear of her family.

The couple are clear that this is not in any way envisaged, and that their intention is to allow each other to follow their own faith convictions in freedom. Naturally there are mutual accommodations, as in every marriage. There is no alcohol in their home and they eat halal meat. Christmas celebrations were somewhat strange for Azhar and Ramadhan (the Islamic month of total fasting during daylight hours) was a testing time for both of them at first. They have only been married for three and a half years, so there is much still to discover. We wish them well.

Christopher Lamb

Making Ethical Decisions in Good Faith

How do we use ancient texts to decide contemporary ethical issues?

SAIF talk and discussion led by Dr Christopher Lamb on Tuesday 18 September 2018 at 7.30pm. 

At our last meeting in July Rehanah Sadiq introduced us to several ethical issues she is faced with as a Muslim hospital chaplain: organ donation, pregnancy termination. 

There are other issues at both ends of life like genetic engineering and assisted dying.

How do faiths and faithful people use their foundation documents to make ethical decisions – decisions in good faith? 

A contemporary example: The Catholic Church and The Death Penalty

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994 edition) states on the 5th of the Ten Commandments*: 

2266:  Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty. 

In 1997 the wording of the text, now numbered 2267, was changed to: 

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent. 

On August 2nd 2018 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a new text: 

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’, and she works for its abolition worldwide. 

This change was presented by a Vatican spokesman as ‘an authentic development of the Church’s doctrine that started with St John Paul II’ and has continued under the last two Popes. Note it is called a ‘development’, not a ‘change’, though it has been criticised by some Catholics. One senior archbishop called it ‘a kind of rhetorical acid that must inevitably eat away at the Church’s claims to be an institution trustworthy to teach authoritatively on faith and morals.’ 

* You shall not murder OR You shall not kill

Other churches number the Ten Commandments differently, making this the sixth

Report of Meeting on July 17th 2018

A talk by Rehanah Sadiq - Muslim chaplain in two Birmingham hospitals

We welcomed back Rehanah Sadiq, who came in 2014 and told us about her life story and her journey in the Muslim faith. This time she told us about her work as a Muslim chaplain in two Birmingham hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth and the Womens’ Hospital (now joined with the Children’s Hospital). She recounted how Muslim chaplaincy there had been pioneered by the Revd Stephen Barton, an Anglican chaplain, who also encouraged her to apply for the post – something she would not have thought of herself. She initially received training at the (Christian) College of Health Care chaplains’ course, and now teaches a comparable course herself at the Markfield Islamic foundation in Leicestershire. Despite the label of a ‘Muslim chaplain’ she regards herself as providing pastoral care to all members of the hospital, patients, medical and administrative staff, from cleaners to management. While giving specific care and advice to Muslim patients and staff she is therefore a ‘generic chaplain’ for others, offering a spiritual perspective to anyone ready to receive it. Often people are simply looking for someone they can talk to confidentially and are not bothered about what religious label they wear. Chaplains are continually referring people to each other.

Rehanah told us a number of stories about patients facing particular crises. One concerned the Christian wife of a Muslim husband who was in a coma and unlikely to live very long. She very much wanted the proper Muslim rituals to be observed for him, and was thrilled to see what she was sure was response from him when Rehanah recited the Ya Sin sura (36) from the Qur’an. Often she is asked about the Muslim attitude to organ donation, and will describe the different views of Muslim scholars, but always leave it to the family to make the necessary decision. She also recounted the case of Muslim parents facing the birth of a child who could not live more than a few hours, and the possibility of terminating the pregnancy to avoid that harrowing outcome. Having stated the various Muslim views of the situation she was asked the difficult question ‘Yes, but what would you do?’ She said that she could not put herself in their situation: ‘I am not you’, but offered the istikhara prayer, which asks God in a time of great uncertainty to correct or over-ride any wrong decision which is made in good faith.

We ended by assuring Rehanah of our prayers for her and her colleagues in their vital and demanding work.

