Below is the text of my welcome address at my school’s ‘Faiths Forum’ on Wednesday 18th November as part of Interfaith Week. Leaders from Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist communities were present to answer questions from Year 9 pupils. You can see a number of tweets from the week using the hashtag #kngsinterfaith, and watch a special video about the event here.
I am delighted to be standing here to welcome our very distinguished guests to today’s Faiths Forum – some of whom are returning, and others joining us for the first time. They will all be introduced to you very shortly.
This is my 7th year here as head of the RE department, during which time I’ve had the privilege of seeing many positive developments, both in relation to our fantastic pupils, and our wonderful department. I joined at a time when some of the 6th formers you see here were new to this school. I’ve had the privilege of seeing them grow from petrified Year 7s into the mature young adults they are today.
I’ve enjoyed many other privileges too – organising many exciting trips to stunning places of worship and high quality A level conferences; I have the privilege of leading a very dedicated team that has consistently delivered exceptional exam results, making us one of the strongest departments in the school.
However, it is events like today that I am proud of the most. This is the third year in a row that the RE department has hosted the faiths forum as part of Interfaith Week. This is not an initiative that we have ever been asked or told to organise, but something we do because we feel is so crucial for us all, living in a Britain in which there is a rich diversity of people who hold various beliefs. Religion and faith are part and parcel of modern life –they don’t belong to the past, but belong to the now and indeed the future. This is why forums like this are so important.
The RE department’s on-going commitment to promoting tolerance and understanding has led us to be recommended for receiving a national award recognising our efforts to promote inclusivity and dialogue. If our faith leaders could put in a little prayer to their respective gods for this, that would be much appreciated!
I am extremely grateful for being born here – in a Christian country; I was raised as a Muslim; my best friend at school was a Hindu; my wife’s ancestors were Sikhs, and we have two sons who are named after Jewish prophets. I’m sure many of you will also have lots of connections with various religions – more than we might know, or appreciate.
My parents brought me up to always honour and respect people of all faiths – perhaps that’s why I’ve ended up as a teacher of RE. But recent events, such as the unfortunate tragedy in Paris and other places, have certainly highlighted the need for us to understand beliefs and religions much more. We have seen how misunderstandings about beliefs can lead to problems, like prejudice, fear and hate. It is ignorance, not knowledge, that leads to extremism. And one of the purposes of today is to empower you with knowledge that will help you become excellent citizens who embrace the many benefits of living in a multi-faith society and recognise common values that we all share.
There has never been a more crucial time for us all to know, to understand and to work with each other. Today offers you the chance to see and hear from our esteemed speakers what they believe, what religion means to them, and how faith impacts on their lives on a day to day basis. And I’m both delighted and grateful that they have given up so much of their time to be with us.
I will leave you in the very capable hands of our RE ambassadors. Enjoy the forum everyone. Thank you.