MHMD2 What Obligations do Communities have Towards Each Other?

MHMD2 What Obligations do Communities have Towards Each Other?
12th May 2008
Three Discussions: What Obligations do Communities have Towards Each Other?


Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, New North London Synagogue, Finchley
Dr Ziauddin Sardar, author, broadcaster, journalist
Mr Hagai Segal, Lecturer, New York University, London

Running order

7.00 Introduction by Keren Querfurth of the organising committee + introduction of speakers by Mr Segal
7.05 Speaker 1: Rabbi Wittenberg
7.20 Speaker 2: Dr Sardar
7.35 Q & A

Summary of Discussion 2

Jonathan Wittenberg said that “responsibilities that communities have for each other are absolute … this is mandated not only by common sense but also by our historical experiences”. Even so, the driving message of most faith groups – the message which we imbibe in infancy, while we are growing up, and even in later years emphasises and attaches importance to our differences rather than our common humanity. Consequently our religious identity is imbued with a consciousness of US versus THEM. This ethos is perpetuated by those responsible for our education and training in the “heartland” of our communities and so it is “here where we have to go if we really want to transform the degree to which we’re going to be responsible as communities to one another.”

Ziauddin Sardar endorsed the view that the first step towards being human is mutual respect for each other’s rights. From this flows the recognition that as there are different ways of being human, there are different ways of being religious. “The stumbling block is that all monotheistic religions claim that they have the absolute truth, and even own the truth.” It is a notion of exclusivity which does not sit comfortably with our common humanity. The extent to which communities are prepared to be responsible towards each other depends on the acceptance that any understanding of religion or the truth is always partial. “The function of religion is to provide hope … and the most profound thing that Islam forbids is despair … because if you despair then you cannot believe in God.”

The speakers pointed to different signposts to achieving greater responsibility between communities from a religious perspective. It could be found through education and training if we have the courage to open ourselves to a world which encompasses a myriad of religions. It could also be found by accepting the idea that no group (religious or otherwise) can claim a monopoly to “the truth”. Either path leads to a recognition that we live in diverse communities within a complex society. This structure undoubtedly has scope for tension and flashpoints. Nevertheless, we can live in relative harmony if we stop looking for scapegoats outside the boundaries we impose on ourselves or have imposed on us, and have the confidence for self examination.

It is our hope that the Miriam Hyman Memorial Discussions will help to draw more and more attention to these ideas and initiatives.


The panel: (L-R) Hagai Segal,
Ziauddin Sardar, Jonathan Wittenberg