The importance of faith when responding to humanitarian crises was the topic of an event held at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) was one of three organisations represented alongside the UNHCR on two hours-long side event called People of Faith for People in Need.

Dr Mohamed Ashmawey

Dr Mohamed Ashmawey

CEO Dr Mohamed Ashmawey spoke about the importance of faith alongside Rev. Dr Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and Ms Nan Buzard, executive director of the International Council for Voluntary Agencies. The discussion was moderated by Dr Volker Türk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

The event was an opportunity to revisit the 2012 High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres’s Dialogue on Faith and Protection. He recommended the development of a Code of Conduct for faith leaders to welcome people who had been displaced, and Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders was drawn up from February to April 2013 by a coalition of faith-based organisations including Islamic Relief.

The event, which was held at the United Nations’ Palais des Nation in Geneva on 8 October, discussed successes of interfaith working, as well as highlighting challenges that needed to be overcome. Among the challenges raised by Islamic Relief was the ongoing Islamophobia faced by many Muslim organisations.

Speaking at the event, Dr Ashmawey referenced his favourite part of Welcoming the Stranger.

“I will remember and remind members of my community that we are all considered “strangers” somewhere, that we should treat the stranger to our community as we would like to be treated, and challenge intolerance.”

He acknowledged the reaction he sometimes faces when he introduces himself as ‘Mohamed’, and called for greater levels of respect for each other.

He said: “Extremism doesn’t mean faith as a whole is bad. We must come together as brothers and sisters.”

In 2014, Islamic Relief and the Lutheran World Federation signed a ground-breaking Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate in humanitarian, research and advocacy.

Rev Dr Junge, from LWF, talked about the relationship with LWF as an example of how interfaith relationships can work effectively.

“LWF and IRW partnership is a direct consequence of the UNHCR initiative on faith and protection,” he added.

I dignify the children of Adam

IRW and LWF work together in Nepal.

IRW and LWF work together in Nepal.

In the last year, the two organisations have worked together in the Nepal earthquake emergency response and on psychosocial support to Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan.

Among other discussion points, the panel debated the ongoing crisis of Syrian refugees, including their movement to neighbouring countries and into Europe, and the importance of dignity in everything we do.

He explained that he was surprised by the slow speed of the reaction of Europe to the refugee crisis.

“It shouldn’t take dead bodies on the back door of Europe to make us react,” he said.

“Dignity is key. In the Qur’an, God says ‘I dignify the children of Adam’, and that means everybody, not just Muslims.”

Dr Türk advocated for further cooperation between organisations of faith and no faith, and admitted the UNHCR had not always recognised the importance of faith working, but was trying to improve their faith literacy.

“Faith organisations are embedded in the fabric of society,” he said. “We need to engage faith leaders who have not yet seen the light.”

Islamic Relief recognises the importance of interfaith work, and has worked with organisations such as the Lutheran World Federation, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund, World Vision International.