Rev Maud Robinson reflects on building an understanding with those who ‘profess different religious understandings’

The sermon reproduced in this edition of Waymark is one delivered at St Mark’s in July 2015, by Safeena Rashid, of the Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh, to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr. As the celebration of Eid al-Fitr comes around again for our Muslim neighbours, it is a good time to revisit it. Some of the religious concepts which Safeena spoke about in her address might seem incongruous in the setting of our very liberal religious community; she spoke about the devil as an almost tangible being, which could be kept at bay by the sacrificial act of fasting during Ramadan. I think it’s important that we sometimes challenge ourselves to listen with open hearts and minds to the religious beliefs of others which are far removed from our own. The intention of inviting Safeena to speak to us was not in order to listen to ideas with which we would agree, or indeed to try and change our minds about these ideas, but to increase our understanding of the beliefs of those with whom we share our city and our country. Safeena’s very concrete language describing God and the devil will have been uncomfortable for some of us for whom, if we use these words at all, they will probably be used in an abstract or metaphorical way to describe human impulses, or less well-defined concepts of some form of power or energy, which may, or may not, be at work in the world. However, what we certainly hold in common with Safeena is the impulse to compassion and kindness in our actions toward our fellows, which she also spoke about in her address. In our world we are surrounded by people who understand our world in very different ways – in terms of very specific religious beliefs or in completely secular ways – but with whom we can work together to build an understanding of how we can live together in harmony, and with compassion. As Unitarians, we are called upon not to agree with those who profess different religious understandings, but to enter into dialogue with them and find how we can work with them.