Birmingham Faith Leaders remember 9/11 and bless the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Members of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group read the ‘Charter For Forgiveness & Reconciliation’ Scroll

The Birmingham Faith Leaders Group (BFLG) met on the 17th anniversary of the shocking events of September 2011. The Group is composed of the principal leaders of Birmingham’s six major faith communities – Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews. The Group grew out of the immediate aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11 and the threats made to the Muslim community at that time. An initial gathering of faith leaders on the steps of Birmingham Central Mosque on 12th September 2001 led to the formation of the Group. During the subsequent years the group’s members have worked together to generate understanding between communities and to develop a diverse, faith-based vision for the city.

Manar Morzouk from Reset addresses the Faith Leaders

The meeting was held at Birmingham Progressive Synagogue and opened with a reflection from the host, Rabbi Margaret Jacobi.

The first order of the day was to hear from Manar Marzouk from the Charity Reset. Reset is a new charity partnering with leading refugee, faith and community charities to promote community sponsorship across the UK. It is working closely with a range of organisations to shape the UK’s community response to the Syrian crisis by building on the existing goodwill and compassion of people across the country. They encourage communities to come together to welcome, support and help refugee families as they rebuild their lives in the UK.

Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh presents the Charter Scroll to His Holiness Pope Francis to get it blessed

The BFLG then carried on with its busy agenda of business covering various upcoming events, project updates, and other faith business. One agenda item was the updating on the Museum of World’s Religions and the Charter for Forgiveness & Reconciliation (CfFR). As part of the update Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh OBE KSG, reported that excellent progress had been made with Patrons and supporters. He shared that His Holiness Pope Francis had recently blessed the CfFR scroll and Bhai Sahib Ji invited the Birmingham Faith Leaders to do the same.

After the event, Dr Josef Boehle, Director of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, said, “The recent events including the appreciation and blessings of His Holiness Pope Francis are wonderful. The fact that the Faith Leaders regularly review and update each other on the Charter’s progress is excellent. Their blessing of the Charter on this auspicious date is even more poignant. The work on the Charter is going from strength to strength and we are planning a major event to launch the Charter next year. The vision of the Charter is to make a contribution to processes of forgiveness, reconciliation and sustainable peace, not only between individuals, communities and states, but also between faith traditions”.

Birmingham Lord Mayor, Cllr Yvonne Mosquito with the
Birmingham Faith Leaders Group at the Peace Garden

Following the reading and blessing of the Charter for Forgiveness & Reconciliation scroll, the faith leaders made their way to the multi-faith Peace Service held at the Peace Gardens in Birmingham. The aim of the service was to bring the city’s major religions even closer together. The Birmingham Faith Leaders group, which was created in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities, held its annual Inter Faith Service for Peace at the St Thomas Peace Garden in Bath Row.

The service originally began in response to hate attacks against Muslims following the Twin Towers attacks. The park itself is a tribute to those who have come to pass during times of unrest, who have suffered loss through terrorism, conflict and social upheaval. We have all experienced loss at some point in our lives and will continue to do so. Though grief is inevitable, it is important to remember those who have perished and to celebrate new life. This concept was clearly represented in the symbolic watering of a rose bush the Faith Leaders had planted in commemoration of the victims of the 9/11 attack. The coming together of humanity to prosper in troubling times and to triumph over strife in hopeful aspiration of the future.

Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh and the Lord Mayor
have a quick catch-up and discuss a visit to Soho Road Gurdwara

The Peace Garden event was attended by a diverse audience with people from many different faith groups coming together to have a minute of silence and pray together. The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Cllr Yvonne Mosquito, also attended the event.

Jonathan Gurling, Executive Secretary of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group, said: “We try to keep the event very simple and short so more people will attend and stay for it. The Faith Leaders Group was formed when the then Chief Minister at Singers Hill Synagogue, Rabbi Tann, was so incensed by the attacks on Muslims post 9/11, he telephoned Dr Naseem, the then Chairman of the Central Mosque, and asked to visit on September 12th when community prayers were being held. He was joined by Christian and Sikh leaders and the Faith Leaders Group grew out of this simple act of brotherhood”.

Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh OBE KSG, Chairman of the Nishkam Civic Association and Co-Convenor of the Charter, later said, “Forgiveness originates from the Divine and forgiveness is essential in a fractured world. The whole of humanity is one family and we are all interconnected and interdependent. The root cause of conflict is the mind; everything starts in the human mind. It is great to have the Faith Leaders bless the Charter”.

