I was invited to visit France a week ahead of the first year commemoration of the Paris attacks. I was joined by Muslim and Anglican leaders from across the U.K. The main objective of this journey was to show our solidarity with the people of France, who were brutally murdered because of the toxic ideology of extremists, who seek to divide our diverse and peaceful communities.
The interfaith visit to France included Mass in a Normandy church, where an elderly Catholic priest, Father Jacques Hamel was brutally murdered last July. We met his colleagues and the local community to share the message of peace, harmony and the true message of Islam. I reassured the community in this time of sadness and concluded the meeting by saying:
“We share your pain and are committed to stand together against such evil. We are all appalled to hear that these events happened inside a place of worship, where people gather to worship God and share his message of love and peace and this adds a greater element of barbarity to what took place that day.”
It was positive to hear that the response to this tragic murder was love, colleagues emphasised that the resilience of the community was due to relationships built over years with other faith communities. It was reassuring to see that the Muslim-Christian relationship was so strong, that the Christian community donated a piece of land to the Muslim community for 1 Euro, so they could build a place of worship. This demonstrated the importance of investing in local relationships with other communities.
The interfaith visit also included a visit to Bataclan theatre, where 89 innocent victims of terrorism were killed. We laid flowers and shared our message of peace with those who were brutally murdered. Those responsible claimed to represent Islam; we openly condemned their actions and said these killers do not represent my faith nor do they represent me in any other way. We openly condemned their actions and denounced their so called state.
We were invited to the Grand Mosque of Paris, where we spoke with the Director of Theology regarding the rise of Islamophobia in France. We discussed how these terrorist attacks have had detrimental effects such as alienation, discrimination and hate towards Muslims. We concluded the meeting by sending a strong message to extremists and those who have hatred towards our peaceful communities.
I want to conclude my journey by saying that we must thrive to bring our communities together as we are all human regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity gender or disability. We have more in common than those who seek to divide our diverse and peaceful communities.