Christopher Lamb

Report of Meeting on Tuesday 22 May 2018

A talk by The Revd Dr Israel Selvanayagam - a Methodist minister from India

The Revd Dr Israel Selvanayagam was born in in the south Indian state of Tamilnadu on the southern tip of India close to the sea. It was an area where a fishing community had been converted to Christianity through the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, so there were many Roman Catholics as well as Muslims and Hindus from the Saivite tradition there. During the tsunami in 2004 the area was badly hit, so the local church opened its doors for people to take refuge. Israel's family belonged to the Church of South India, a Church which came into being in 1947 and united former Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians. [Similar churches were founded in north India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1970.]

At 18 Israel offered himself for ordination and began work in the church. He went to the seminary at Madurai, a great Hindu centre and learnt about Hindu and the other local faiths in his area. His aim was to learn as much as he could and to dialogue with other faiths to help everyone to understand each other better. Learning this ministry he was sent to spend time in different areas in India. In some areas where he set up interfaith meetings he found resistance from the local faith community. In one area he wanted to set up a rehab centre to help the beggars who were lying around the entrance to some churches but objection from the religious leaders would not allow him to go forward with this idea.

Later Israel taught in Madurai, and studied Hinduism in Cambridge. He has been head of colleges in India and in England, and also been a pastor in both countries. He is currently Methodist minister at Evesham. His watchword is 'Commitment and Open-ness' - commitment to his own faith and open-ness to all others.

Philippa Chatterley & Christopher Lamb

Report of Meeting on January 23rd 2018

‘Quaker Faith in Action’

The first meeting of 2018 was a joint meeting of SAIF and the local Quaker study group. James Pavitt, Clerk of the local Friends’ Meeting, gave us an illuminating talk about the philosophy and practice of the Quakers (otherwise known as Friends’), illustrated by some telling thoughts from a variety of Friends in a short video.

James quoted the Aim and Vision of the Stratford Interfaith Forum to show that the Quaker vision was close to that of SAIF, a movement open to all and accepting of all viewpoints, aimed at the long-term welfare of the whole community. It was, he said, based on a mode of life rather than a form of words.

There are certain watchwords used by Quakers that they call Testimonies. These have developed and changed over time guided by the basic conviction that there is that of God in every person.

These Testimonies are currently:

  • Truth and integrity
  • Justice and equality
  • Simplicity
  • Sustainability
  • Peace

Quakers believe strongly in personal truth even when some truths are uncomfortable and may take time for them to be accepted. James cited the early slave-owning Quakers in America whose practice gave way later to establishing the ‘Underground Railway’, by which runaway slaves could escape to Canada.

The Quaker handbook Advices and Queries, no. 7 states: ‘Be aware of the Spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life’. This was used as an example of one way in which Quakers use ‘discernment’ to establish personal truths by looking for the divine in the everyday.

Quakers do not have leaders as they believe in Equality. They have an ‘in-joke’: ‘We didn’t abolish the ministers; we abolished the laity’.

James’ presentation led to discussion at the meeting about how decisions were arrived at in Quaker business meetings. The process was described as a movement of the Spirit, not a consensus. Were there informal kinds of leadership? Was there a place for the lone prophetic voice? One consequence of Quaker practice is that there are very few salaries to be paid, which is a great financial advantage.

Several other topics were raised: whether the silence and individual voices of Quaker meetings could be defined as ‘worship’ when no hymns were sung or corporate prayers made (though we were told that Kenyan Quakers sing hymns). What was the response of Quakers to people like child molesters?

This writer was left with a deep respect for the hands-on, politically-engaged, essentially practical character of the Quaker vision, where God is in the ordinary; but also with questions about how power can be handled spiritually and responsibly (what should the Emperor Constantine have done after his conversion to Christianity?), and whether the revelation of the divine claimed in different faiths for the Torah, for Christ, the Qur’an and Krishna, can be so easily blended into one common light?

