The “Young Voices” event proved to be one of the most inspiring and uplifting occasions ever hosted by Altrincham Interfaith Group. Screened via Zoom, a panel of six young people from a variety of faith groups (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) each talked about an aspect of his or her faith that they particularly enjoyed and then answered questions put forward by those listening. Hosted by Ann Angel and Robert Shield from Menorah Synagogue, and with Rahma Anis as facilitator, the main theme that emerged was that all the panelists enjoyed being part of a community and that their main desire was to help others. Firstly Aisha, a Muslim, talked about the sense of community and family that Islam brought, as did Becca from the Jewish tradition. James, from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints found his experience in the townships of South Africa very meaningful, whilst Josh, a Catholic, went to help the poor in Sierra Leone. Nabil, from the Baha’i faith, stressed the oneness of humanity and brotherhood of all people and his enjoyment in teaching children and watching them develop. Likewise Sharada, a Hindu, enjoyed teaching religion to children via VOICE (Vedic Organization for Indian Culture and Education) and visiting schools and colleges to talk about Hinduism. She also loved the colourful Hindu festivals and dances.
How these young people tackled questions showed how very articulate and thoughtful they all were. The question – What are some of the challenges and response to these challenges that your faith will face in the future – produced interesting answers. Aisha discussed the existence of preconceived ideas about Islam, and how the media cause a lack of understanding of the faith and even hostility, and how she tried to combat this by showing the true face of Islam. Joshua also said people had the idea that his Catholic church was closed when in reality it welcomed everyone, regardless of race or denomination, while Nabil (Baha’i) discussed the challenge of Coronavirus and the difficulty of engaging with and helping people during lockdown.
They were also asked – How important are the Holy books to you, when they were written so long ago? James told how the Book of Mormon and the Bible were still helpful even now, while Sharada said that core messages from the Hindu books could still be applied today. Becca had studied the Torah and found she could apply it to modern life.
Asked whether Science and Religion could co-exist produced some differing replies, with more conservative responses from James (LDS Church) and Aisha (Muslim), who believed in creation by God, while Nabil (Baha’i) believed in harmony between science and religion; science helping us to understand the world but religion providing a spiritual aspect.
When asked whether there is a balance in teaching about different faith groups, it transpired that it was mainly the Abrahamic faiths that were taught, with little focus on Hinduism. A question about discrimination produced some interesting responses, with James describing his fellow students as thinking him “weird” because he went to Church, while Nabil found he could practice his Baha’i faith freely in the UK, unlike other places in the world. He said we should celebrate other religion, as we are all really one. Becca had noticed a rise in anti-Semitism in the press but she herself had not experienced anything too extreme.
All the panelists agreed that youth was really important in religion, that it was their responsibility to present a more vibrant representation of their faiths. They all expressed a desire to contribute in a meaningful way to the world, which was very uplifting to hear.
Ann Angel thanked Rahma for her expert facilitation, the panelists for their sensitive and stimulating contributions and members of the committee for finding such amazing panel members. It really was a very uplifting event and with such young people in our communities it makes one very hopeful for the future of the world.