People and Faith on the Move
Aug 25, 2016
Message from the Bossey Interreligious Course August 2016
We are a group of 17 young people who have met for nearly three weeks, 25 July – 12 August 2016 at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, near Geneva, Switzerland. We came together from different parts of the world and from different religions. We are citizens of countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. We represent the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. We have sought both to build an interfaith community together and also to deepen our knowledge and awareness of the issue of global migration, one of the most pressing concerns of our time. The theme of migration is of course interwoven with the reality of the current refugee crisis, in which millions of people are on the move because of their fears and lack of safety, but we acknowledged that migration is a phenomenon which extends well beyond the need for the support of those who are explicitly refugees, and it is linked to the reality of global inequality. Migration means that hope is still alive, and within our religious traditions faith can be a mean to preserve this hope.
During our time together we reflected often and profoundly on the figure of Abraham, our common ancestor in faith. We explored how the story of Abraham himself is intrinsically connected with the reality of migration, and how, seen through this lens, migration can be both a positive and creative experience, both for migrants and for those who receive and host them. We noted how in all our scriptures the hospitality offered by Abraham to strangers is seen as a model for us to follow, offering us an opportunity to see the blessings of God in and through others, and a reminder that we all live in the hospitality of God.
Our religious and scriptural traditions also have further valuable resources to encourage us to work for the support of the refugee, the migrant, the stranger, the neighbour whatever his or her race, religion, social class, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. Within Judaism the requirement not to oppress a ger, a ‘stranger’, is linked in the Book of Exodus to the people’s own foundational experience, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22.21, JPS). Christians hear at the heart of the New Testament the repeated and essential claim of the Golden Rule, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12, NRSV), and are required to put themselves in the shoes of the other, being encouraged to serve and love them. For Muslims the following Quranic injunction is a reminder that we are required to hold to a generous and expansive vision of what it means to be a neighbour: “Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbour, the neighbour farther away, the companion at your side, the traveller, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful” (Sura 4.36).
As young people, returning to our own countries and contexts at the end of our weeks together, we want to find ways to live out our vision in practical action. We were inspired by the words of the document “Welcoming the Stranger”, produced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with the assistance of a wide variety of faith-based organisations, and hear its repeated commitment to “welcome the stranger” as being an injunction to ourselves personally rather than one which is simply the responsibility of our religious leaders. We believe strongly in the importance of education, encouraging people from an early age to understand the other, reducing racism, educating people to be respectful and having a grasp of what it means to be a refugee or migrant, and creating shared experiences such as the involvement of our fellow citizens in the process of enabling migrants to be integrated in our societies. We were particularly aware of a wide variety of gender related issues linked to migration. These included the need to develop a support system to reduce sexual violence, and the importance of safe-guarding and extending laws about the entitlement of women to pass on their nationality to their children to mitigate the problem of statelessness. We are only too aware of the link between religious extremism and the reality of migration, and know that it is a pressing need to strive against extremist attitudes in our religious communities.
We believe that if we walk in the footpath of a stranger we shall discover things that we never knew.