ENDS

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2nd Annual Peace Forum on Forgiveness and Reconciliation ‘When I felt forgiven, I stood taller, because I felt free’

Networking and preview of the exhibition

The second Annual Peace Forum on Forgiveness and Reconciliation, convened by the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation and hosted at the Nishkam Centre, took place on Sunday 4th February 2018. It began with the viewing of the ‘Journey of Forgiveness & Reconciliation’ Exhibition over lunch within the Nishkam Heritage Centre. The exhibition, lovingly developed by young volunteers, innovatively and graphically depicted the various stages of forgiveness. The thought provoking exhibition offered space for reflection and an opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones over lunch.

The main event, held within the Conference Hall, commenced with a powerful prayer to Almighty God, sung by the students of Nishkam Primary School, accompanied by musicians playing

Nishkam Primary School children reciting Kirtan

ancient Indian stringed instruments. The prayer, written by Guru Arjan Dev Ji – the fifth Guru of the Sikhs- described feelings of wonder, contentment and acceptance once in the company of enlightened teachers and disciples.

It was a reflective and poignant beginning to a day which was filled with lively and emotive discussions on the nature of forgiveness. Amrick Singh Ubhi, Director of the Nishkam Centre, opened the forum by reminding participants that the forum was taking place not only during World Interfaith Harmony Week, but also Holocaust Memorial Week, further emphasising the huge significance and urgency of understanding and practicing forgiveness and reconciliation.

A video titled ‘Assisi, City of Forgiveness’ was shown to the audience, featuring a speech given by Pope Francis as part of the 800th anniversary of the Pardon of Assisi.

‘How much does it cost us to forgive others?’ the Pope questioned the audience: ‘Have you all thought at times of God’s patience? God never tires of offering us his pardon each time we ask for it.’

Dr Josef Boehle talks about the Charter

Dr Josef Boehle, Director of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, spoke about the Charter itself, which will be formally launched towards the end of the year, and talked about how they have thought deeply about bringing the Charter ‘to life’ and into practice.

Rabbi Dr David Rosen read a letter from William F Vendley, Co-convenor and Co-chair of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, and the Secretary General of Religions for Peace International, affirming his commitment to advancing the Charter.

The Peace Forum moved on to the first panel discussion, titled Perspectives on Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Justice and Sustainable Peace, with Rabbi Dr David Rosen speaking about trauma and wounds. .

He spoke of being touched when Pope John Paul II publicly asked for forgiveness for sins committed against the Jewish

Rabbi Dr David Rosen reads letter of support from William F Vendley

community. He described how this gesture ‘opened minds and changed realities for so many people. It created a lot of peace and opened up possibilities of new relations.’ Bharti Tailor, Vice-President and Trustee of Religions for Peace UK and panel member, noted that without empathy and true willingness, forgiveness cannot be given. She likened this to ‘blowing on a tsunami coming towards you.’

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth told the audience of his feelings when first encountering forgiveness: ‘As a human I felt like a failed being. But when I felt forgiven, I stood taller, because I felt free.’

He also spoke of a poignant moment in Coventry during the Second World War, when the Provost of the Cathedral, shortly after the bombings, wrote a message in the still warm ash: ‘Father, forgive.’ The Bishop reminded the audience that these are precious words in the Christian faith.

Panel 1 – Rabbi Dr David Rosen, Bharti Tailor, Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth

The second panel was delighted to hear from Elsa Vogel, born in France, and at the age of 14 years witnessed the dawn of the Second World War. She stayed in Paris during Nazi occupation and when she was 18, survived being machine-gunned by the Germans. She spoke about her discovery of an ‘inner voice in her heart urging me to forgive.’ She then decided, through taking time in silence, to ‘let go of the hatred and choose reconciliation.’

Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh spoke personally about the nature of forgiveness and how this can make you ‘a prisoner’.  He noted the importance of realising there is ‘innocence in ignorance’ so we cannot blame people for the things they may now know. He also spoke of God’s unconditional love for us, and how this should mirror the love we have for each other: ‘love should not have any conditions.’

The Panel discussions were followed by breakout sessions designed around two thematic themes: 1.Network/movement

Panel 2- Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Elsa Vogel, Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh

for forgiveness & reconciliation; 2. Charter development and charter launch.

All guests participated in the facilitated conversations and had an opportunity to share their thoughts and contribute to the future of the Charter. Closing the conference, Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh said he felt ‘humbled, inspired and motivated’, and stressed on the gratitude he felt that people were able to come together to discuss how forgiveness may bring peace on an individual and worldly level, during a time of ‘severe violence, extremism, pain and suffering.’