Christopher Lamb

Report of the meeting on September 26th 2017

A talk by Estelle Seymour on the Pagan Faith

Estelle Seymour, of the Pagan Federation, gave us a lucid and illuminating talk about her own journey from a Seventh Day Adventist childhood to adopting paganism as an adult. She had experienced the fundamentalist convictions and lifestyle she had grown up as suffocating, and in listening to the tales of converts about their pre-conversion lives found herself thinking ‘Well, at least they have had their fun! When do I get mine?’ She did however value some elements of her upbringing, especially the emphasis on health and a knowledge of the Bible. At the age of 28 she began to research the historical contexts in which the Bible was written, and was much influenced by Merlin Stone’s The Paradise Papers. Suppression of Women’s Rites, and also by Starhawk: The Spiral Dance.

She defined a pagan as a follower of a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion, and listed six characteristic Pagan Paths: Wicca and Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenry, Shamanism, Female and male mystery groups and (simply) Pagans. The history of paganism in Britain is a sad tale, beginning with the Witchcraft Act of 1542, and the hanging of witches in England until 1684, and the burning of them in Scotland until 1727. The Witchcraft Act was not repealed until 1951. The UK Census returns recorded a doubling of self-identified pagans from 2001 (40,000) to 2011 (80,000), and there may now be some 250,000.

The Pagan Federation follows three principles:

  • Love for and kinship with Nature
  • A positive morality, summed up as ‘Do what you will, as long as it harms none’.
  • Recognition of the Divine, which transcends gender

Pagan rituals celebrate the annual festivals, based on the solstices and equinoxes, and the times in between them, so that the ‘Wheel of the Year’ runs (in the northern hemisphere): Imbolc (February 1st), Ostara (March 21st), Beltane (May 1st), Midsummer (June 21st), Lammas (August 1st), Mabon (September 21st), Samhain (October 31st) and Yule (December 22nd).

Pagans also mark rites of passage like birth, hand-fastings (commitment to a partner for a year and a day), death and initiations, and have rituals for specific intentions. These include purification, creating a ritual space (casting the circle), and raising and directing energy. Estelle showed us some of the ‘props’ she uses on these occasions.

Christopher Lamb

Report of the meeting on November 14th 2017

A talk by Hobbs Bashir on the Muslim Faith

Mr Hobbs Bashir was already known to us from his attendance at previous SAIF meetings and it was a pleasure to hear his story. Hobbs was born of Pakistani parents in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, which he described as very cosmopolitan, ‘not quite a ghetto’. As a child he learnt to decipher Arabic letters but the family was not religious and did not attend any of Birmingham’s numerous mosques. Ignoring the common Pakistani ambitions of becoming a doctor or an engineer he worked for the benefits agency, now the DWP, and was soon assigned to check fraudulent claims. He was deeply moved by one genuine but tragic claim from parents who presented a birth and a death certificate for the same child, who had lived for just a day. It was the first indication of a question-mark over all life. What was it for? Why were we here?

From that experience he was recruited to the Birmingham police and eventually the CID, since he had language skills in Urdu, Punjabi and Mirpuri (a Punjabi dialect). He now works for the Missing Persons section of the CID. His wife Shugufta has worked for some years in Stratford-upon-Avon, so the family decided to settle here.

Before this he had already begun to say the daily canonical prayers, urged by the message of a friend dying from leukemia to pray while he could. Again the question came: why am I here? He began to memorise texts from the Qur’an, and at first used YouTube to educate himself in the faith. But where to join others in prayer? For some time he travelled to Redditch, 23 minutes drive away, but then thought to gather other Muslims in Stratford at least for the Friday noon prayers. ‘Follow the food’ was the motto, though many of those he contacted in the restaurants and takeaways laughed at his proposal. In January 2015 congregational prayers began in Stratford, though he later discovered that there had been previous similar attempts to bring Muslims together at King Edward VI School and at Stratford College. Recently the congregation received the accolade of being included in the Muslims in Britain app used by visitors and tourists looking for the nearest mosque, and the regulars number some 20 families.

