I am not a religious person, although I have come close to some sort of reverie at times when in the presence of the culture of the great faiths.
I am easily seduced by a well-proportioned cathedral, mosque or synagogue. In Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre all do it for me. But I am not a person of faith. I just can’t fake it.
This may sound frivolous or even sacrilegious. But that is not my intention. I am a humanist who believes religion can express the best of humanity. And its worst. And its most mediocre.
Which is where the interfaith movement comes in.
I encountered this effort to foster dialogue among religions in all its force earlier this year when I chaired an event at the Friends Meeting House for the Jewish charities, Spiro Ark and Harif. The panellists, who included Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg and the Reverend Patrick Morrow, were as passionate as the audience.
Dr Muhammad al-Hussaini, a controversial Muslim critic of the “interfaith industry” gave a moving speech about how he had been targeted by those within his community who wished to silence his outspoken critique of political Islam.
Dr al-Hussaini was deeply critical of those who argued for dialogue with the respectable face of Islamism in Britain — institutions such as the Muslim Council of Britain and East London Mosque.
What I didn’t realise at the time, is that the interfaith movement was itself planning an operation to marginalise this turbulent Muslim cleric. His comments at the event, and an article I wrote in the JC afterwards, apparently provided them with the pretext they needed.
I don’t know Dr al-Hussaini very well and I am sure that his views must be deeply irritating to those who have built their careers in the inter faith movement. He is clearly a difficult customer.
But it would strike me as more than a little curious if the Board of Deputies, the Church of England and the MCB were to join forces to silence this man in the name of dialogue.
In a delicious irony, they will have succeeded in creating the first interfaith martyr.