‘We have a great responsibility, God resides within us, and so the capacity to forgive is within us all’, he said, ending the conference.

All guests were invited to partake in Langar – a core practice for Sikhs, where blessed vegetarian food is served to all, irrespective of religion, caste or creed.

Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh Sharing final reflections

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The Birmingham and the Black Country Sikh Migration story continues as the project celebrated the touring exhibition’s new location at the University of Wolverhampton

The touring exhibition, which was first launched at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in July this year, will also visit four other locations, including the Nishkam Centre, Dudley Library and Sandwell Community History and Archives.

The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, details the journeys and contributions made by the Sikh community in Birmingham and the Black Country. It includes more than 30 video interviews conducted with migrants spanning several generations, an educational toolkit for schools, a comprehensive website and legacy-resource that will be deposited in the Library of Birmingham and Sandwell Archives.

Jasbir Uppal, Lecturer and Head of Recruitment and Marketing at the University of Wolverhampton, as well as a Project Steering Group member, opened the launch, welcoming all the guests to the University and introducing the project. He spoke about the ‘rich Sikh heritage in Wolverhampton’, their ‘extraordinary’ journey and the importance of recording the ‘strife, struggles, and their successes.’

An Ardas (prayer) was conducted and led by Giani Shyam Singh, evoking the Lord’s blessings and continued guidance.

Munpreet Kaur, Project Coordinator, spoke about the project’s goals, and the urgency of capturing these stories: ‘Because of the time limit, it is important that we capture first-hand accounts from Sikhs’. Munpreet also called upon the guests to contribute and help towards the project’s success: ‘There is still so much to do, and we request more volunteers to be part of this effort – record your family story, help us find the patterns and the big picture. Help us hold on to the teachings of our elders, like Mr Sewa Singh Mandla [the project’s oldest participant (Mandla v Lee Case) who recently passed away] before they are lost to us forever. I think it’s our duty to connect with our roots and not to forget where we are today is a testament to their work, their sacrifice and their love for us’.

Surjeet Singh Sandhu, a participant who recorded an oral history interview for the project, recalled his childhood in Punjab in the mid-1960s. Now a senior design engineer, he spoke of his amazement at being from ‘a poor family, unknown village’ with no shoes until the age of 12 years old, but yet after arriving in the UK managed to give back substantially to the community in his adult life.

Gurmail Kaur, another contributor to the project, spoke about her participation in the project, and about her story. She spoke of the need for the younger generations to learn from the narratives: ‘they need to look back and appreciate how hard it was for their parents.’ She recounted her memories of arriving in England aged nine, with her mother and siblings. ‘As a child, this is what I remember.’

Surinder Singh, a Project Steering Group member, then gave a vote of thanks. He thanked the Lord for the successes of the project and reminded the audience of the hundreds of hours of volunteer service which had been invested in the project – selfless service being a key aspect of Sikh Dharam (faith).

All guests were then led to the Harrison Learning Centre (where the exhibition is located). Gurmail Kaur’s daughter and Giani Shyam Singh cut the ribbon to formally open the exhibition.

Speaking after the launch, Councillor Harbans Singh Bagri stated that the ‘project is of absolute importance, the Sikh community has also had a strong belief in faith and in the ability to do a good day’s work, and they have always respected the British system, where there is a reward, and where they will be treated as equal human beings.’

Councillor Claire Darke, who is also voluntarily involved with the Wolverhampton Civic Historical Society, stated that the exhibition was a ‘fantastic celebration of the Sikh journey’ and that ‘collecting stories is always fascinating.’

Councillor John Reynolds, stated that ‘it was really uplifting to see the contribution made by Sikhs over the years. The Sikhs contributed massively back then and they are still contributing now.’

The exhibition will move to the Nishkam Centre in Handsworth, Birmingham, in December 2017.

For more information, please information email heritage@ncauk.org

Historic ‘Walk of Hope for Peace and Harmony’ illustrates the strong relationships across Birmingham’s diverse communities

Arrival and discussion at Soho House – the heart of the Industrial Revolution

More than 120 representatives of diverse communities from across Birmingham and beyond came together for a ‘Walk of Hope for Peace and Harmony’ in Handsworth the 26th October 2017. The community came together as a sign of solidarity and recognition that whilst being different we have so much in common.

