While the British society has become increasingly intolerant of religious views and expressions, the first Muslim woman to serve in the cabinet says Britain should become a country where people are not ashamed of saying they are Christians.
“We need to create a country in which people can be unashamedly proud of their faith – where they don’t feel that they have to leave religion at the door,” Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who is also co-chair of the ruling Conservative Party, said in an article in Daily Telegraph Saturday. “That means being proud of Christianity, not downgrading it.”
At the back of her mind was perhaps the argument that Christian expressions are antithetical to the “multicultural” Britain. “It is a mistake to assume that you compromise your identity the more you try to understand others,” she wrote. “The stronger your understanding of your neighbour, the stronger your own religious identity becomes. For many years, I have been saying that the stronger we are as a Christian nation, the more understanding we will be of other faiths.”
People, she added, should be encouraged to say that their faith inspires what they do. “It means supporting religious charities in delivering public services in schools, hospices and rehabilitation.”
Lady Warsi, who was born to immigrants from Pakistan, stressed that the supposed conflict of loyalty that exists between faiths needed to be addressed head-on.
“Time and again, we encounter the assumption that some people of some faiths can be trusted while others cannot,” she wrote, pointing out that some in the Muslim world see Christians with suspicion, and similarly some in the West doubt the loyalty of Muslims.
“But as a proud British, Muslim, Conservative woman – one who has the privilege of serving her country as the first Muslim in full Cabinet – take it from me: there is nothing incompatible about a world of many religions and one of strong, vibrant nation states,” she said.
Britain, she said, had a proud history of pluralism and interfaith dialogue. “Now we need to go further: beyond the photo calls outside the mosque, beyond hosting the local imam for tea in a draughty church hall.” She called for congregation-to-congregation and community-to-community dialogue.
Lady Warsi also deplored efforts by Islamist extremists to undermine Pakistan’s “idea of unity through diversity” that “runs through Pakistan’s history and helps to define its society today.” She said she met Shahbaz Bhatti, who was the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, a week before he was assassinated in March for speaking out against the notorious blasphemy laws.
She said Britain should take the lead internationally. It should press other governments to safeguard religious minorities – “be it the Copts in Egypt or Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.”