The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester
Established to develop the cultural and social ties between the Muslim and Jewish communities of Greater Manchester
29 October 2023
On Sunday Mothers Against Violence organised the free multicultural event described in the poster below to fight antisemitism, racial prejudice and hate crimes across Greater Manchester.
Both of our Co-Chairs spoke using prepared texts, and you can read their speeches below.
I am going to talk about the following:
There have been some Muslims in Manchester for probably a couple of hundred years.
The community I know most about is Muslims from the Indian subcontinent. There was a steady trickle into Manchester from the early 1900’s onwards. My own father arrived here for the first time in 1931. He came because his family of peasant farmers in the Indian Punjab were desperately poor.
The first mosque in Manchester was established around 1948. It is the Manchester Central Mosque in Victoria Park. My father was one of the founders. I used to attend Sunday school there as a child. One of my greatest regrets is that one of the Sundays I decided not to go is the day that the mosque was visited by the American civil rights leader Malcolm X.
When I was a child, it felt like we knew almost all the Muslims in Manchester. Since then, the community has grown enormously. The 2021 Census reports about 123,000 Muslims in the City of Manchester, and about 374,000 for Greater Manchester as a whole.
Muslims from the Indian subcontinent are still the largest group. However, other communities are now also very large, for example Arabs and Somalis. Just look at how Wilmslow Road has changed. For example, there are fewer Indian curry houses and more Arabic shisha bars.
I often speak to children in secondary schools about the relationship of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Without getting into lots of detail, I can summarise the essence of Islam very easily.
Before I do, I have one important disclaimer. Islam has many divisions, the same way other religions do. I am a Sunni Muslim. I see Islam from that perspective. With that disclaimer, I can begin.
God has spoken directly to humanity.
He did this in the messages that he gave to prophets such as Moses and Jesus to name just two out of many prophets. About 1400 years ago, He did this in Arabia when, via the Archangel Gabriel, He revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
Every single one of us, as an individual, has direct access to the word of God in the Quran. In Islam, there is no church. There are no priests who mediate between us and God.
God has told us how we should live our lives. On the Day of Judgement, he will assess each of us, individually, and either admit us to Paradise or sentence us to Hell. Every Muslim has complete personal responsibility for what they do in their lives.
There is a phrase which occurs several times in the Quran. Let me quote it from Surah 6 verse 164, translated by Professor Abdel Haleem. His translation, published by Oxford University Press, is the one I always recommend to people reading the Quran for the first time.
“Say, ‘Should I seek a Lord other than God, when He is the Lord of all things?’
Each soul is responsible for its own actions;
no soul will bear the burden of another.
You will all return to your Lord in the end, and He will tell you the truth about your differences.
“No soul will bear the burden of another” is the reason you have to reach your own religious decisions. “Somebody else told me to do it” will not be a defence on the Day of Judgement!
Islam emphasises the importance of learning and study.
The most basic is the study of the Quran itself. If you don’t know what God is telling you, how can you obey him? However, religious knowledge is not the only knowledge that matters.
We live in a wonderful, complex universe. We have a responsibility to understand it. That has driven me from childhood to learn about science, history, economics, and everything else.
Islam emphasises the importance of sharing the blessings God has given us. That is why I have given to charity all my life. That is why I donate to the Friends of Manchester Cathedral which is hosting us today. The charities I support most are educational charities such as Clare College Cambridge, Manchester Grammar School, the Islamic schools in Manchester, and the British Muslim Heritage Centre.
Islam emphasises the importance of making this world a better place for everyone, not just Muslims. That has driven my lifelong interest in politics, and my support for many non-governmental groups. The most relevant one to mention today is the time I have devoted since 2005 to helping to run the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester.
I was asked to talk about Muslim culture. I’ve been thinking quite hard.
The problem is deciding what parts of my cultural background are Muslim, and what parts are Punjabi, which is the ethnic group that I belong to. Almost everything in the culture of my family is the same as the culture of my Punjabi Hindu friends.
