Mike Smith
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11 July, 2008

The leaders of Bradford Council of Mosques and students at Bradford University, West Yorkshire, see The Imam and the Pastor film.

Students at Bradford University’s Department of Peace Studies

Students at Bradford University’s Department of Peace Studies with Dr Kenneth Omeje, left.

While British television viewers were gripped by a controversial drama depicting radicalized young Muslims from Bradford, in real life the city’s Muslim leaders saw a documentary film of community reconciliation. The executive of the Bradford Council of Mosques, an umbrella organization for some 80 Bradford mosques, saw The Imam and the Pastor on 29 October.

The film, shot in northern Nigeria, tells the story of how a Christian and a Muslim leader there make a remarkable transition from being sworn enemies to partners in peace-building. It is both a moving story of forgiveness and a case-study of a successful grassroots initiative to rebuild communities torn apart by conflict.

Among those seeing the film in Bradford were the President, Vice-President, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Council of Mosques as well as its Founder, Haji Sher Azam Khan. The Chief Executive, Mohammed Salim Khan, had invited Altaf Mohammed Abid and Mike Smith, representing Initiatives of Change, to show the film in the Khidmat Centre. The Muslim leaders had also invited Dr Philip Lewis, honorary visiting lecturer at Bradford University, author of 'Islamic Britain' and 'Young, British and Muslim', and advisor to the Bishop of Bradford, to attend the screening, along with two retired senior police officers, one of whom had spent nine months training Iraqi police in Bazra.

The Bradford Council of Mosques focuses on fostering community relations and better inter-faith relations between the mosques and the wider society. Bradford in West Yorkshire has proportionately more Muslims, some 15 per cent of the population, than any other British city. Most of Bradford’s Muslims had come originally from Pakistan and India in the 1950s to work in the city’s wool textile mills, most of which are now closed down. The city has had to work hard at its community relations, following street clashes and rioting several years ago.

The film led to a lively dialogue among the council members about how it could be used locally. 'This film inspires people to come together, especially now when we are trying to discover new ways to talk to each other, to understand each other and to work with each other,’ commented one member. ‘We need to work on our commonalities.' Ishtiaq Ahmed commented that the film shows ‘how faith can easily motivate people to hate, but equally how faith can motivate people to peace and reconciliation’. Dr Lewis observed that the film would give teachers, brought up in the secular culture of the 1970s and 1980s, the confidence and ‘a vocabulary to initiate conversations about faith in the classroom’. It was suggested that the film be shown in the Interfaith Education Centre, a resource centre for teachers. The city runs a twinning initiative between its schools to link Muslim children with the rest of the community.

The following day, Abid and Smith showed the film to MA students in the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University. They were joined there by Keith Neal from Manchester. Students from South Africa, Angola, Gambia, Slovakia, the USA and Britain were present for the screening. The showing was hosted by Dr Kenneth Omeje, Research Fellow at the Africa Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, from Nigeria. In the discussions following the film, Fatima from Gambia said, ‘I really appreciated the role of women in this film. It is often men who do the action and deliver it to women. Peace is and should be everybody’s business.’ An American student said that, despite the world’s violence, ‘this film is such a welcome change of hope.’

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