Our questions to Hobbs focussed on how any mosque is run, and on the divisions within Islam, as within any large religious community, on the role of women and on the person of Muhammad.

I think it is fair to say that few presentations to SAIF have been listened to with such close and sympathetic attention.

Christopher Lamb

Report of the meeting on Tuesday May 16th, 2017

Talk on a visit to the Calais Jungle by Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi

This was a very poorly attended meeting, because – it seems – people did not receive the usual email reminder about it. However, the few who came had the privilege of an intimate conversation with Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi, who has been the rabbi of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue since 1994.

She told us of growing up aware of having no living grandparents on her father’s side, but being like most children incurious about that until her father’s story emerged when she was older. He was born in Berlin, and was the last person to have his bar-mitzvah at the Berlin synagogue before Kristallnacht, the concerted Nazi attack on Jewish shops and premises in November 1938, when he was 13. Through his uncle, and the activist Gertrude Weissmuller, his parents managed to engineer his leaving Germany, first for Amsterdam and finally for Liverpool, while they remained in Germany and perished in the death camps. He later became a rabbi, and is now a vigorous 91.

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A Report on the Meeting on Tuesday March 29th 2017

A Talk by Sylvia Clark on the Baha'i Faith

Baha’i Obligatory Prayers, Feasting & Fasting

Sylvia Clark introuced her blind Bahai’i friend Robin Christopherson from Warwick.  Robin has recently received an MBE for ‘services to digital inclusion’, given in recognition of his contribution to promoting awareness of the need to provide digital products and services that are appropriate and inclusive for disabled people.   

She explained that for the Baha’is, the collected Writings of Bahá’u’lláh are considered be a Revelation from God and these form the foundation of the Bahá’í Faith.  The writings of The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh are regarded as divine revelation, and the writings and talks of `Abdu'l-Bahá, and the writings of Shoghi Effendi as authoritative interpretation.

She also provided a handout, which you can download here

Praying, Feasting & Fasting

“Cling firmly to obligatory prayer and fasting.    Verily, the religion of God is like unto heaven; fasting is its sun, and obligatory prayer is its moon.“  


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Report on SAIF Meeting of January 24th 2017

A talk by Guy Sharrock of the Catholic Relief Service

Mr Guy Sharrock, of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told us that CRS employs people from many faiths and backgrounds, including himself as an Anglican, Muslims and Hindus.  The organisation was founded during World War II in New York City to assist refugees, and is part of Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican relief body which includes the British CAFOD.

Their aim is to work with the poorest of the poor, at the invitation of the local Catholic bishop, and this they do in 101 countries, employing 5,000 staff (300 in the UK).  A third of their work is humanitarian relief as in times of natural disaster, and they also have significant input into agriculture and health as well as education. 

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Report on Meeting of November 29th 2016

A talk on Mindfulness by Eva Mackenzie

Eva Mackenzie, a Buddhist friend of David Izen, talked to us about Mindfulness. She previously taught Religious Studies at Kingsley School, Leamington Spa, and frequently introduced classes to it. Most recently she has used Mindfulness with Year 9s, and has found it very effective in helping pupils cope with exams, bullying, and the stress of relationships. It is used by sportspeople and musicians as a way of creating calm and connectedness, and enabling concentration. We practised a form of Mindfulness briefly, and learnt the mantra: ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it Present.’ An organisation promoting it calls itself .b – which is meant to remind you to stop and simply be.

It was clear from her presentation that Mindfulness is in itself simply a tool or a technique, which has no necessary link to any faith or philosophy, and can be used to promote many kinds of meditation or activity.

Christopher Lamb

Report on Meeting of July 19th 2016

A talk by Patricia Earle about the Women's Federation for World Peace

Patricia Earle came from Birmingham to talk to SAIF about her work with the WFWP (Women’s Federation for World Peace). Patricia comes originally from Belgium, and has lived in the USA, and began her work with the WFWP in 1993, inspired by the United Nations which fixes September 23rd as its annual day of prayer. Consequently her group meets on the 23rd of each month.