The event, planned, coordinated and meticulously carried out, respected and honoured all faith traditions and none to ensure a message of unity and peace was demonstrated. Word of the Peace Walk quickly spread through members of the local community, the faith community, social media and others interested in promoting peace. The event was attended by many laypersons, including several active City Council members as well police, faith leaders, school representatives etc. It was inspiring to see people arrive at the starting venue in traditional garments – robes, stoles, prayer shawls and head coverings – all respective of their faith traditions. From Sikh dastars (turbans), Christian vestments, the saffron robes of Buddhist monks to the head coverings of the Muslim kufi and the Jewish kippah—all faiths were represented and unified in their message of peace. Guests from India and mainland Europe, who had made special arrangements to join the walk and participate in the making of history, were amazed at the arrangements and participation.

The walk started with a communal reception for VIPs and dignitaries at the Shree Geeta Bhavan, in Heathfield Road. The

Shree Geeta Bhavan Team with Sri M, Bhai Sahib Ji and other dignitaries

chief guest, Sri M, whose inspiration and discussions with Birmingham’s faith communities enabled the walk to happen was welcomed. Sri M was accompanied from London with his wife and Lady Mohini Kent Noon. Sri M (from India) was welcomed to the Shree Geeta Bhavan by the General Secretary Dr Arun Sinha and other members of the Temple Board. Other dignitaries and VIPs included Matloob Hussain (Lozells Central Mosque), Bridget von Baron (Netherlands), Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh OBE KSG (Chair of the Nishkam Civic Association), Arvinder Jain, Upashak  Bhatia, Cllr Quinnen, Cllr Hussain, Rabbi Lior Kaminetsky and many others.

Sri M, a spiritual guide, social reformer and educationist – was born into a Muslim family on November 6, 1949 in Kerala. His transformational journey, from a young boy to a living yogi, is a fascinating story symbolized by single-minded discipline and dedication. In 1998, he started his teachings, eventually leading to formation of the

Prayers at Shree Geeta Bhavan to commence the walk

Satsang Foundation. Traveling extensively unto the present day, he has quietly gone about his life’s mission – teaching and guiding people as per his Master’s instructions: ‘Quality, not quantity. Spiritual evolution is individual and cannot be a mass phenomenon.’ Conversant with teachings of most major religions, Sri M says: ‘Go to the core. Theories are of no use.’ His message seeks to transcend the outer-shell of all religions, by exploring their mystical core to nurture the innate goodness in every human being. An example of the power of peace walks was seen in 2015-16 when Sri M led a Walk of Hope lasting some 15 months from Kanyakumari to Kashmir spanning 7,500 kms across 11 states of India for peace, harmony and tolerance.

The walkers, talking and learning from each other walked peacefully portraying an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity, made their way to Lozells Central Mosque. Where a prayer was recited and Sri M and Bhai Sahib Ji were invited to share brief words of wisdom. In the Mosques, Bhai Sahib Ji said, ‘I am touched by the walk – where ever there is prayer and there are faithful people there is peace. We need peace in ourselves, in our families, in the community, locally, nationally and internationally. We are privileged and honoured to be here, there are good vibrations. Prayers that come from the heart touch everyone. Thanks to Sri M for making the walk

Multi-faith group listen to a prayer in the Mosque

possible by bringing people together.’

The multi-faith group then stood outside the New Testament Church of God and Sri M recited the Lord’s Prayer with all present before moving on to the Church of Francis of Assisi and St Mary’s Convent. The beautiful building and architecture was matched by the eloquent and fitting reception from Sr Norin and her colleagues.

Arriving at the Birmingham Buddhist Maha Vihara, the group were met by Ven. Dr Witharandeniye Kassapa (OBE). The reception involved a prayer being recited in the doorway before everyone went inside to light candles of peace.

Sri M addresses all at the Mosque and gives thanks to Matloob Bhai for the welcome

This was then followed by a short walk to Gurdwara Babe Ke where all the guests had another photo opportunity before going in to the Darbar Sahib (main prayer hall). Here obeisance were paid to Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, an edict was received from Guru Ji, a supplication offered for peace,  before a vote of thanks and light refreshments were served in the Langar hall.

The next stop was St. Michael’s Church were guests were received in the courtyard before entering the chapel to recite a prayer. Sri M led the congregation through the Lord’s Prayer.

Bhai Sahib Ji then suggested the walkers should pay respects to the proud fathers of the Industrial Revolution and a quick visit to historic Soho House was made. All were in awe when they realised they were standing in the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

Some of the guests had a wish to view the Nishkam Primary School so Bhai Sahib Ji accompanied them on a brief detour, whilst the larger group made its way to the Gurdwara served by Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha.

