Like any designated week, Inter Faith Week will only be of value if it helps us the other 51 weeks of the year. Making the space to encounter people of different faiths with mutual respect has many benefits for us as individuals, for local communities and for society as a whole.
It shouldn't just be about learning what 'they' believe, as though faith was a collection of intellectual propositions. It shouldn't just be about how they practice their religion. Faith is a word which may be owned by many very different religious communities. But we should be careful because we all interpret it from our own experience and culture. A Muslim or Buddhist does not mean what a Christian means when they use the word, not that all Christians understand it in the same way. The most obvious dimension of meaning is whether faith is inherited or whether its is believed as a conscious individual decision.
Encounters with people of different faiths should help us understand how they believe as well as what they believe. It should help us understand what it means to see their religion and the world through their eyes. What it means to be a Hindhu or a Jew in British society. And equally importantly to understand how they see us.
In this way we don't just learn about other people, we learn about ourselves.
When I was working in Manchester before going to Geneva, I was part of a group of Christians meeting with a Hindhu and hearing about his faith. In talking about reverence for life he made the remark that he had to exercise his faith from the moment he put his foot out of bed each morning and casually added that we Christians only had to bother about faith on Sunday mornings. In later reflection, the group felt that they had learnt more about the living practice of Hindhu faith in Manchester. However, what really grabbed them was the genuine perception of this man of what the practice of Christian faith meant.
As Robert Burns said:
O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
We learn to live in community by knowing ourselves as well as getting to know others.