The Causeway Inter Faith Forum says it will continue to promote mutual understanding between different faiths in the community, in the wake of the horrific Manchester Arena attack.
Following the suicide bombing, which killed 22 people, including children, and injured 59 others, social media was awash with tension among faiths as well as hatred and suspicion of the Muslim community.
Now key members of the Inter Faith Forum in Coleraine have revealed their quiet but effective work with all faiths who live here, including those from Christian, Bahá’i, Islamic, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds.
Their aim is to provide a forum for representatives to have open dialogue with one another on matters of religious and community importance.
The Forum also promotes wider interfaith dialogue with other religious and belief groups and represents its members when advising or collaborating with other organisations on matters of faith.
On a wider level the aim is simple: to promote tolerance, respect and understanding among all creeds in Causeway.
Forum members are not necessarily official delegates of their respective communities but represent a balanced cross-section of people desirous of sharing and fostering a mutual appreciation of each other’s beliefs and cultural diversity.
New members from whatever background, who can accept the Forum’s aims, are most welcome to join in.
Co-chaired by Rev Bert Ritchie and Dr Jaweed Wali, a retired consultant surgeon, the Forum was officially launched in January by Alderman Maura Hickey, the mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens, at Cloonavin.
“The Forum provides a platform where we can get a different perspective on the many faiths within our community,” said Rev Ritchie Rev, of the Church of Christ in Coleraine.
“We have a strong commitment to understanding and partnership with all faiths as well as relationship building within the entire community.”
Around 70 people from the Muslim faith live in the Causeway area and they worship at a mosque on Gateside Road on the outskirts of Coleraine.
There has been no adverse reaction to the Muslim community here following the Manchester atrocity carried out by Salman Ramadan.
Abedi, a 22-year-old British Muslim who detonated a shrapnel-laden improvised explosive device at the end of a concert by US pop singer Ariana Grande.
However, in June 2016 a judge described two local men who made Facebook threats about burning down the Coleraine mosque, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, as “knuckle-draggers”.
District Judge Peter King described the men’s language as ‘violent’ and both had discussed, what they were planning to do at “a place of worship used by a vulnerable minority”.
It’s precisely those tensions and attitudes that the Forum wish to address by encouraging people to come together to talk openly about faith matters.
“We want to promote an interactive exchange on faith at the most basic level,” commented Rev Ritchie.
“This means just getting people together and talking, I believe that is very, very important.”
The Forum also invites occasional speakers to come along and address its members who meet in different churches and places of worship in the area.
The body also organises and promote interfaith activities and events, such as a recent social evening at Truva Restaurant, which allowed people from different faiths to enjoy an evening of fun and fellowship.
Local PSNI Sergeant Terry McKenna has worked closely with the Forum since its inception and he said police are fully supportive of its positive work in “promoting good community relationships.”
“We very much have a supportive role within the forum and see it as an opportunity to provide reassurance within ethnic minority communities.
“We also can respond to any issues that may arise and we would encourage any member of the public who has any concerns over hate crimes to ring the police non-emergency number 101.”