At the Gurdwara the group went in to the Darbar Sahib (Prayer hall) to pay obeisance to Guru Granth Sahib Ji before making their way to the roof-top Gumbad Darbar where kirtan (hymns) was being recited. The shabad (hymn) was

Awal Allah noor upaya

Kudrat ke sab bandey

Ek noor te sab jag upjaya

Kaun bhale ko mande

‘First of all, God created light;

Mother Nature created all human beings equal;

from that one Light the entire world came into being;

so how do we differentiate that one is better that the other?’

After the Kirtan the Ardas (supplication) was said and Guru Ji’s blessings implored. The group then all went to partake in

Sr Norin welcomes all at the Chapel at St Mary’s

Langar (a blessed vegetarian meal from the Guru’s Kitchen prepared and served by volunteers). The Gurdwara is blessed with serving all visitors to the Gurdwara with Langar and an average of 25,000 meals a week are served to worshippers visiting the Guru’s abode.

Following Langar, Nishkam Centre Director, Amrick Singh, welcomed everyone to the Nishkam Centre and congratulated all those present for creating and making history. He said people would remember the walk for years to come as a marker of the cohesion and love that was clearly on display as the walkers were welcomed with open arms, hearts and minds in to each other places of worship.

Welcome at Birmingham Buddhist Maha Vihara

The walk was a clear message from all that we are part of this community, we are all united—regardless of faith, race, colour, gender—whatever it may be is all secondary. The first thing is we are all human beings and this whole planet is a blessed sacred space that has been entrusted to us.   Many said they participated in the peace walk because they wanted to show there are more people who are full of love, and those that hate are fewer and farther between. The walk, which was less than 3 miles long, ending at the Nishkam Centre concluded with messages from many of the chief guests including Sri M and Bhai Sahib Ji. These messages enunciated the need for unity, peace, forgiveness, compassion and humility. The need for faith solidarity and the need for a better appreciation and acceptance has never been greater.

Group arrives at Gurdwara Babe Ke

Guests listen intently at St Michael’s Church

Arrival and discussion at Soho House – the heart of the Industrial Revolution

Bhai Sahib Ji take Sri M and guests to Nishkam Primary School

Dignitaries outside the Gumbad Darbar Sahib

All sit immersed in spiritual bliss

All guests were invited to partake in Langar and build even stronger relations

Guests in Nishkam Centre where Bhai Sahib Ji and Sri M addressed them

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High Commissioner of India to the UK pays respects to Guru Granth Sahib Ji at Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, Birmingham, as part of the year-long 350th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh Ji

The High Commissioner of India to the UK, H.E. Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha, pays respects to Guru Granth Sahib Ji at Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, Birmingham (GNNSJ) as part of the year-long 350th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

Patna-born Mr. Sinha, who was accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Girija Sinha, and the Consul General of India – Birmingham, Dr. Aman Puri, amongst others, met with Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Spiritual Leader of GNNSJ and other dignitaries.

The High Commissioner, who is the son of the former Vice-Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen S.K. Sinha, paid tribute to the historic Kar Sewa projects carried out by GNNSJ in India, including the heritage conservation and beautification of the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Takhat Sri Harmandir Ji, Patna Sahib, and added, “It was a great honour and privilege for my wife and I to pray and pay respects here.”

Bhai Sahib Ji added, “The paramount purpose of celebrating Sikh Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s 350th Prakash Ustav is to pay loving tribute to the Saint-Soldier Guru, who not only created the Khalsa fraternity, but also blessed Sikhs with the highest exalted spiritual authority – Guru Granth Sahib Ji.”

The year-long celebrations will culminate on the 25th December, 2017, at the Takhat Sahib in Patna. Dr. Puri is planning a mobile exhibition, in conjunction with GNNSJ, celebrating the life and legacy of the great Guru Ji to launch in Birmingham during November. Dr. Puri had earlier staged a passionate drama production in Birmingham, as part of the 350th Birth Anniversary celebrations, which was supported by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

The dignitaries later proceeded to ‘Diwali on the Square,’ a celebration hosted by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, before proceeding to the Shree Geeta Bhawan Multi-faith Diwali event. Bandi Chhor Divas, the Sikh celebration of Guru Hargobind Ji’s release and liberation of 52 imprisoned Rajas from Gwalior Fort, is also celebrated at this time.

Nishkam family and the City of Birmingham remember elder statesman who has passed away

Mr Sewa Singh Mandla OBE - 4th Jan 1927 – 6th Oct 2017

Mr Sewa Singh Mandla OBE – 4th Jan 1927 – 6th Oct 2017

The community has suffered a major loss as one of the pillars of the Sikh community in the UK, Mr Sewa Singh Mandla OBE, a proud member of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group, Trustee and Non–executive member of the Nishkam Civic Association and former Chair of many Trusts and Boards, aged 90 passed away on the 6th October 2017.

