The theme of religious exploration has preoccupied Cambridge recently as Explore Islam Week, organised by the University of Cambridge Islamic Society (ISoc), began on Monday. This followed the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union’s (CICCU) week of talks entitled ‘The Search’.
ISoc’s Explore Islam Week consists of talks, an interfaith dinner and an open prayer meeting. On their part, CICCU explored “who Jesus is and what that could mean for us today”, through lunch time, evening and international talks. Ali Shalchi, President of ISoc, explained that Explore Islam Week “aims to promote a greater understanding of Islam by allaying misconceptions and providing a lens into Islamic practices and doctrine. At a time of rising bigotry towards religious communities we seek to foster unity amongst faith societies, bringing communities together in recognition of our commonalities.”
Salchi also highlighted how the events aimed to “emphasise the purity of character and religious tolerance” of the Prophet Mohammed and to “spread an understanding” of Islamic heritage.
Explore Islam Week began with ‘Who Is Muhammad?’, attended by non-Muslims and Muslims alike. One Christian attendee said: “I feel that there’s a lot more on women’s rights and animal rights that I now know about in Islam, and also a lot about poverty […] I knew there was some overlap, and in terms of poverty the Christian message and that of Islam seem to be fairly similar. Although I think that there are some fundamental differences, like grace versus works in getting into heaven, and also perhaps how liberally you can interpret scripture. But there are definitely a lot of similarities”.
Student reaction to the Christian initiative ‘The Search’ has also been positive. Isabel Leach, the Interfaith representative at CICCU, commented: “I really enjoyed The Search, mostly because of the chats I had with people; while I like the talks, what I really love is the way they act as conversation starters … about things that are so important in life.”
Victoria Mackay, a student at Gonville and Caius College, also spoke positively about the talks: “I took some friends along to the lunchtime events and they found it really interesting to hear the opinions of Christians about tricky topics like science and suffering. My friends also commented on how welcome they felt to the events, no matter what they believed.”
Leach also told The Cambridge Student that there are further opportunities for interfaith dialogue in Cambridge’s diverse student community: “There are various specifically interfaith activities at Cambridge. A lot of them are on a friendship-group kind of basis, so people meeting up in small groups to discuss how their different faiths address big topics, or reading the Qur’an and the Bible together, but there are wider initiatives organised by the societies as well.”
“I’ve had some really interesting and eye-opening conversations with people from various faiths, or none, at several of the interfaith events I’ve attended.”