Around the nation in towns and villages churches often join together on Good Friday to carry a cross around their neighbourhood. In Luton things are no different – despite the common story that it is a no-go zone for Christians. Britain First's recent visits brandishing crosses as they verbally abused and threatened local Muslims however made some of us think again about that tradition. There was no question of our stopping our practice. But rather we wanted to ensure that our presence with a large cross would be very obviously different to that of those who came full of hate.
Our Muslim friends and colleagues with whom we work closely in building peaceful community relations in the town were equally keen to ensure the no-go zone myth was busted. As a result in Bury Park today today there was a new twist to the traditional Good Friday Walk of Witness by local churches . As the large group of Christians passed Central Mosque on Westbourne Road members of that mosque and others in Luton gathered to greet them and pass out gifts of candles carrying the message of peace in both English and Arabic. A number of them then walked in solidarity with their Christian neighbours up the hill to the Holy Ghost Catholic Church.
Greeting the group, Ashfaq Ahmed from Central Mosque said "We are gifting you with theses candles which say "Peace". This really has become the theme and strength of Luton now". (Video here)
“Today is a great example of how faith communities can live alongside each other in a spirit of mutual respect” said David kesterton, Church of England Vicar of All Saints and St Peters and whose parish covers a large part of Bury Park. “Muslims and Christians are developing closer ties of friendship and trust in our part of Luton. In the light of recent events in Brussels and elsewhere, it is important we witness together to the desire for peace that is at the heart of both our faiths.”
Rehana Faisal who initiated the event said: “We have had enough of outsiders and extremists like Britain First dominating conversations around our town. Today, we wanted to highlight the good relationships that we have built in Luton and our ongoing commitment to living peaceably alongside one another"
Lots of people had heard of the initiative, and there were warm greetings as the church group made their way through the busy shopping area. Some shop keepers offered food and drinks, but church leaders explained Good Friday is a quiet and reflective part of their tradition.
Writing about how Muslims should relate to their Christian neighbours Rehana has just been written: "Greeting the Christian pilgrims during this morning's 'walk of witness' was a great opportunity to reaffirm the covenant made by our beloved Prophet Muhammad SWS, in which he declared to Christians that "You are in my protection and my covenant and my security from any type of despised things."
This was a pledge of peace and a promise to guard from any harm. It was a promise that we would live side by side as neighbours and that we would strive to protect your rights. We hold firm to that promise today. It is even more important during theses difficult times when there are people around us who seek to divide us. We cannot allow cycles of hate to perpetuate. We wanted to send out a message to those people that they will not succeed. This is particularly important today, as pilgrims walked to express their love for Jesus (Peace be upon him) a love which we, as Christians and Muslims share."
its with a commitment to community relations based on teaching of our faiths like this we can make Luton work. We have a long way to go but with lots of small steps like thus we can do it.
Around the town walks took place today in Leagrave, Limbury, Farley Hill, Stopsley, Bury Park and the town centre. In the town centre six churches joined together, and the procession with the cross, accompanied by the Salvation Army band, made its way to the Town Hall and on to St Mary's Church where the cross was planted in the ground.