Sewa Singh Mandla was born on the 4th January 1927 in Nairobi Kenya. As an amritdhari, disciplined Sikh faith practitioner and legal professional, he was the corner stone of the Nishkam Civic Association, as one of its founder members. Having qualified and practiced as a lawyer in Kenya, he was considered a heavyweight in the legal profession. An extrovert who could relate to people of all walks of life irrespective of status, seniority, age, gender, faith tradition, Mr Mandla considered all equally and lovingly with his humble compassionate approach. He was a thorough professional, impeccably dressed and presented, an individual who was both strategic in thought but always had an eye on the detail.

In 1974, he migrated to the U.K and qualified as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of United Kingdom. He set up his own legal practice in Handsworth Birmingham, becoming the first non-white Solicitor to have practised in the Birmingham Magistrates Court. He provided much needed services to the Black, Minority and Ethnic communities with great success. He worked tirelessly for all sections of Handsworth and Birmingham communities, building bonds, and creating social cohesion. This period also led him to become an active volunteer for the growing Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian places of worship and charitable institutions, providing legal advice and aid on a pro-bono basis.

As a respected, high profile lawyer, a community and inter-faith leader in Birmingham he was appointed Officer of British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his 50 years’ legal, human rights and selfless community voluntary service. A long serving volunteer at the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and a trustee at the Nishkam Civic Association, Mr Mandla has made significant contribution to community and inter-faith development work in the city, nationally and

internationally under the guidance and leadership of Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh OBE KSG. He personally sphere-headed the landmark trip of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group to Amritsar India as well as arranged an auspicious visit and meeting of Sikhs with the Pope at the Vatican.

In 1983 Mr Mandla made legal history for the Sikh community and the legal profession whereby the decision of the Law Lords made a ground breaking case law for the Sikhs to wear turbans (Mandla vs Lee 1983). The headmaster of a private school in Birmingham, Mr. Lee refused to grant Mr Mandla’s son admission in his school unless he removed his turban, cut his traditional long hair and wore a school cap. Mr Mandla commenced legal proceedings against the headmaster for Racial Discrimination under the Race Relations Act 1976 and also organised a protest march in Hyde Park, London in which 40,000 people of diverse communities took part. A petition, signed by more than 70,000 people against the decision of the lower courts and highlighting the importance of a Turban to a Sikh, was presented to the Prime Minster at 10 Downing Street. The House of Lords decided in favour of Mr Mandla.

Mr Mandla devoted his entire life to work as a volunteer to serve the needs of voluntary and community organisations, bringing about change to improve the quality of life of the disadvantaged members of the Community. His most outstanding contributions was to the work of many organisations including, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) where he spent an average of eight hours daily, serving the Gurdrwara, its congregation and the Trust. As a founding trustee of the Nishkam Civic Association (NCA) he was most passionate about its work and vision. He has worked tirelessly for many other boards and bodies including Chairmanship of Council Of Sikh Gurdwaras Birmingham; Birmingham Council of Faith’s, and the Roger Hooker Memorial Trust. He was also Vice Chair and Trustee for Religions for Peace UK Chapter, and Founder Member Birmingham Faith Leaders Group.

Mr Mandla was constantly in the media as a spokesperson for the Sikh community; multiculturalism in UK; the legal profession; the success of immigrant communities; and health and wellbeing issues.

Prof. Upkar Singh Pardesi, Vice Chair of Nishkam Civic Association (NCA, also known as the Nishkam Centre) said, “The Sikh and wider community in Birmingham and the region has lost one of the longest serving lawyers, an active volunteer, and role model for spirituality. Mr Mandla shone and became a legend for his ability to successfully fuse his professional work in law with spirituality to make a difference to the Sikh and wider communities in the UK. Mr Mandla’s perseverance to take the issue of turbans worn by Sikh pupils in schools, is a testament of his dedication to fight for a just cause. He had an extraordinary passion and flair for serving the community in the pursuit of making a difference. His perseverance to follow through projects and tasks was one of his outstanding qualities.”

Mr Mandla is survived by his son, Gurinder and daughter Tina and six grandchildren and our thought and prayers are with them all during this time. His legacy and contribution will remain for years to come and he will be missed by so many.

