Quakers are well-represented and active in the world of interfaith work in Britain – indeed, sometimes we are represented beyond our numbers! Quakers are perhaps especially well placed to do some things in interfaith contexts. Although we can and do upset other faith communities sometimes (same-sex marriage or the boycott of Israeli settlement goods, anyone?), we are generally open to dialogue around these issues and others. Sometimes Quaker Meeting Houses can provide relatively neutral spaces within which to hold interfaith meetings, and sometimes they enable the development of other religious communities – I have heard Buddhists say that the British Buddhist community wouldn’t be as strong as it now is without the hospitality of the Quakers. I’m inclined to think that this is a positive thing, and not just because nine out of every ten Quaker Universalists is a Buddhist of some kind*.
As a community which is in itself in some ways ‘multifaith’ – in the sense that we have a common practice and much diversity of belief – I think we find interfaith work especially useful and satisfying. It isn’t a direct relationship, and we need to continue to work on discussing things more openly within Quakerism, but perhaps there is a sense in which, for example, listening to Muslims at an interfaith meeting on Thursday night makes it easier to listening to Sufi-inspired ministry on Sunday morning.
On a more practical level, Quaker practices of listening and holding space for people to speak can be powerful in interfaith discussion settings. Our understanding that all people are equal and our disinclination to proselytise can also contribute to positive interfaith interactions. That’s not to say that we always get it right – any interfaith work runs into bumpy roads sometimes, and Quaker involvement doesn’t change that in the slightest. I think our involvement is worth celebrating, though, at local and national levels, and in less-than-obvious places as well as more traditional ones.
* 100% invented statistic.