It began with a small group of women meeting in her home in Birmingham during the conflict in Bosnia in 1993. This led to a chain of prayer with women of different faiths joining in, so that now women originating from some 45 nationalities are involved. They have a common concern for the family, and many friendships develop from the meetings. These are still in Patricia’s house, which has been extended in consequence. She witnessed to a sense of loving presence at the meetings, which means that no-one feels ‘put into boxes’ of faith or ethnicity.

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Report of Meeting on January 26th 2016

A talk by David Izen on the two main strands of Buddhism

David Izen was our ‘home-grown’ speaker on this occasion, and chose to tell us about the big distinction in Buddhism between the southern Theravada tradition, and the northern Mahayana tradition. The older southern tradition spread from the Buddha’s home in India, through Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and south-east Asia, while the northern one went through Tibet to China, Korea and Japan. Despite this clear pattern David’s view is that Buddhism is not a single religion, but a collection of thousands of different schools of thought, many of which have departed from the Buddha’s original teaching to incorporate elements of Hinduism and local custom. He quoted from a book recording a dialogue between the Japanese Buddhist scholar Daisaku Ikeda, and the historian Arnold Toynbee, which focused on the question of whether Shakyamuni (as the Buddha is called in the northern tradition) was a theist. The conclusion seemed to be that he was in the northern tradition but not in the southern. Toynbee also raised the question of the apparent contradiction in Buddhist thought between the elimination of desire, and the promotion of compassion, justice and other ‘desirable’ qualities.

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Report on meeting 17th November 2015

A talk by Sally Lessiter on Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science

Sally Lessiter from Oxford spoke about the life of Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) and the beliefs of Christian Science. The title of her major book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875) gives the clue to the understanding of Christianity, which she promoted: an interpretation of the Bible with healing at its centre. Like the Quakers and the Salvation Army, the Church she founded has no clergy, sacraments or ritual, though it does support full-time Christian Science practitioners and nurses who treat patients through prayer and physical care. Mrs Eddy ordained the Bible and her book Science and Health to be the ‘Pastor’ of the Church, and passages from both books are read on Sundays and studied by members, who refer to themselves as students of Christian Science.

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Report on Meeting of September 29th 2015

Talk by Canon Andrew Wickens, Team Vicar of Dudley

The Revd Canon Andrew Wickens, Anglican vicar in central Dudley (and son-in-law of our Chairman) gave us a detailed account of the long struggle of the Muslim community in central Dudley to replace their mosque with a new building, which would include a community centre. Andrew chairs the Dudley Interfaith Network, and has been trying to keep the peace in Dudley and support the Muslim community since taking up his post ten years ago.

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Some thoughts on the current situation in the Muslim world - July 7th 2015

This was intended to be a meeting addressed by a speaker from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Leamington Spa, but he was unable to come because of the long hours of fasting in Ramadhan, and so Christopher Lamb stepped in to offer some thoughts on the current situation in the Muslim world. Noting that something like a revolution was taking place among Muslims world-wide, he continued:

It is a hard time to be a Muslim. A huge proportion of the refugees waiting at Calais, or paying thousands of dollars to cross the Mediterranean in over-crowded boats are Muslims. Most of the victims of ‘Islamic terrorism’ are Muslims. The plight of Muslims world-wide calls for compassion and understanding. Everywhere you look it seems that the Muslim world is in turmoil; in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Eritrea, Somalia, Mali, Cameroun, Nigeria. What are the roots of this turmoil?

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Report of meeting of May 12th 2015

A Catholic perspective on inter-religious dialogue

Fr Brian Doolan was introduced as the parish priest for a Roman Catholic parish covering some 37 villages in south Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, based on Shipston-on-Stour. A former Church of England priest, he had ministered in Birmingham and Coventry, and been in charge of the Catholic cathedral in Birmingham.

