Last weekend The Feast Tower Hamlets hosted five Muslim and seven Christian teenage girls on an interfaith residential. We all went away to a retreat center and ate a load of food, played some great games, painted nail varnish and henna designs on each other, and had some powerfully honest and open dialogue about what it’s like to be a young woman of faith today. I was going to write up a blog post about the amazing time we had, but then I started looking at the quotes from the girls themselves and decided I should just let them tell you instead.
“I loved that at the beginning of the weekend, we were all kind of separated and we were still in our groups—but now we’re all kind of separate from our groups and we’re all mixed with different people.” —Christian girl from Essex
“This weekend I learnt about other religions, other than my own religion (which is Islam) and it’s like, there is more to other religions than I’d known. I thought it was like, yeah—basic—it’s gonna be easy, but then it’s actually like there’s so much to know, there’s so much to understand. It’s really interesting learning about other people’s faiths.” —Muslim girl from Tower Hamlets
“I loved the obstacle course; I thought it was really good. I thought it gave us a chance to do teambuilding, and so we learnt that whoever we are, whatever faith or belief we have, we can help each other.” —Christian girl from Essex
“The best of part of this weekend was when we were at the bonfire; we were all together and we had so much fun and we were all just talking about our lives.” —Muslim girl from Tower Hamlets
Scene: small groups making Venn diagrams of similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity.
Muslim girl: “What does this mean, ‘Lamb of God’?
Christian girl: “It’s like a name for Jesus. Are there other names for God in Islam?”
Muslim girl: “Well, Islam has 99 names for God.”
Christian girl: “Do you know any of them?”
Muslim girl: “I know some of them in English: God is the all-loving, the all-knowing, the most merciful, the compassionate, he’s everywhere, he’s all-forgiving…”
Christian girl: “Yeah, Christians believe all those things about God too! Before I came on this weekend I would have thought we had nothing in common, but now I can see there’s loads…”
“I love watching stereotypes get broken down… I think it’s so important to actually interact and build trusting friendships with people that are different, because you can’t have any form of stereotype after that—you actually get to know them. And the unity that’s in that room is really, really powerful, and I really really hope that some of those friendships do continue. I’m sure they will.” —Helen, Girls United youth leader from Tower Hamlets
”I’ll say it was ‘SHmazing!’ It was really fun—like, I’m never gonna forget this, I swear I’m not. It was so fun, building relationships up with you guys; I’m never gonna forget this—in like, ten years, I’m never gonna forget. It was so much fun—even with like, bruises and stuff, it was really fun, and I really wanna come back here!” —Muslim girl from Tower Hamlets
From one of the girls’ Facebook posts over the weekend:
“Having a great time on the interfaith Girls United weekend in Danbury! It’s great to learn about each other’s faiths:3 Whether you’re Muslim or Christian, we are all like one big family of crazy girls and it’s just lovely that we can come together with our faiths with pride and confidence :3 <3″
“For me, we live in a town in Essex which is very white, and very Christian, and that’s our experience, and that’s the girls’ experience. So I think it’s been really valuable to come and mix with girls of other cultures and other beliefs. And what’s been so refreshing is just open and honest questioning—that perhaps as adults we need to learn from young people—and just to get back those honest answers.” — Sally, Girls’ Brigade leader in Essex
“I think this weekend’s been really, really good; it’s been an amazing weekend how we’ve all come together—at the beginning it was just like, ‘Hello,’ but now we’re like, ‘HEY GIRL!!!!’—we’re, like, so close… It’s knowing about other people’s faiths instead of your own, and it’s so interesting to know about what other people think, and how Islam and Christianity are so similar in certain ways. And I just love that we, you know, on the obstacle course, there was no dignity, it was like, “Yeah, I’m in the mud, I love it!” It’s like we’ve known each other for so long—but we haven’t—but it feels like we’ve known each other for ages. I just don’t want it to end really! I just want it to carry on; we can all meet up again and it’d be really nice!”—Christian girl from Essex
We are definitely making plans to meet up again. If you’re in London and you’d like to get involved in events like this weekend that Explore Faith, Create Friendships, and Change Lives, please do email us: thefeasttowerhamlets (at) gmail.com.