The Faith and Cultures Open Day in the magnificent surroundings of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office kicked off at 10am on Saturday 11th October when the doors were opened to the members of the public to sample the best of multicultural and multifaith Britain.
The Muslim Council of Britain's stall was in the central atrium, Durbar Court, along with stalls from organisations representing the other main non-Christian faiths, such as the Hindu Council, the Buddhist Society and the Ba'hai Institute. FAIR and Muslim student organisations also had stalls at the event along with charities like Oxfam, CAFOD, Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief in the beautifully ornate reception rooms on the first floor. Visitors had the opportunity of sampling foods from various cultures, along with music and dance from Nachda Sansar, Nasheeds from Sami Yusuf and qawalis from Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, on the open air stage constructed in the Quadrangle. There was also an uplifting gospel choir who performed on the balcony above Durbar Court.
There were a number of Muslim artists who displayed their work, including an innovative artist by the name of Ruh-al-Alam (see interview with Visual Dhikr) who had a selection of paintings digitally printed on to canvas depicting calligraphy, kufic graphics and a particularly haunting piece entitled `Jabal-an-Nur'.
For the volunteers on the MCB stall it was an opportunity to highlight the important work the MCB is doing on behalf of British Muslims and to demonstrate the vitality of British Islam to the public. It was also a chance to meet people from different Muslim and other organisations to support each other in the struggle to make Britain a truly representative society. We were able to compare notes and find common ground on the issues facing minorities in Britain.
Many of the visitors to the Open Day came with family to enjoy the atmosphere and get involved in the activities such as face painting and badge making for the children and a chance to have a go at the traditional Punjabi bhangra dance. There was also a variety of food to suite every palate. Others came out of sheer curiosity at the prospect of seeing inside the impressive Foreign Office building. Some were tourists; others were people with a particular interest in faith and culture such as postgraduate students from City University, and people working with ethnic minorities. A bowl of chocolates on the table helped to lure many in the direction of the MCB stall!
All in all it was an enjoyable day, the glorious autumn sunshine certainly helped, and the genuine interest of the visitors made it a very worthwhile experience. The only shortcoming was the lower than expected attendance. Although, the event was publicised in the Evening Standard and the Metro, it appears that this was only done a few days in advance. More could have been done in terms of publicity to draw in the crowds and justify the resources involved in making such an event possible. I am sure that the Foreign Office has the wherewithal to make this a popular annual event.
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