Fr Doolan emphasized the central teaching authority of the Catholic Church, the magisterium, disseminated through the 6,000 Catholic bishops throughout the world. This teaching is clear and definite, but always open to new developments through the work of the Holy Spirit, recognising the need to express it relevantly to subsequent generations. From the early 1970s differing religions were all searching for answers to 'ultimate' questions, such as the nature of divinity, ways of life, and suffering. Taking this into account is part of official Roman Catholic Church policy.

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Report of Meeting on January 27th 2015

Sunrising Natural Burial Ground

Emma Restall Orr is the manager and founder of the Sunrising Natural Burial Ground at Tysoe, south Warwickshire, and describes herself as a mystic. She, her husband and a ecologist friend bought 16 acres of set-aside land near Tysoe nearly nine years ago as ‘an experiment in ethical business’. Her background is in counselling the dying and those caring for a dying loved one. She has worked in hospices, and studied Druidism for 25 years. She experiences continual pain and describes her body as frequently dysfunctional.

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Report of meeting on 18th November 2014

Scriptural Reasoning - the Bhagavad Gita

On November 18th 2014 Mark Humphries led SAIF members in a study of a text of the Bhagavad Gita, which led to an animated discussion of creation, re-incarnation, death, karma, and ethical issues around violence. Mark distributed the handout printed below.


Extracts from the final chapter 18, texts 61-65

Bhagavad Gita is a conversation between Lord Krishna and a man called Arjuna, which took place at Kurukshetra in India just over 5000 years ago, where a huge battle between the forces of good and evil took place. Krishna and Arjuna were seated on a chariot and had a long conversation just before the forces of evil attacked Arjuna’s forces of good. Arjuna wanted to abandon his duty to protect the kingdom and its helpless civilians, and run away from the battle, because he had relatives in both of the opposing armies, and feared a sinful reaction if he fought.

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Report of meeting on 23rd September 2014

Scriptural Reasoning - The Baha'i Scriptures

On this occasion John Longcroft-Neal, of the Baha’i community in Nuneaton, introduced us to a text from the Baha’i Scriptures. This was one of our continuing series of Scriptural Reasoning, where we share together our reactions to a text from the faith of one of our members.

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Report of meeting on 10th July 2014

Contemporary Spirituality & Popular Music

SAIF met on once-familiar territory for this summer event. Because of a change of day to Thursday for this meeting, the Friends Meeting House was unavailable to us, so we met in the newly-refurbished Stratford Methodist Church. This was the venue for all the early planning meetings before SAIF was truly launched in 2009.

For this meeting our speaker was the Revd Dr Vaughan Roberts, Rector of the Warwick Team Ministry and Rector of St Mary’s Church, Warwick. Vaughan has long had an interest in popular music of all sorts, and in particular its relationship to religion, so SAIF was happy for him to change from the advertised focus on Dr Who and popular culture. During a wide-ranging reflection he played three recorded pieces of music which helped us to think about the issues described in his handout, which is reproduced below.

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Report of Meeting 20th May 2014

Rehanah Sadiq, Muslim chaplain to the University Hospitals Birmingham and the Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

Rehanah told us her life-story and her faith journey, beginning in Gujranwala in the Pakistani Punjab, where her father was from a muhajir family, one of those who emigrated from India to the new country of Pakistan at the time of the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. Muhajirs wanted to live under a Muslim government, not in Hindu-dominated India, and saw themselves as following the example of the prophet Muhammad in his migration from Mecca to Medina. However, Rehanah says that she can’t claim this of her parents as they lived closely and happily with Hindu and Sikh communities. Her mother still enquires after the whereabouts of her best Hindu friend to this day every time she comes across a new Hindu contact. Like so many families, it was natural to go along with their religious grouping.

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Report on 2014 AGM & Address

The SAIF meeting of March 25th 2014 was the fourth Annual General Meeting of the Forum and began with the report of the Chairman, Canon Dr Christopher Lamb, as follows.

