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August - September 2007
Under The Skin
by Sujata Jolly
Sujata Jolly commends WIN - Women’s Interfaith Network, an organisation dedicated to better understanding between different faiths
If God did not exist it would be necessary for us to invent him. – Voltaire
Voltaire, the renowned French philosopher of eighteenth century, boldly spoke against religious superstitions and for tolerance and enlightenment. Today, we are better educated, informed and well travelled. Enlightened and tolerant? I have my doubts.
For most of us, faith and religion are interchangeable. Almost all of us have an element of belief in divinity, supernatural powers, moral codes and ethics. We have our own personal yardsticks with which to judge the behaviour of others. Unlike the Ten Commandments these yardsticks are not engraved on a tablet of stone but do vary temporarily and with context.
We have powerful institutions, too powerful for comfort at times, such as churches, temples, gurdwaras, synagogues and mosques, as custodians for our faiths. These are revered institutions and we look to them for spiritual guidance, inner strength and peace, but at times they do stray into politics. Almost all of us follow the faith of our parents and learn from them about our faith, the distinction between good and bad and so on. Indeed we start life as a blank canvass and interaction with family and friends provides the colouring.
Religion, call it faith if you wish, acts as a cohesive force within a community. It is a sensitive subject. But let us put aside momentarily the holier than holy attitude, and look at this calmly and rationally. Times have changed. We live in a mobile society. Our neighbours are unlikely to be members of the same faith as us. We live in a global village, and the United Kingdom is unquestionably a microcosm of the world where people of all faiths congregate.
We come across people of other faiths at each and every step of our daily lives. It is indeed a sad reflection of our busy lives and narrow mindedness that we make little effort to learn and understand other faiths. We only read the extreme views from fringe minorities and feel alarmed and threatened. The result is polarisation, prejudice and a feeling of insecurity and apprehension in mixing with persons of faiths other than our own.
However, the cosy status quo of separate development of communities in a multinational and multicultural society received a massive shock in 2001. The horror of 9/11 highlighted the nascent hostility that could exist between different cultures. The extent of polarisation became apparent. Something had to be done.
Women took the lead and Women’ Interfaith Network (WIN) was born from the ashes of the tragedy. Their aim is to bring women of different faiths together. WIN is helping to break down the barriers between different communities, promote understanding and tolerance and help to create a more tolerant and inclusive society.
WIN started in London bringing together women of different faiths to meet and learn about each other. WIN has now become a national phenomenon and I am pleased to say that the Asian women are playing a key role in this revolution.
I learnt of WIN from the highly talented but self-effacing Harvinder Baxi who sometime ago set up a local group in Chigwell (Essex). She has worked tirelessly to make it successful. To maintain the momentum and interest in the group, as well expanding it, Harvinder innovated a radical approach - instead of following the old formula of just getting ladies together for chinwag, she decided to invite reputed experts to speak to them on the topics of general interest such as Yoga, nutrition, health and skincare etc.
I have spent last 30 years developing products for skin and healthcare, and I have also devoted a great deal of my time to educate the Asian and Afro-Caribbean population of the dangers of skin-lightening. I was honoured to be invited by Harvinder to speak to the Women’s Interfaith Network (Chigwell) on the subject of skin problems including how best to look after your skin.
We, irrespective of our faith, are identical under the skin and I am thrilled to report that the audience reflected the cultural diversity of the area. My presentation was followed by a lively discussion and interesting question-answer session, as well as an interactive session giving those gathered the opportunity to try out various products that I have developed over the years. I am delighted to say that WIN is an excellent idea and it was indeed a pleasure to see women of different faiths sitting side by side as a one big family.
Lady Guilda Levy, chairperson of WIN, is extremely appreciative of Asian women playing such a prominent role in helping to break the barriers of misunderstanding and intolerance. WIN is a step in the right direction and warrants our full support.
Let us pause for a moment and think of our legacy to future generations. Should it be of co-existence so that all can happily live and prosper together, or animosity, hatred and bloodshed? The argument for a peaceful co-existence is beyond reproach.
Let us remind ourselves the immortal words of Mahatama Gandhi: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.