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Region 3 - 29th Annual Multi-faith Pilgrimage

A day of reflection from a youth’s perspective

On Saturday 14th of June 2014, pilgrims gathered at ‘Our Lady of Muswell Church’ hall in the early hours the morning, to take part in the 29th Annual Westminster Multi-Faith Pilgrimage for Peace. Undeterred by the rain which was forecast to continue into the rest of the day, people of different ages, backgrounds and faiths had arrived from across the Region and there was a palpable excitement in the air. Each and every one present in the hall, be it a first time participant or an old hand, felt connected in their mutual anticipation of an educational and enriching day. The aim of the pilgrimage was to allow people to “deepen their own faith by promoting greater awareness of other faiths through dialogue, prayer and action.” During the course of the day, everyone shared small patchworks of their personal God experience, culminating in a rich spiritual tapestry.

This year’s pilgrimage took place in the Borough of Haringey and in true spirit of a pilgrimage, majority of the ‘pilgrims’ chose to walk from one place of worship to another. Taking part in this procession gave everyone the unique opportunity to interact with each other, to help each other assimilate the experience they had in each place of worship and greatly facilitated interreligious dialogue.

Following a welcome address by the organisers and a brief introduction by Fr Mark of ‘Our Lady of Muswell Church’, we set off to attend Shabbat service at the Muswell Hill Synagogue. Upon entering this traditional, Orthodox synagogue, we were warmly invited to witness the reading of their holy text, The Torah. The Rabbi beautifully stated that, “The Torah is the tree of life to those who grasp it and happy is everyone that upholds it”. The Torah consists of the first five books of the Old Testament and is seen as a guide for how a Jewish person should live their life. As it is written in Hebrew, the Rabbi perfectly translated the messages behind the readings, which revealed themselves to be based on universal principles that all could relate to. We also witnessed the chanting of prayers specifically for the sick and ailing, and congratulatory prayers for a newly engaged couple where everyone joined in joyous singing. For those of us who had never been to a synagogue before, this experience was fascinating and one could immediately feel a strong sense of community and family that is so inherent in the teachings of Judaism. In his brief sermon, the Rabbi explained that for Jewish people, Shabbat was a day of the soul and that Sabbath day gave soul and meaning to the rest of the week, just like the festivals gave meaning to the rest of the year. This was very enlightening; to know that Jewish people had such a strong connection to the soul, and for us to be allowed to share that experience with them showed their commitment to interfaith harmony and understanding.

The next presentation by the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the ‘Quakers’, was highly interesting and educational, as majority of those gathered had not heard of this particular faith before. Quakerism had in fact begun in the mid-seventeenth century and has since had a strong following all around the world. Quakers believe that it is possible for every person to have a real and direct experience of God, without the need for priests, rituals or dogmas. We were told that this abolishment of the priest was a symbolic rejection of a deity and that every one of us was a priest. They believe it is their task to seek “that of God” in people and respond to it in a way that lives out that belief. This automatically brings to mind how Swami has time and time again reminded us of the salient truth that we are divine; beginning every discourse with “Embodiments of the Divine Aatma”. Quaker meetings are based on silent waiting as they feel the presence of God in stillness and in silence, but anyone who becomes inspired is encouraged to speak, read or pray out loud. A fellow Quaker of several years, mentioned that despite being a Hindu, he is drawn to the Quaker meetings as the silence allows him to continuously recite the name of Krishna in his mind, in peace. Such a crossover was wonderful to discover and really showed the beauty of harmony in religious diversity.

Following that enlightening talk, we proceeded to lunch kindly provided and served by members of the Sachkhand Nanak Dham International. This Sikh order was founded by Hazur Mahraz Darshan Das in India. His slogan, “In the name of the supreme Lord, do something good for someone else in your life”, is the essence of his teaching, urging his followers to render selfless service for the welfare of all humanity. The members of this Sikh order have diligently upheld this teaching; generously feeding the pilgrims of the interfaith pilgrimage for 29 years. This is no different to how Swami inspires us even today to put his message, “Service to Man is Service to God” into action. The parallel does not stop here, as Mahraz Darshan Das too proclaimed that God and Man were one and the same. He strived for the unity of mankind under the one common banner of love. (There is only one religion, the religion of Love - Baba).

No longer weary Pilgrims after the hearty meal, we resumed our journey towards the Moravian Church in Hornsey. Again, many of us were unaware of this Christianity denomination, which has a long history dating back to the 14th century. It was founded in what is today the Czech Republic by Jan Hus, who felt the practices of the churches in those days were not in line with what the Bible stated. Consequently the Moravian Church became the first protestant church. We were treated to a wonderful presentation by the Minister, Rev Joachim Kreusal, who explained the rich history of the church, played music pertaining to Moravian congregations and also described the importance of the church’s architecture. We were in awe of the beautiful structure, with its high arches and simple yet effective design.

