Labour Deputy Leader, Cllr Amanda Evans’ column in The Argus this week:
April is a very important month in the calendar for several different religious groups in our community, and although I am not religious, I’m always fascinated and sometimes very touched by the inspiring motivations behind some of the major events, including interfaith celebrations designed to foster stronger links and mutual understanding between groups.
The whole month is Ramadan, the most significant period in the Islamic calendar, marking the time the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet. Muslims fast each day between dawn and sunset and devote their time to religious contemplation and good deeds. Ramadan was celebrated in Brighton a week ago by the welcome return (after Covid) of the annual Iftar dinner at the Grand Hotel, where people of all faiths and none are invited to join the Muslim community in interfaith discussion and to break the day’s fast at sunset. The theme this year was ‘Rekindling Community Spirit’.
The 8 days of Passover, one of the most important festivals in the Jewish calendar begin at the end of last week, too, opening with the traditional Seder ceremony and meal(s), and celebrating the liberation of the Israelites, led from Egypt by Moses, as described in the Book of Exodus.
Last week also marked Holy Week in the Christian calendar, of course, starting with Palm Sunday and continuing through to Good Friday and Easter Sunday and Monday. For observant Christians, the week itself is also preceded by fasting and prayer, during the 40 days of Lent.
Like many people across our diverse city, I come from quite a mixed family background – from Italian Catholic, to eastern European Jewish, taking in a bit of Welsh Chapel Unitarian along the way. This could of course have led to a lot of discord, but never did, somehow.
When my sister died a few years ago, her funeral service was a beautiful and non-denominational one, presided over by a retired female C-of-E vicar who had been a friend of long standing, and with the (Mourner’s) Kaddish recited by two cousins. Despite the upset of a much-loved wife, mother and sister being taken too soon, it was a truly lovely send-off.
So, to those of these still marking Ramadan and Passover in our city, I say Ramadan Mubarak and Chag Pesach Sameach, to the Christians I hope you had a wonderful Easter, and to those of other faiths or none, I say talk to your friends and neighbours about your beliefs and theirs – conversation is always good and all religions have a story to tell, and a lot in common.
One of the things that all the major religions tend to have in common is a belief in kindness, in helping our neighbours, in reaching out to strangers in need, and certainly people across Brighton & Hove have done this in record numbers recently, proving our status as a City of Sanctuary is more than just a title.
Thousands of you have contacted the council to offer help to fleeing refugees, whether in the donation of money of clothes, or space in your homes, and this mass expression of concern and kindness frankly shames our national government, who have done so little to help people in desperate situations, from Afghanistan to the Ukraine and elsewhere.
They sank to a new low last week, drawing attention away from senior government figures being fined for breaking their own lockdown laws by announcing a plan to fly asylum seekers who manage to make it to the UK to Rwanda for ‘processing’, claiming this would be helpful in the fight against people traffickers.
Needless to say, refugee charities across the UK poured scorn on this claim, and the only person who seemed to think it was a good idea other than our government was the extreme-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
Hundreds of organisations – including fantastic local groups like Voices in Exile, Sanctuary on Sea, B&H Freedom from Torture Supporters Group and Sussex Aid for Refugees – have arranged protests, signed open letters to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary, and started petitions, pointing out that the plan was more likely to increase trafficking, misery and deaths, than reduce them, with one letter describing it as: ‘A shamefully cruel way to treat people who have come to the UK to seek protection, fleeing persecution or conflict’ that would put the UK in breach of international treaty obligations.
The latter point was also made by the UN in a statement: “UNHCR remains firmly opposed to arrangements that seek to transfer refugees and asylum seekers to third countries in the absence of sufficient safeguards and standards…people fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities.”
In this month of religious festivals and celebrations of the arrival of spring, I’m grateful residents here continue to show the kindness, inclusivity and openness for which our city is so rightly famed.
Photo: AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi