Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad

The week in London


Awards H of Lords 7 May

Glad to see the Palace of Westminster highlighting the achievements of women at the sharp end of this kind of work..

Delighted to be at the House of Lords on Tuesday (security in overdrive – day before the State Opening of Parliament)  for the Syeda Fatima Interfaith Conference.

Zahra Imame receiving her award.

Zahra Imame (centre) receiving her award.

Surrounded by gilded portraits, we looked at the role of women in the Abrahamic traditions, hearing about Fatima herself, Mary (who appears in the Muslim and Christian traditions) and Miriam (from the Jewish tradition).

Centuries ago the Prophet Mohammed married a successful business woman.  Their daughter Fatima’s husband, Imam Ali, prepared food and shared the housework.  Both of which are quite a long way from the usual media depiction of Muslim women and men.

I once took part in a workshop on Lilith’s place in Jewish mythology and rather missed her on Tuesday.  But women’s participation in work, leadership and public life were highlighted, not only our contribution to family life.  The conference was chaired adeptly by Rubab Mehdi Rizvi.

Debbie Damon of the Three Faiths Forum receiving her award.

Debbie Damon receiving her award.

Awards were given at the end and I was pleased to see good friends Zahra Imame (Christian Muslim Forum), Debbie Damon (Three Faiths Forum), Sirol Davies (Diocese of Southwark) & Susanne Mitchell (Presence and Engagement) all honoured.

That evening I had supper with another remarkable woman, Rosie Parker, who works in the arts (including an unforgettable Secret Cinema-style Traviata & curating 3FF’s Urban Dialogues last year) and in interconvictional work.  Conversation ranged from John Berger to European activities to a possible tri-faith space.


better offI was out of town on Wednesday and Thursday, but the London Churches Group for Social Action & Faiths Forum for London launched a new report on voluntary sector welfare projects organised by religious groups.


A late croissant with Alan Murray at LBFN’s Waterloo office to do a bit of back-office work for the European Network on Religion & Belief – the first AGM is on 21st May in Brussels.


The Imam Khoei Islamic Centre, which used to be a synagogue.

The Imam Khoei Islamic Centre, which used to be a synagogue.

A lovely afternoon in north west London for a sponsored walk for religious education in schools   (including humanism and atheist traditions) – an area where ignorance is a poor option – and for a charity which supports widows and orphans in Iraq, a reminder that the suffering in that part of the world is by no means over.

The photographer from the Al-Khoei Centre at St Augustine's Church.

A photographer from the Al-Khoei Centre at St Augustine’s Church.

Aliya Azam has the rare gift of organising thoughtful and enlightening events for all ages.  She arranged just the right length of walk from the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre to the London Interfaith Centre and St Augustine’s Church of England, finishing at the Islamic Centre of England.  Plenty of time to talk as we walked.

I had a good chat with Dr Sarah Smalley (RE Council) about SACREs – seems to be a mixed picture as cuts are made and free schools and academies opt out.

Everyone was happy to see Dr Chris Hewer – his Understanding Islam courses were a big hit in Stockwell and Clapham some years back and we miss him still.

Chris Hewer on the different levels of religious education - information, explanation and values.

Chris Hewer on the different levels of religious education – information, explanation and values.

Sheikh Ahmed Haneef and I discussed the intertwined history of the Caribbean and the British Isles and how the impact of slavery and its aftermath plays out today, particularly in our urban areas.  Sheikh Ahmed is from Trinidad and lived in Toronto before studying in Qom, Iran.  I remember the British journalist (of Barbadian heritage) Gary Younge being asked, Why are you here?  He answered, Because you were there!

Knowing our separate and our shared heritages helps to ground our thoughts and I was reminded of the pioneering work of the New Testament Assembly Church in Tooting on this topic.  It would be good to do some joined up work together.


The last time I was at Harrow Central Mosque was when far right groups (though rather small in number) were protesting against the building of a minaret.

I was happy to enter the now completed building and to be one of the people asked to say a few words at the end of an exhibition taking place over the weekend.  Dr Shuja Shafi and I worked on the International Day of Peace last year – and appeared on TV together.

I spoke about the importance of hospitality when we are building communities of trust.  We’re not trying to become the same, so that we all become Muslims or Christians or Humanists; we want to live well together while remaining different.  For this to happen, we do need to get to know each other a bit.  Giving and receiving hospitality is one of the most enjoyable ways of doing this – and the Harrow event was fabulous.

It was great to speak alongside the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Farooq Murad, Mary Hale from Harrow Inter Faith Council, Rabbi Kathleen de Magtige-Middleton of Middlesex New Synagogue, Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi and Irfan Hussain, Chair of Trustees at the Mosque.  I had a good conversation with Irfan about possible UK-Pakistan links, building on LBFN’s Olympic Truce work.

Gp photo Harrow ii

Here’s the final photo at Harrow Central Mosque – a friendly and inspiring end to the weekend.

2 comments on “The week in London

  1. Catriona Robertson
    13 May 2013

    Thanks John, much appreciated. Are we still on for a samovar transfer tomorrow?

  2. Liz Woodhouse
    13 May 2013

    Good to have your news and sorry to hear about your bereavement.

    John Woodhouse

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: