Thought for the Day - 20/11/2013 - Abdal Hakim Murad

There’s talk of economic recovery in the air. The stock market is more buoyant than it has been since the 2008 crash; and house prices, at least in Cambridge where I live, seem to be riding an unstoppable bubble. Luxury car sales have now reached and exceeded pre-recession levels. In fact, for some, good times seem to be here again.

And yet as one income group celebrates, at the other end of the economic spectrum, a string of disasters is reported. Consider, for instance, the figures just released by the health minister. The statistics show that the number of cases of malnutrition reported by British hospitals has doubled since the recession began.

When we hear bad news on unemployment, wages, energy prices and social service cuts, that is dismal enough, but, is in a sense, not terribly surprising. But when some of us are literally, rather than figuratively, tightening their belts, surely something quite desperate is taking place. Poverty has always been with us, but many of us in the post-war generations thought that food poverty would never be with us again.

Clearly, politicians on all sides of the spectrum will be worried by this, and will have their solutions. Religion, however, is not waiting for them. Type ‘Foodbank’ into a search engine, and an extraordinary range and variety of schemes pops into view. Among them it’s clear that religions are taking a lead in this. In a multifaith society these can hardly be sectarian about whom they serve; and it is heartening to see, for instance, the Birmingham central mosque, which distributes to members of all communities, or the Blackburn initiative, in which Muslims have been collecting for a Christian foodbank. As the need grows, the faiths seem to be growing together.

It’s on the, as it were, bread and butter issues, that we learn about our shared humanity. Hunger feels the same whatever your theology. Hearing that a Muslim had just slaughtered a sheep, the Prophet Muhammad asked him: Have you given some to your Jewish neighbour? This commandment is part of hospitality, rooted ultimately in Abraham’s offering of a fatted calf to unknown guests who came to his tent: a story present both in the Koran and in the Bible. To be Abrahamic is to be welcoming, and spontaneously to offer the gift of food.

Perhaps, instead of focussing on our dogmatic one-upmanship, we should learn the simple message of the ancient prophets. In a society often seen as sadly divided, their anger and their empathy with the suffering poor can still bring us together.

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