Taizé: A lesson in humanity for Christians and Muslims
At the end of August Near Neighbours organised a trip for young people to the Christian Community of Taizé (France) for the weekend of friendship between young Christians and Muslims. One of the participants reflects on that experience.
Taizé: A lesson in humanity for Christians and Muslims
Tucked away amongst a quaint (yet not at all sleepy!) little village in the green lands of Burgundy, is the community of Taizé. Run by a group of Christian brothers and home to up to 2,000 visitors at a time, it’s a welcoming vibrant community popular amongst (predominantly) Christians young and old – albeit being sadly not that well-known by people here in the UK.
Founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schütz, a Swiss Christian leader and protestant, this community has continued to welcome brothers and visitors from across the globe every week. Arriving by car, bus, plane and train in the nearby towns and cities of Lyon and Macon to reach this quiet yet soul-refreshing corner of France, visitors can enjoin in personal and collective learning, prayer and reflection, as well as build bonds and friendships with fellow worshipers and community members.
As a Muslim (convert) who had been brought up as a Christian and attended a Catholic school for many years, I was familiar with Taizé services but entirely new to this community. I’m in fact ashamed to admit that I never even knew it existed! As you can imagine, I was therefore excited and very curious to see what I could expect when I found I had been accepted by Near Neighbours to attend a weekend long Christian-Muslim friendship conference, joining a UK-based interfaith delegation.
In a group with one other Muslim, two Christians and two representative from Near Neighbours (both Christian –one in fact a retired vicar!), we headed to France for four nights, arriving before the weekend conference to experience life in the community and the daily routine. Whilst there, we attended daily prayers, participated in bible study workshops and explored the local chapel. It was blissful and as a Muslim, I certainly felt accepted, included and at peace.
Before we knew it in fact, Friday night had dawned upon us and the other Muslim guests and conference delegates started to arrive. The weekend-long conference was underway! Over the next two days, we later attended an inspiring series of lectures and workshops focussed on a range of issues including: different interfaith projects taking place across Europe (and further afield) and the various different approaches to interfaith work (e.g. social action projects and theological discussion such as scriptural reasoning).
For those at the conference who were new to interfaith activism or perhaps otherwise unfamiliar with this area of work, the variety of approaches discussed to help engage with others of different faiths shows that we should and can really personalise interfaith work to ensure it is authentic, engaging and more sustainable over the long-term in terms of the relationships built and the knowledge shared.
These few days therefore acted a great reminder of just how important interfaith work is. They also showed me just how far we’ve come with interfaith work in the UK in comparison to our neighbours over in mainland Europe. This is of course something which makes me incredibly proud. We should now definitely build on our experience to inform others and motivate ourselves in troubled times and my colleague in fact later did exactly this when he gave his own presentation on his work back home in his local community. Taking initiative is definitely the way forward – you never know who you might inspire!
Truths from Taizé: Moving forward together
Amongst the workshops, the presentations and the panels, there really was a deep meaning to this weekend. The conference embodied a warm spirit of welcoming, peace and love. This translated to the sense of community at Taizé, the warm welcome given to everyone (whatever their faith) and the soulful respite it gave me through the collective singing services which bring people together – in more ways than one.
Not only did we sing in French throughout our time there, but we also in a whole host of other languages. Translation was also regularly provided. Respect, inclusivity and a real sense of a global community therefore shone through these thrice daily services. It was a joy to be there as a Muslim guest and I will the treasure the memories forever.
In fact, the deep soulful nature of Taizé’s community and services provided me with a great deal of room for personal spiritual reflection. As a Muslim, I too found spiritual respite, reminders and questions during my stay. I was reminded that God loves us, and as children of God, we should love one another.
It was during daily prayers and in particular on Saturday night as we lit candles, sang and sat in unity together, that I felt moved by (and even cried from) the prayers for Muslims in Algeria, for world peace and for each and every person. Here, I was one of very few people who wasn’t Christian and yet it didn’t matter. I didn’t need to be because I was human, just like everyone else there.
Throughout the weekend, we recognised and sense of community and humanity and this is the crucial message that shone through the weekend – our faiths call upon us to love and care for one another, just as we wish to be loved, respected and welcomed by God and also our neighbours. As Brother Roger said so himself:
“Since my youth, I think that I have never lost the intuition that community life could be a sign that God is love, and love alone. Gradually the conviction took shape in me that it was essential to create a community with men determined to give their whole life and who would always try to understand one another and be reconciled, a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything.”
Indeed, whether we’re Christian, Muslim or of no faith at all: love is the cornerstone to community development and interfaith relations. Remembering this sense of love for one another as brothers and sisters can inspire us all – no matter how new we are to interfaith activism – to simply reach out to one another, to follow the Golden Rule (a universal concept of treating one another as we wish to be treated), and to create more harmonious, united communities.
For in this world, whether in faith or humanity: we are all brothers and sisters. So, let’s all replicate the spirit of Taizé and if can, please do visit Taizé and attend the Christian-Muslim weekend. Coming together is so important – as is reflecting on our own selves – and that’s what makes Taizé so special. Here, not only will you learn about another faith, but you’ll also learn about yourself. This is the future of interfaith cohesion.
Elizabeth Arif-Fear is an award-winning activist and writer. She is the Founder and Director of Voice of Salam, a human rights and interfaith organisation which works to raise awareness of a range of human rights, interfaith, social and cultural issues and promote interfaith and intercultural cohesion.
More information about Voice of Salam can be found here.