It's Time to Look Ahead So All Faiths Can Live in Harmony; in the First of a Week of Special Essays Written by Wales' Faith Leaders, Saleem Kidwai, of the Muslim Council of Wales, Issues a Plea for Religious Tolerance and Understanding at the End of a Momentous Decade

Article excerpt

Byline: Saleem Kidwai

EARLIER this year, Swiss voters approved a constitutional ban on the building of minarets.

It sent shockwaves across many Muslim communities, concerned with the direction in which such democracies were moving.

Whether this ban has been in reaction to the perceived political aspirations of a religious community or the growing displeasure felt by many with the visibility of minority religions, once again the issue of faith in society has really become an issue about Islam and "the West".

Personally, I am not keen on using the phrase "Islam and the West". This dangerous and much used term gives the perception that we are two separate cultures which have nothing to share or nothing in common. Yet anyone with a knowledge of history knows that Islam has been a part of the West for centuries and that Western thought and culture permeates Muslim cultures globally. Some people may see this as a debate between Christianity and Islam: it's true that the two faiths have at times struggled through the history of hate. But we have also shared the hope of keeping God alive in the societies we share and now, more than ever before, we have to learn to live together.

The past 10 years have had an immense impact on Muslims in Wales. We have been under the microscope, under suspicion and our loyalties challenged.

Nevertheless I feel Muslims have come out stronger, more committed and more "Welsh" than any other ethnic community as most of the polls have proved. Why? Because we have the highest number of under-30s born and brought up here.

This is our home - the freedom and rights we enjoy here makes this the only place we want to live in and the only home we want. We will protect it with our lives because our home is our castle. We appreciate our responsibilities and have matured enough to face them and accept them.

We - both individually and as a devolved power - may seem young but we have a history behind us that is to be envied, a culture that has one of the richest traditions, a language that is alive and vibrant, and an utter dedication to fundamental values such as inclusivity, diversity and mutual respect.

It is these characteristics that make Wales such an attraction for people across the world.

We are proud and humbled that we are a part of this vibrant, inclusive and a welcoming country.

We Muslims have been a part of this country since early 1800 and have contributed in all spheres of life; healthcare, education, civil service, politics, business, social services, culture and faith.

Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan is one of the many leading Welsh figures who has given the United Kingdom the benefit of his wisdom over the years. The United Kingdom should always be grateful of the Welsh contribution in their political progression.

The primary aim of the Muslim Council of Wales is to work for the common good of all and particularly the Muslim Community, to bring the communities together, and one of the ways we feel this could be achieved is by educating ourselves and then sharing it with others.

It is through education we can remove prejudices, ignorance and misunderstandings. Education is not only reading books and listening to lectures it is also achieved by interacting with people, sharing your views, ideas, hopes and visions.

Our forefather Abraham (Praise be upon him) is the root of that good tree from which sprang his children, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (Peace be upon them). …