We share very strong family values. We share a strong ethic of work, self-reliance, saving for the future, and service to the public.
To be honest, I think most of what gets presented as Muslim culture is actually the culture of the ethnic group that people come from, whether Indian, Arab, African or Malaysian.
To be a Muslim is to follow the religious principles I mentioned earlier. Apart from things like Islamic art, I don’t believe that there is a distinctive Muslim culture.
My name is Councillor Heather Fletcher. I was born in Salford in the early 1960's and have lived in Salford for 47 years of my life. My father was born in Dublin, Republic of Ireland and my mother in Manchester.
I had a very secular upbringing but we did celebrate all the major Jewish festivals. I went to a Jewish primary school but thereafter to a Protestant girls grammar school in South Manchester and I completed my education with a Law degree at Birmingham University.
I was in the legal profession for 33 years and have to admit that I wasn't community minded. However, that changed 19 years ago when I went along with my friend Martyn to the first meeting of Muslims and Jews at Manchester Town Hall hosted by the late Henry Guterman and Afzal Khan (now MP) who were well known community activists. To be honest we only went there because there was nothing on at the cinema which we fancied that night, and we also went out of curiosity! That meeting changed my life.
I was so impressed by the positive vibes in the room where over 100 people of the Muslim and Jewish faith mixed together happily that I decided I would like to become involved with this genre of work.
Eight months after this initial meeting Henry and Afzal co-founded our Muslim Jewish Forum. Although I had never been on a committee before I decided to join this worthwhile committee. I have now been on the Executive for 18 years, 10 as the Company Secretary and 8 as the Jewish Co-Chair.
Because I believe it is ignorance which creates bigotry and hatred, but when people mix together and learn about each other’s faiths and cultures, the "unknown" becomes the "familiar" and people become more tolerant and open minded. Conversely if people are insular and do not mix with other communities, this creates ignorance of others way of life and gives rise to fear and division and could ultimately lead to hate crimes being committed.
In the past 18 years our MJF has organised 145 diverse events bringing together Muslim and Jewish people and others from all over Greater Manchester. We have organised picnics, Eid parties, iftars, kosher meals out, quizzes, concerts and more serious lawyers panel events.
It may seem that our events are largely social and to some extent that is true BUT I believe that better community relations are fostered when people mix together, eat together and enjoy themselves together rather than learn in a purely educational setting.
We have connected with other groups of Muslim and Jewish people in Paris and Leeds. We have also had a few "away days" to the National Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire, Liverpool, Lincoln and Leeds to see places of Muslim and Jewish interest.
A smaller group of Muslim Jewish Forum Executive friends have been abroad together eleven times and visited synagogues, mosques and Jewish museums in Krakow, Granada, Marrakech, Paris, Brussels, Dubrovnik, Mallorca, Bratislava, Lisbon, Dublin and Sofia. Next year we plan to visit Iceland.
Our Forum was set up with clear objectives "to promote and develop social and cultural ties between Muslim and Jewish communities in Greater Manchester." Accordingly, Middle East issues are beyond our remit. We work hard on what we feel we ARE able to do, i.e. help communities on our doorstep in Greater Manchester to get along with each other. We are powerless to do this overseas.
The Forum has won two awards for our community work. A British Muslim Award "Spirit of Britain" in 2014 and a North West Fusion Award for Community Organisation of the Year in May 2016.
Through organising so many diverse events our Forum has brought together many people of all faiths and backgrounds who otherwise would not have met. Several Muslim and Jewish people have also forged strong friendships through working together for our organisation.
In conclusion I firmly believe that our Forum has helped to foster better community relations through our activities and created more understanding and harmony in the Greater Manchester area for the past 18½ years. I hope we continue to do so for many more years and hope even more people will join us on our mission to create a more cohesive and happier society. A society where people enrich each other's lives by learning from each other.
The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester
Established to develop the cultural and social ties between the Muslim and Jewish Communities of Greater Manchester