This February, Solutions Not Sides launched the Bridge Builders Programme, where 24 young people from across the UK joined a month of online workshops and events. Each participant was part of an incubator hub which provided mentorship on organising an activity for the community. Joshua and Isobelle were two graduates from this programme who organised in their incubator hub a webinar on Mental Health and Faith with a number of guest speakers. The event provided a space to explore a number of religious perspectives on mental health, and was chosen to be held during mental health week. It was a great success thanks to the work and organisation of Joshua and Isobelle, who researched and recruited speakers for the event, developed promotional materials and spread the word.
The Bridge Builders programme saw a series of interactive lectures, which I highly recommend to anyone in who is 16-19. These lectures were at a focus of global conflicts such as Israel-Palestine, interfaith dialogue as well as tackling discrimination such as Islamophobia and Antisemitism in the UK. As a group, we had decided to create an interfaith webinar event with a focus of mental health; the mental health discussion raison d’etre was to appeal to larger variety of audiences, especially, but of course not exclusive to, youth. The specific subject matter also enabled our webinar discussion to be more refined, and we could therefore find relevant speakers for the event.
A key principle highlighted in the Solutions Not Sides’ Bridge Builders programme was the idea of finding a “common ground” in interfaith discussion. In a superficial sense a “common ground” can be established by emphasising points of convergence between different religious groups. However, a common ground cannot always be established in this way. Rather chief among them, all parties should be willing to learn about a world outside themselves through the virtue of respect. This was present in Eboo Patel’s book Interfaith leadership: A Primer, a book promoted by Solutions Not Sides, where Patel recognised there would be times where a conflicting set of ideals do not align. In such a case, an atmosphere where people feel respected; where ideals can be integrated but not superimposed onto one another, is immensely important.
An atmosphere filled with curiosity, respect and a willingness to learn was the sort we wished to incorporate into our mental health webinar discussion. To have this desired effect, our group ensured that there was a diverse range of religious representation. There was a diversification of backgrounds facilitating a more vibrant discussion. For example, the speakers secured for the event, ranged from qualified doctors in mental health such as Dr. Rupesh Admimulam from Chemsford, to charity workers for JAMI, a Jewish mental health charity. Logistical challenges also provided certain opportunities. The event took place on zoom, and while we would have loved to have run the event in person; it meant we could host a speaker on the other side of the Atlantic, Rose Mustakovaa of the Bahai’i community in the USA.
It was clear from the mental health discussion, that while religious scripture may not always directly disclose the issue of mental health, as pointed out by Nikki Dhillon Keane (Catholic representative) and Rose Mustakovaa (Bahai’i representative), a closer look at the scripture can provide certain closure to us as individuals. Nikki Dhillon Keane, had stated that within the Catholic social teaching, principles on human dignity and interconnectedness with other people, is instrumentally important; this is provided that persons are in a place where they can receive the message of support from scripture. Rose Mustakovaa had stated conversely that every community needs to understand how mental health works and what resources are available.
There were also other points of convergence. As Pascal Coyne (Buddhist representative) explained, the Buddha had tried to understand why people suffer, with a focus of how people can learn to become at ease with the self. This is similar to Warissa Hussain (Muslim representative) where numerous Islamic scriptures demonstrate God talking about caring for the self. According to Hussain, caring for the body, also impacts how we care for the mind. This also relates to the Jewish religion, where Rabbi Hillel of 110 BCE-10CE, had stated “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”. Rabbi Hillel had also stressed the value of taking care of the physical body, before undertaking religious study.
Monica Gill (Sikh representative) had stressed the idea of “Manjib jab jib”- when you win over your mind, you can win over the world; this sense of eternal optimism was shared with Ben Winton of the Jewish community, where recovering from mental health Jews need to find some purpose in being valued. Only then, can one “walk humbly with god” as it stated in the book of Isiah; this was similar to Dr. Rupesh Adimulam (Hindu representative) who stated in response to how covid had impacted the Hindu community, that a godly presence can be achieved wherever we are and is not contingent on going to a Mandir (Hindu temple). In light of this discussion, the question of whether Covid and the restrictions on attending places of worship during the pandemic had affected certain communities, was an important question, given the number letters written to some of the main UK newspapers and the feeling of “abandonment” some religious people in the UK had felt during the period.
The event would not have been possible without the work of all our faith speaker representatives, my mentors, the Solutions Not Sides alumni, as well as the host of the discussion Isobelle who had been working hard to ensure the event went to scratch. A thank you must also go to Solutions Not Sides, including Ali Amla who taught us during the programme and had spoken in a short introduction to our webinar event as well as Poppy Soetens-Hall for also helping with the event.