The Awareness Forum is the Awareness Foundation’s outreach programme. Through the Forum, we host special events to bring together opinion leaders for conferences, pilgrimages & delegations, exchanges, roundtables and lectures for our education and interfaith understanding work. The Awareness Forum offers people an open platform to discuss and learn more about issues that they consider important.
As resources and circumstances have permitted, we have brought Western thought leaders to the Middle East on pilgrimages and delegations to experience life in the Middle East and to spend time with Christians and Muslims there. The easiest way to get to know a people and their culture is to live alongside them, even if only for a short period. These first-hand experiences are life-changing, and the traveller returns home with much to pass on to friends, family and work colleagues.
Our week-long trip to Lebanon in April 2017, with a mix of Canadian and British business, civic and religious leaders, was many months in planning. Delegates travelled throughout Beirut and into the countryside around it. We met many wonderful people, including the 77th Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, the General Secretary of the Synod of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Syria and Lebanon, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, the former Syrian Ambassador to London, the Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon, the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and Alexandria and Jerusalem, the President of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as leading scholars and civic leaders. There was also time to visit a Syrian refugee family in the Bekaa Valley, and a school for refugee children where the Baptist and the National Evangelical Churches are working together to bring hope, love and a sense of security back into the children’s lives.
Each delegate went home with a wealth of experiences and stories to share with friends, family and colleagues, stories of people of faith who live side-by-side, working together to defeat sectarianism and preserve Lebanon’s famous multi-cultural and multi-faith diversity.
A full report on this delegation can be found here.
An Awareness Foundation delegation of 11 business and church leaders travelled to Syria during the last week of May 2009. With the considerable support of the Syrian Ambassador in the UK and the Head of the Syrian Association in London, we prepared a packed agenda for the delegation. With an objective of listening, learning and engaging, the delegates met religious, civic and business leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Syria and the head of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, and heard from them how a diverse society in Syria has been a blessing for centuries. The trip was a great success.
‘It was this trip that convinced me that we are all part of one single human family – brothers and sisters with one another in a global world.‘ Anthony Shillington, UK Delegation to Syria, 2009.
The first opportunity for such an exchange took place in June 2007 when we held our Second International Consultants Conference in Aleppo, Syria. Our Middle Eastern delegates were joined by visitors from Germany, Argentina, the United Kingdom and the United States. After the conference, our delegates were joined by a group of Western pilgrims. They visited the great historical and religious sites of Syria, including Aleppo, Lattakia, Ugarit, the ancient city of Palmyra, Homs and Damascus. It was a rare chance to walk in the footsteps of St. Paul and to experience Christianity – and Islam – in its original and most fascinating context. New bonds were formed between Middle East and West.
‘One of the greatest gifts of this journey has been the abiding desire to build relationships with people who had before seemed so distant and now seem a little more within reach.’
Conferences and Discussions have been an essential element of our educational outreach since 2004.
Our first Annual Lecture, at the Ismaili Centre.
Left to Right:
Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi,
The Revd Nadim Nassar,
Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt,
Professor Eric Ormsby and St. John Wright
Discussions & Conferences
Each year we hold a number of discussion events across the UK and, on occasion, in North America, the Middle East, or in Hong Kong. Our events fall into two categories:
Since 2012, our Annual Lectures have featured eminent guest speakers including HG Archbishop Angaelos, Canon David Porter, Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi and Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt. The Annual Lectures have been held at the Ismaili Centre, St. George’s Bloomsbury and the Brompton Oratory.
Our Roundtable Discussions began in January 2011 at The Tent at St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Since then we have held Roundtable Discussions on subjects as diverse as “One Year On: London After Lee Rigby” (in partnership with the Anglican Episcopal Area of Woolwich,) “Can I engage with other faiths without compromising my own?” (in partnership with the Anglican Diocese of Blackburn, Christian Muslim Encounters, and Lancashire Council of Mosques), “Interfaith Dialogue: an Answer to Extremism and Radicalisation?”, and “Can Christians be a Force for Peace in Syria?”
We also take part in many events organised by other organisations, including the Cenotaph ceremony for UN Peacekeepers Day, and a special event for inter-faith organisations held in the Speaker’s state rooms at the Houses of Parliament (pictured, below).
We held our first international Conference in London in September 2004, when we invited Christian religious and civic leaders from the Middle East and the West to work together to help us set out our strategy, especially for our work in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.
In 2007, our conference venue was in Aleppo, Syria, as we consulted with religious and civic leaders, forging strong links between Christians in the Middle East and the West and further refining our vision and mission.
Our most recent conference took place in October 2012: after months of preparation, we hosted a three-day International Conference, “Christians in the New Middle East: Fears and Hopes”, in two of London’s major cathedrals. Our Conference brought dozens of Christian and Muslim leaders together to discuss the situation faced by Christians in the Middle East since the beginning of the Arab Spring, and to formulate a plan of action to support the Christian presence there. The delegates came from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq Egypt and Palestine in addition to the UK. After much discussion, the delegates unanimously agreed two documents: ‘Aspirations’, setting out desired outcomes in the Middle East, and ‘Pathways’, ten practical steps to help achieve the Aspirations. The Conference was the result of many years’ work, and the Aspirations and Pathways documents will shape our work in the Middle East for years to come.
Our next conference is planned for late in 2018
Facing Faith brings together community and faith leaders from different religions and cultures to discuss ideas and share their thoughts on how to promote better understanding and respect among the diverse communities that live alongside each other in cities and towns around Great Britain. Each event helps faith and community leaders to enable local communities to decide upon effective joint activities and programmes for the future. These are not ‘typical inter-faith activities’. The essential focus of Facing Faith is not the day itself, but the weeks, months and years that follow.
Discussing “London One Year After Lee Rigby”
Facing Faith is the key vehicle through which we strive to replace insecurity and ignorance with awareness, and to turn the cycle of fear and hostility that often surrounds religious and cultural differences into one of understanding and meaningful dialogue.
We hold ‘Facing Faith’ days in major cities across the UK. Where possible, these are held in partnership with a major place of worship or interested organisation in the area, such as a cathedral, a major mosque, another organisation or a local authority. Religion is seen by many as part of the problem in our society; we believe that religion must be part of the solution!
Media: Working with TV, Radio, Print and Websites
We are very happy to provide interviewees and panellists for TV and radio. Awareness Foundation representatives have been featured on BBC News, BBC Radio 4 (including This Morning and the Sunday programme), BBC World Service, BBC Local Radio, CNN, Sky News, Premier Radio, Press TV, Sahar TV, BBC Arabic, Aluhlbayt TV, Al Hiwar and many others.
The Revd Nadim Nassar has been a guest blogger on the Daily Telegraph website and he has contributed articles to many newspapers and periodicals, including The Guardian.
Other Faiths: Building bridges of Respect and Understanding
We have built fruitful partnerships with a large number of organisations that represent other faiths, including the Al-Khoei Foundation, Tikun, Abrar Islamic Foundation, The Woolf Institute, The Islamic Unity Society and The Ismaili Centre.