From 12-16 October, Muslims in Britain have been celebrating Eid-al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. Both the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury were among those sending greetings - suggesting that such festivals are an important opportunity for people to find common ground.
In his message, PM Gordon Brown talked of the Ramadan fast as "an opportunity for self-reflection", and added of the feasting marking its conclusion: "This celebration is also important for everyone in our country as it reminds us all of our shared obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Rowan Williams included in his greeting the hope that the year to come would be one of "love of neighbour" among Christian and Muslim communities, and in the community as a whole - both in the UK and in the Middle East.
His full greeting is as follows:
Dear Muslim Friends
It is a great pleasure to be able to send you my warmest greetings on the coming festival of ‘Id al-Fitr and on the faithful completion of the special month of Ramadhan in which through fasting and prayer, the spiritual lives of Muslims are strengthened and deepened. Christians may rejoice with Muslim brothers and sisters where such fasting has led to an increase in devotion to God and to the love of neighbour.
These are the themes of the open letter for Eid from Muslim scholars and religious leaders, addressed to Christian religious leaders. I was very glad to receive this letter because it speaks out of the spirit of Ramadhan to the way in which the unity of God and the love of neighbour are foundational to Islam, Christianity and to Judaism. Building on these foundations, the final paragraph of the letter draws practical conclusions: “So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.”
These are words which are resonant for all people of faith and goodwill, For Christians they are words which are rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus who is Lord and Saviour and which we can therefore warmly welcome and embrace in practical ways in our life together in this country and across the world.
I have been privileged to have shared with Muslims and Christians in some of these practical outcomes in the past year in this country and internationally. I was honoured to be able to give the first Zaki Badawi memorial lecture in memory of a dear friend and mentor, and to receive from the Association of Muslim Social Scientists their award for contributions to a better understanding between Faiths and a wider recognition of the place of faith in present day Western culture.
I was glad to be able to speak with Professor Tariq Ramadan in Cambridge at the conference of the Christian Muslim Forum and the Cambridge Inter Faith Programme on the place of Christianity and Islam in our civil society. Together, as well as in our distinctive ways, we have so much to offer in a confused and fragmented society.
Being able to visit Christian and Muslim leaders in Syria and Lebanon during Ramadhan provided a valued opportunity to understand better the stresses that they confront. The continued neighbourly co existence of communities that have lived together for thirteen hundred years is now threatened by the consequences of the violent anarchy in Iraq. My thanks go to the Government and people of Syria for their care of refugees from Iraq; in Lebanon; my prayers are for the Christian, Muslim and Druze communities, that they will live together, united by the call to worship God and to love our neighbours.
In Singapore I shall join with Christian and Muslim scholars to study the Quran and the Bible together so that we and others might better understand how our holy scriptures speak to us in the present day, uniting us in a desire to know God and to show love to our neighbour of whichever faith or none.
In this country, in which we are together both British citizens and citizens of heaven, love of neighbour could happily be our watchword for the year ahead. My hope is that we shall be able to demonstrate the meaning of neighbourly love towards those around us, whether of faith or not.
May I congratulate you on the faithful completion of Ramadhan, wish you a joyful celebration of Eid and pray with you and all people of faith for a just and peaceful year ahead.