Funeral service details for Bhai Sewa Singh Mandla Ji

For more information:

Please contact Prof Upkar Singh Pardesi, Vice Chairman, Nishkam Civic Association on 07974150320

Peace Pledge Project Symposium

Interfaith leaders standing together in front of the International Peace Palace, The Hague

Interfaith leaders standing together in front of the International Peace Palace, The Hague

International interfaith luminaries took part in the Peace Pledge Project Symposium, held at various venues in the Netherlands on 11th-14th September 2017.

The three-day symposium included:

  • ‘Virtues of the Heart’ sessions, involving interfaith inspiration, dialogue and sharing educational best practice, held at the Universal Sufi Temple, Katwijk, and the Sufi Centre, The Hague.
  • ’Relate your Heart to your Business’, ‘Water for Life’, and ‘70 Years of diplomatic friendship between The Netherlands and India’ sessions, involving politicians, business and spiritual leaders, held at The International Peace Palace, The Hague.

The event was sponsored by the Universal Sufi Council, led by Dr. Professor Johannes Witteveen, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, along with Brigitte van Baren, Director of Inner Sense, Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute and Pir Shabda Kahn, Spiritual Director of the Sufi Ruhaniat International.

The main theme woven throughout the sessions emphasised spreading the message of Loving Kindness and Compassion through the whole of humanity, as expressed in the “PEACE PLEDGE” (attached below), in addition to connecting the water experts of the Netherlands with the need for water purification in India.

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman of GNNSJ, commented, “to create peace in the

Imam Umer A. Ilyasi, Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Prof. Johannes Witteveen and Brigitte van Baren collectively lighting the peace flame at the Peace Flame Monument, International Peace Palace, The Hague.

Imam Umer A. Ilyasi, Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Prof. Johannes Witteveen and Brigitte van Baren collectively lighting the peace flame at the Peace Flame Monument, International Peace Palace, The Hague.

world around us, we must all nurture peace within ourselves. We do this through the practice of divine virtues, including loving-kindness and compassion, which empower us to earnestly control our human vices. In this light, this Peace Pledge is to be highly commended.”

Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, said, “the growing water crisis and countless drying water bodies across the globe is a concern for every individual and every nation, hence it is wonderful that this dialogue and call for collective action is taking place from the International Peace Palace, because without safe and sufficient water there can be no peace. Hence, it is time for us to join together across faiths to work as one for clean water, sanitation and hygiene for all, so that every child is allowed the opportunity not just to survive but to truly thrive.”

Interfaith leaders joining hands together at the Universal Sufi Temple, Katwijk.

Interfaith leaders joining hands together at the Universal Sufi Temple, Katwijk.

The Symposium was infused with divinely inspired music throughout. Such music plays a pivotal role in the Sufi faith, as well as other faiths, with the central inspiration being the Tawhid, the Islamic concept of the oneness of God, as expressed in the prayer “La ilaha illallah”, meaning “there is no God but God”.

UN Secretary General and Religious Leaders Unite to Launch Plan of Action to Prevent and Counter Incitement to Violence

Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres meets with religous leaders.

The first ever plan of action designed to prevent incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity violence was launched on 14 July 2017, at a meeting held today in the ECOSOC chambers at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The plan of action was developed by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, with the support of KAICIID, the World Council of Churches and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

The event was inaugurated by Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres; Under Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng; and Secretary-General of KAICIID, Faisal Bin Muaammar. Amongst a number of religious leaders of individual communities from around the world, Bhai Sahib, Bhai Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman and Religious Leader of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha UK, provided a Sikh perspective on the panel discussing the role of religious leaders in preventing incitement to violence.

Bhai Sahib Ji commented, ““This Plan of Action and the process by which it has been developed is highly commended.

Mr Adama Dieng the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide meets with Bhai Sahib.

The misuse of religion to provoke violence is a symptom of diseased minds. To eliminate this disease at the source, we must lovingly liberate our minds through empowering ourselves with the values of compassion, truthfulness, selfless contentment, humility and love. Only peace within oneself can lead to peace around us.”

Implementation of the Plan of Action will contribute to the prevention of atrocity crimes, especially in areas affected by religious and sectarian tensions and violence and enhance the respect, protection and promotion of human rights, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief and peaceful assembly.

At the launch meeting, religious leaders, the United Nations, Member States, and civil society began discussing strategies for the implementation of the Plan of Action and the coordination between religious leaders and implementing agencies.  Important next steps include the dissemination of the Action Plan among Member States, relevant UN agencies and other stakeholders.