“It has been a typical year for SAIF. At our AGM this time last year Jatinder Birdi of the Sikh community spoke on the Interfaith Movement and caused some questioning in his audience by concentrating on the social activities that people of different faiths should in his view be involved with. In May we welcomed Hari das from the Hare Krishna Temple in Coventry who spoke on the title ‘From Knowledge to Realisation’, and when he paused for breath answered our questions! In July Nicholas White introduced us to his community, with the brief: ‘The Christadelphians: who they are and what they believe.’ Some found this a very conservative, not to say fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity, so it was an important exercise in listening. Listening to one another is of course one of our major aims as we meet.

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Report on meeting 21st January 2014

Led by the Reverend Ros Murphy

Where Next?

A reflection based on Making Sense of Religious Pluralism by Alan Race

‘In this aeon, diversity of religions is the will of God’. These words from Jewish sage Abraham Joshua Heschel, in 1966 were ahead of their time, but today, some theologians are beginning to take this concept seriously.

Affirming religious plurality can be unnerving, especially for faiths which are monotheistic.

All traditions which are ordered in terms of ‘transcendent vision and human transformation’ have a tendency to want to encourage others into their ‘sacred space’. Even where ‘other faiths’ have been encountered, they are often considered ‘at best, pale reflections’.

The Islamic poet, Rumi wrote that ‘The lamps are many, but the light is one; it comes from Beyond’. It is sometimes said, that the religions are ‘all the same really’ – but can we really claim this, or is there something deeper?

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Report of Meeting 12th November 2013

A personal view

We were not very many on this evening, but that probably made for better discussion. Everyone contributed to an evening of Scriptural Reasoning on the account of the Coming of the Magi (the 'Wise Men' from the Christmas story) from St Matthew's Gospel, chapter 2, verses 1-12.

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Report of Meeting 24th September 2013

We had our first Scriptural Reasoning meeting round a Buddhist text from the Lotus Sutra, introduced by David Izen.  The text is printed below.  David was accompanied by a Buddhist colleague, Linda, and following David's brief description of the place of this text in the Nichiren tradition we divided into two groups to study it.

David told us that this passage was part of the Buddha's penultimate teaching, and that the Buddha had said 'ignore my previous teaching'.  His very last teaching was about Nirvana.  Courage, wisdom and compassion were the key qualities to aim for, and this parable tells us we have access to them if we care to look within for the jewel in the robe.

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A brief report on the meeting of 9th July 2013

The Christadelphians

Nicholas White came with his wife and two daughters and a Christadelphian friend to speak about their faith. Put simply, the concern of Christadelphians is to concentrate on what the Bible actually says. One of their heroes is the Bible translator William Tyndale, who believed in 'manifest and open Scripture'. The word Christadelphian means 'Brothers and Sisters in Christ', and the movement dates from the 1832 journey of Dr John Thomas from Britain to America. This was an eight-week voyage in which there was a tremendous storm which drove Thomas to ask deep questions about his life and faith. In America he met Alexander Campbell, and the result of detailed Bible study was the publication of The Apostolic Advocate (1835) and Elpis Israel (1848 - elpis meaning 'hope').

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Report of Meeting 7th May 2013

Speaker: Hari das, President of the Coventry Hare Krishna Temple

Hari das told us he was born in Kenya in 1950 and came to England in 1968. After university he worked for Rolls Royce, and was part of a rock band. He loved the British humour but not the food of the 1970s. Now it has changed so much. He goes to India about twice a year, and values his dual heritage, Indian and British.

He began by teaching us the Hare Krishna chant, accompanied on the guitar. It is a way of praising the attractiveness and energy of God. We joined in, rather uncertainly. Then he focussed on the necessity of the inner life with the image of a banana – something he often does with children. ‘What’s this?’ – ‘A banana’ – ‘What’s it for?’ – ‘To eat’ – ‘Here, you eat it; hey, what are you doing?’ – ‘Taking the skin off’ – ‘But it’s all banana’ – ‘Yes, but I want what’s inside’ – ‘Well, did God make a mistake, giving it a cover?’ – ‘No, that keeps it clean and stops it going rotten’ – ‘Ah, it’s the inside that matters then.’

