Exploring the theme, “Who is my neighbor?” nearly 30 people met this year in mid-August for six days at the Three-Faiths-Summer School in Ammerdown, England. This meeting takes place every two years; the very first event was held 25 years ago. It’s remarkable that Christians, Jews and Muslims have met since 1989 at this extraordinary place in the middle of Summerset (south of Bath), where Lord Hylton has established a center on his property for people of all religions to meet together in a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere.
This was my second time joining the Three Faiths Summer School. And it was like coming home! Sheikh Bashir of the DMLBonn and URI Germany CCs, one of the founders and spiritus rector of these meetings, manages every year to interest people from Germany to go to England. Some of them travel by a minibus, cross the Channel at midnight and, before arriving at their destination, stop at Stonehenge in the early morning. It’s really adventurous to sleep on the bus, relying on Sihi Sabri driving us safely all the time. Others come by plane or train or in their own car.
Coming from London, Rabbi Dr. Michael Hilton arrived with participants from his Jewish community. His wife and two sons also joined the meeting. The youngest, Benjamin, is now 17-years old; some know him from when he was a baby. In this course, he showed us how to make Shabbat bread.
The little chapel on the property was used as synagogue, church and mosque as well. All of the participants were invited to join the ceremonies. Besides the Christian Sunday morning mass, we also had a Muslim Dhikr ceremony and Friday prayers, as well as the opening and closing ceremony of Shabbat.
Two female priests represented Christian participants, Rev. Dr. Liz Carmichael from the Anglican Church and Ulrike Henkenmeier from the Old Catholic Church. Liz Carmichael is a Professor at Oxford and lives and works in South Africa. She shared stories from her experiences of living in South Africa at the time of Apartheid, where she knew Nelson Mandela and was friends with Bishop Desmond Tutu as well. We watched films about the life of Nelson Mandela and learned more about his life.
We then discussed the current situation between Israelis and Palestinians. We learned about two current projects in this area: The first is a project of meeting people from both sides, who had lost members of their family (mostly their children) in the war to speak about their hate, their fears and their dreams. The second is a project about the distribution of the Jordan River’s water, where, at the moment, both sides involved are losing. This forces Israel as well as Palestine to find and work out a win-win solution.
This is practical work in order to one day have a peaceful, shared neighborhood. We also heard about what the three religions are telling us about how to treat our neighbors. In the Torah (Old Testament) in the book Leviticus, it is written very clearly: “You shall not take revenge or bear a grudge against the children of your people but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai … And if a stranger lives with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The stranger who lives with you will be as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am Adonai your God.”
Sidi Sabri likewise quoted several Surahs from the Qur’an which deal with treating the people of your own tribe and community, as well as how to treat strangers. Reverend Liz Carmichael, in her talk from a Christian perspective, referred to the parable about the poor Samarian in the New Testament.
All books tell us to first take care of the people in our own family, then the clan, the tribe, the nation and then the stranger. Start at your own end and then try to help others. You should love the other as you love yourself.
The more connected the world becomes and the more global we think, the more we all become neighbors. And through the films and reports about setting the Golden Rule into practice, we learned that the magic word is “forgiveness”! As long as we don’t talk about forgiveness, we cannot have the chance to heal.