ENDS

For further information, contact and full resolution photographs: info@gnnsj.org

UK Sikh Community Joins Millions in Global Prayer to End Famine

On Sunday 21st May 2017, Religions for Peace (RfP), joined with 70 organizations around the world, including the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, to support the Global Day of Prayer to End Famine, an initiative co-led by the World Council of Churches. People of all faiths joined together in places of worship across the globe, to collectively pray for peace for all, and for the end of suffering from famine.

The initiative, headed by Rev Olav Tveit (Co-President of Religions for Peace), aims to address what the UN has defined as the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. The global day of prayer flooded social media and international news sources, raising awareness of the enormity of the famine problem, as well as attracting messages of support from both people experiencing the crisis, and those working to end it.

Among the various religious communities showing their commitment to fostering a world without famine was the Sikh community, with a 24 million worldwide population. The Sikh daily prayer is for ‘Sarbat da Bhalla,’ the well-being of all.

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh (International Trustee and Co-President of Religions for Peace, Chairman of the UK-based Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha) led the Sikh response to the interfaith call to prayer, and joined over 500 community members in reciting a sacred text, the Prayer for Peace and Well-Being, written by the Fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev Ji, in the seventeenth century.

The prayer was held at the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha Gurdwara, based on Soho Road, Handsworth, Birmingham. The powerful prayer lasted over 90 minutes, and was recited by the entire congregation, who stood with joined hands in prayer, to implore the Almighty to forgive humanity for its sins, and to bring relief to those suffering from the pain of famine. The prayer was followed by ‘Kirtan’, the singing of sacred hymns.

 

Chaplaincy from the Heart of Faith

Bhai Sahib Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh with the students at the Forgiveness event

Representatives from various faith traditions came together to develop a ( Level 4) ‘Understanding Chaplaincy from a Faith Perspective’ training course. The collaboration was funded by the Urban Church Fund through the Near Neighbours Programme and delivered by experienced project co-ordinator and tutor, Narinder Kaur.­

Participants helping in the formation of the course included those from the Buddhist, Christian, Ras Tafari, Islam and Sikh Dharam (way of life), with an objective to inspire, educate, train and empower others to deliver Chaplaincy from the heart of faith.

The Nishkam Centre became the source for the delivery of the training programme, registering 14 chaplains as students from various faith traditions who took a total of 60 voluntary hours each to complete the course.

Abbas Shah an Islam Chaplain from Clifton Road Mosque said: “What has been unique about this course is that it has provided a perspective from various faiths with genuine respect and enquiry”

Father Julian Sampson (speaker) with Narinder Kaur at St Micheal’s Church

Moqapi Selassie Ras Tafari Heritage Chaplain commented: “So the Level 2 Chaplaincy Course came at the right time. I finished the course and in 2015 I started working as a Ras Tafari Prison Chaplain and completing the Level 4 Course to further enhance my knowledge base and experience”

To enhance the training and better understand Chaplaincy in the 21st Century, Chaplains from Organisations and Faith Communities were invited as speakers. Presentations included insight into community, healthcare, police and prison chaplaincy procedures as well as the latest research in values led approaches.

Students had the opportunity to participate in the ‘Forgiveness Charter Reconciliation’ project to further understand and learn about the toolkit and steps to forgive oneself and others to deepen and build on broken relationships.

The key elements of the course were to understand faith and organisational policy, procedure, guidelines, ethos, ethics, mandatory requirements, equality and diversity. Cultivating dignity and respect, customer care and understanding the individual faith requirements of chaplaincy from the life cycle of conception, birth, childhood, middle age and old age through to the end of life cycle including all faith celebrations and solemnizations.

Prayer and Religious Care is the highlight of chaplaincy which go hand in hand with a listening ear, supportive care and kind words of comfort through faith ethos, values and a ‘culture sensitivity’ practice to serve all of humanity along with customer care. In addi

Students at Central Mosque

tion to develop the skillsets of the chaplaincy students they took part in role plays, communication skills, presentation skills and confidence building and an understanding of ‘practice what we preach’, seeing the image of the Divine in all.

The participants visited three local places of worship: St Michael’s Church, Central Lozells Mosque and Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha Gurudwara all in the Lozell’s and East Handsworth Ward, giving students a better understanding on how religious worship contributes in the healing process of the body, mind and soul. This allowed the participants to have a feel of the spiritual aura around the focal point of each place of worship.

A series of personal statements and evaluations where also captured as project evidence.

Mike Anderson verifying the course work with Narinder Kaur

Mike Anderson the Quality Advisor for Open College Network recently examined the student files and was very pleased with the achievements by the students and level of commitment by the Nishkam Centre.

Dayal Kaur presenting on Sikh Dharam and Sikh Rogi Aasra (chaplaincy)