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SAIF 4th Annual General Meeting - 19th March 2013


Brenda Birnie, Mike & Kathy Eldridge, Kathleen Randall

Chairman’s Brief Review of 2012

We had some excellent meetings in 2012, of which Jason Hart’s ‘Journey in Buddhism’ stands out for me, as does Adam Thorne’s account of Abdul Baha’s visit to the UK 100 years ago. We also welcomed Bill Heilbronn again, and heard about Paganism from Marianne Rohan, and made a visit to Coventry Cathedral on the 50th anniversary of the new building. 

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SAIF Meeting on January 17th 2013

The SAIF speaker for our first meeting of 2013 was Muhammad Badraddin Sadoq, who goes by the name of ‘Med’.  Med was born and brought up in the city of Fez in Morocco, and he brought a Moroccan friend with him called Mourad.  Med’s mother tongue is Arabic, and he was educated largely in French, so English is his third language, but we had few problems in understanding what he had to tell us.  

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Panel Discussion on "How do we live our faith?" - Thursday November 8th 2012

SAIF met for what has become its annual panel discussion meeting, drawing on these occasions on its own resources as its members lead the debate. The topic was How do we live our faith?

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Meeting on 25th September 2012 - A talk given by Adam Thorne about the visits of Abdul Baha to Europe and America in 1912/13

For more about Abdul Baha click here. To go to the Baha'i Faith website click here

After Adam’s graphic presentation of the reception Abdul Baha received on his visits, particularly in London and Bristol, questions focussed on the Baha’i faith itself.

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Meeting on Islam 5th July 2012

Our summer meeting took place as usual at the Friends Meeting House in Stratford-upon-Avon.  We were hoping to hear from Mr Qamar Bhatti, a distinguished Muslim from Coventry, about the variety of Muslim traditions in the world today, and how what he describes as the ‘silent Muslim majority’ can play its part in creating a compassionate, creative society in Britain.

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Report on the SAIF AGM March 20th 2012

The meeting at The Friends’ Meeting house in Stratford began with the now customary time of shared silence.

Chair Christopher Lamb listed the names of six members who had sent their apologies.

Chair’s Report

Christopher then reviewed the progress of SAIF, now in its fifth year.

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Talk on Paganism given by Marianne Rohan on 17th January 2012

Christopher Lamb introduced Marianne Rohan and her friend Edith, Ed for short.   Thanks to the Warwick District Forum we have Marianne Rohan.

I’m Marianne

Basically we believe the Earth is our Mother and we are part of the mother and the mother is part of us and we’re part of nature and nature is part of us and there’s spirit is in everything.  There’s spirit in trees, the sun, other animals, the starts, the moon, and we’re all connected in a web of spirit and this is the life force of the universe.

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Science, Modernity & Religion - Report on SAIF Meeting on Monday 7 November 2011

This meeting was in the form of a panel of 3 speakers, chaired by Revd Christopher Lamb. Mr Mike Eldridge from Stratford Christian Science Church spoke first, followed by Dr Lim Ho from Stratford Methodist Church with Mr Paddy Vickers from the Baha'i Community speaking last.

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Talk on Zoroastrianism given by Mehru Fitter at the URC on Tuesday 20th September 2011

Mehru Fitter started by explaining that she was born in Mombasa and grew up in Kenya, although her family’s roots are in Gujarat in India.  She studied in Pune in India and later in Newcastle and London.  She was initially a teacher in Kenya but moved to the UK and became a librarian, first in Southampton and then in Coventry. In 2003 she was honoured with an MBE for ‘Excellence in Library Provision in a Multi-cultural Society’.

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