The Moravian church is also a regular meeting space used by the Baha’i Spiritual Assembly. The Baha’is worship God through prayer, meditation and active service to their communities. They believe that there is only one God, whom people call by different names, and that their founder Baha’u’llah was a messenger from God, in the same way Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, Moses and Krishna were. Baha’is preach the importance of independent investigations of the truth, and at the age of 15 (age of spiritual maturity), Baha’i families encourage their children to investigate other religions and beliefs in order to choose for themselves the direction of their spiritual trajectory. Just like the principle of Sarva Dharma so lovingly advocated by Swami, Baha’is believe in the unity of all faiths.

The final leg of the pilgrimage took us to the mosque of the London Islamic Cultural Society followed by the Crouch End Sufi Centre. Construction of the LICS Mosque began in 1998 under the visionary leadership of its President, Adbooll Alli and it was Haringey’s very first purpose built Mosque. Beautiful and spacious, this Mosque was built in the traditional style with an elaborate gold coloured dome and a minaret which can be seen from a distance. The evening sun gleamed off the gold surface of the dome as we walked towards this impressive building. After receiving a very warm welcome by Mr. Alli’s daughter, we proceeded on a tour of the building during which our guides provided informative talks and answered our questions. We were completely enamoured by the intricate designs on the walls, the elegant light fixtures and the beautiful ottoman carpets and for brief moment we all forgot that we were in England. We then concluded in the dining hall for refreshments and also a speech from Mr. Alli himself: a wise, kind-hearted and extremely articulate gentleman, who spoke of the importance of interfaith relations and encouraging togetherness in the community.

Our last stop was the Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi Shahmaghcoudi, School of Islamic Sufism. Upon entering the building, we were immediately taken aback by the sheer beauty of the interior. From the glass chandeliers, the calligraphy and the mosaic ceramics, to the intricate mirror work and wooden panels engraved with sacred teachings (which we later discovered were all handmade by the students of the school); everything was reflective of the self-inquiry and contemplative practice that Sufism cultivates. The most prominent feature was the Sistine Chapel-esque painting on the ceiling of one of the domes that was single-handedly painted by a famous Sufi artist (also a student of the School). It consisted of images of old and young people which showed the different stages of life and he had used very light, dewy colours in order to portray the kingdom of heaven. Presentations given by the students explained that Sufism was the inward path to Islam, looking beyond the scriptures in order to seek the source of absolute life – the essence of divinity. They mentioned how every student was encouraged to learn the arts and use their creativity to input into their place of worship. This creativity is very important in Sufism because they believe that man is created in the image of God (the creator); therefore, man himself has the ability to create and this creation is unlimited just like the existence of the universe. Every feature of the building was steeped in meaning and purpose. The amount of thought put into each and every element was extremely enlightening and encouraged self-reflection of our own day-to-day actions. We were then invited to take part in Zikr, a form of worship where people gathered in a circle, moving from left to right making the symbol of infinity (with the heart at the centre) while singing a specific phrase or verse. To witness everyone revelling in the rhythm and motion of Zikr, reciting the Shahada earnestly irrespective of their own faiths, was a transcending experience and a perfect way to conclude the Pilgrimage.

Listening to the teachings of these various faith groups, one becomes increasingly aware of the similarities and interconnectedness between them. Just like the Muslims observe Ramadan, the Jewish observe Yom-Kippur, and the Hindus observe fasts during auspicious festivals. Judaism teaches that all mankind was created "b’tzelem Elohim," which is Hebrew for "in the image of God." All the other religions too preach the same. This resonates greatly in every Sai devotee, as Swami has always said that he created us in his image. The more we learn of other religions, the more attuned we become of our own. This event addressed the widespread misconception that spirituality is incompatible with secular society. Swami has stated that spirituality is not only concerned with salvation, but in fact, it is the backbone of society; indispensible for social progress and solidarity. We must realise that all religions are denominations of the one religion – the religion of Love. Their teachings are all rooted in the universal ideals of truth, right conduct, peace, love and non-violence (five human values). Each individuals relationship with God is unique and personal and the differences should not matter as long as every experience connects us to the omnipresent. A fellow Pilgrim, who has been attending the walks for 15 years, rightly said that we need events like this to keep us grounded. It allows us to “accept each other’s differences and still see each other as equals.”

Sai Ram.

Nikita Limbu
Central London Sai Centre, Region 3