Beyond religion and belief


14 / 5 / 2014 12.14pm

When thinking about religion and belief for this blog the voices that come from within, do not come from just one part of me but three perspectives. As an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) consultant, as a British citizen of minority faith and ethnic background and as an interfaith minister.

From an EDI consultant perspective

From an equality point of view, I am concerned with people of minority faith and ethnicity who access services at vulnerable times in their lives, such as at times of illness and death, for example. It is clear that for some people, recognition of their religion or belief during those times can be of great importance.  

Perspective from experience of migration and minority faith

To many individuals, cultural and faith practices, help to form a powerful indispensable connection that enables a migrant community to survive the new and sometimes unusual environment in which they finds themselves in. This is not just at the moment of migration but as the generations roll forward seeking greater economic and social success.

Learning through Ministry

As an interfaith minister, my calling is to be of service to people of any faith, or none, as they make their journey through their lives. I also get to see another side of religion and belief, which goes below the surface of ‘labels’ and ‘characteristics’ and touches people’s deeper aspirations and understandings.

Bringing my perspectives together

So what have I learned from being a part of these different landscapes of personal and professional experience? It’s this: to listen deeply to other people’s experiences; to be less eager to strike a position on matters of faith and belief; and to be less quick to judge the position of others.

Through my ministry practice in particular I have found that there is in our collective histories a common theme of wounding. It may look different among different groups but atheists, Christians, people of minority faiths, those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious, have reasons for grievance and for suspicion of others. Each time we strike a position, or judge the other person’s point of view without taking time to understand what is behind or beneath it, we risk stereotyping both ourselves and others, and continuing the conflict which is the cause of social fragmentation.

How can this help us in the provision of NHS services? It’s very simple: both staff and patients in the NHS reflect the entirety of the society we live in. When they come to work, or access services, each person wants to be seen heard and understood for who they are, what they need and what they can bring.

The workplace – particularly in the NHS - provides the amazing opportunity for people of all kinds to open their minds to diversity, working with and serving people of every creed and belief. Listening to all staff will enrich both the workplace for the staff and the provision of services to all patients. And really listening to all patients and understanding their individual beliefs and values will make the greatest difference to patient experience.

I will close with a small recollection of my last trip to my local accident and emergency.  At reception I was asked a number of ‘monitoring’ questions, including my faith. I struggled at that point – I was concerned that if I put down ‘Muslim’, and had to be admitted, it would be assumed that I would eat halal meat (at the time I was a vegetarian). Even more worrying, if I were to be critically ill, I was concerned it would be assumed I wanted spiritual comfort from an Imam (I would certainly have preferred an interfaith minister). I have no idea whether either of these concerns was well-founded, and happily I was not unwell enough to be admitted to hospital. But my underlying concern “Will I be seen for who I am, not who others think I am?” be the same concerns that people of faith or no faith will also have? A truly inclusive NHS is not afraid to confront this question, and to listen to any uncomfortable truths that arise in response to it.

Razia Aziz is co-director of the Equality Academy Ltd  and a One Spirit Interfaith Minister . Razia and her co-Director at the Equality Academy, Jonathan Heath, provide coaching, training and consultancy on a range of equality, diversity & inclusion matters, including learning & development for diversity leaders.   

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