World Mission Convener highlights need to work together after Ghana interfaith trip

A prominent Kirk minister has spoken of the importance of working alongside different faiths after a unique trip to Ghana exploring Muslim-Christian relations.

The group from Scotland outside Trinity United Church in Accra before a service
The group from Scotland outside Trinity United Church in Accra before a service

Very Rev Dr Susan Brown was part of a group made up of 12 representatives of each of the two faiths from across Scotland during a nine day visit, which was arranged by the Church of Scotland.

The Dornoch-based minister, who is also Convener of the Kirk's World Mission Council said: "We were strongly encouraged to see how people managed to co-exist in Ghana whatever their faith background.

"In Ghana there is an emphasis on looking at your common humanity before looking at your differences.

"Here we have a tendency to concentrate on our differences - we see people in their different clothes and make a judgement.

"It's important not to look at the clothes, but to look at the individual.

"In a world that often condemns religion we need to stick together.

"We need to live and express the love we say we believe in. That's not to underplay the fact that we are different.

"When we lose that starting point of respect that's when we go into our corners and come out fighting - whether we're people of faith or not."

Group member Dr Sahira Dar, left, with women from the Federation of Muslim women association in Ghana (FMWAG) in Wa. Members of FMWAG are involved with the Christian-Muslim dialogue group for the north-west region of Ghana
Group member Dr Sahira Dar, left, with women from the Federation of Muslim women association in Ghana (FMWAG) in Wa. Members of FMWAG are involved with the Christian-Muslim dialogue group for the north-west region of Ghana

The West African country was chosen for the visit as around 72% of the population is Christian, with Muslims making up a further 16%, and the two groups have better relations in Ghana than in many countries in the region.

Those who took part from Scotland, included prison chaplains of both faiths, community activists, and a Muslim scholar, and each worked in a pair exploring issues around education, civil representation, prison chaplaincy and gender justice.

For Dr Brown, one of the highlights was meeting His Eminence Sheikh Dr Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu, the Chief Imam of Ghana, who has dedicated his life to promoting good relations between faiths.

Speaking about the encounter she said: "It was like meeting royalty and was an unexpected privilege.

"The fact he marked his 100th birthday in a Catholic Cathedral was remarkable - it was the embodiment of the belief he's held all his adult life."

Very Rev Dr Susan Brown meeting Sheikh Dr Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu, the Chief Imam of Ghana. He recently celebrated his 100th birthday in a Catholic Cathedral and has worked to promote good relations between faiths in Ghana.
Very Rev Dr Susan Brown meeting Sheikh Dr Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu, the Chief Imam of Ghana. He recently celebrated his 100th birthday in a Catholic Cathedral and has worked to promote good relations between faiths in Ghana.

Another highlight for her was "the people we travelled with - our fellow Scots of different faiths - as along the bumpy bus rides it was the conversations that allowed acquaintances to become friends."

"I'm hoping that friendships started will continue and together we can speak to churches and mosques," she added.

Dr Brown also said that visiting Elmina Castle, where for hundreds of years slaves were held before being taken to America, had a deep impact on her.

"Visiting the castle was stark, humbling and a deeply ashamed moment", she said.

Ms Asma Ali, who is a Data Protection Officer for Police Scotland and was previously chair of the Scottish Police Muslim Association, also took part in the visit to Ghana.

Ms Asma Ali and Very Rev Dr Susan Brown

She was particularly struck that from an early age in Ghana the emphasis is on a strong national identity regardless of your religious beliefs.

She said: "What affects one affects us all - was the message from both the National Chief Imam of Ghana and the Christian Council of Ghana - coincidentally reiterated on separate visits."

Ms Ali co-runs a community kitchen at Hillington Parish Church in Glasgow and the sense of unity particularly resonated for her.

"Whilst faith plays a very important role in people's daily lives the message I learned from my experience in Ghana was simple. In order to coexist peacefully remember first and foremost you are a citizen of the land and are integral to its development", she said.

The group were welcomed at the 16th century Nakore Mosque
The group were welcomed at the 16th century Nakore Mosque

"This message is fundamental to the ethos of the community kitchen where irrespective of your faith, we are joined collectively to break bread together - a harmonious act symbolising peace and friendship. Two main ingredients for successful co-existence.

"I sincerely hope that this recipe can be replicated Scotland wide in developing strong bonds between different faith groups." The trip was partly funded by the Alwaleed Centre and Muslim-Christian Studies Network at the University of Edinburgh and Al-Maktoum College in Dundee, with support from Interfaith Scotland.

The trip was partly funded by the Alwaleed Centre and Muslim-Christian Studies Network at the University of Edinburgh and Al-Maktoum College in Dundee, with support from Interfaith Scotland.

Scottish Interfaith Week will run from Sunday 10 - Saturday 17 November.