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Faithful friends - Friendship knows no religion

Faithful friends - Friendship knows no religion

Issue 63 December 2009

Nuzhat Ali passed away 9th February 2021.
Nuzhat was renowned for her community work in her local city of Bradford as well as nationally. She keenly engaged with issues of importance, and worked hard to build interfaith dialogue and cooperation. In issue 63 of emel, Nuzhat reflected on her friendship with Canon Dr Frances Ward.




It is said that friendship knows no bounds. Here, Canon Frances and Nuzhat Ali discuss crossing the boundary of religion through friendship. We have extracts of both their accounts.



Nuzhat:  Frankie and I were introduced by a mutual friend around four years ago and now we work together on numerous inter-faith projects at the Bradford cathedral. She’s a really strong woman, which I suppose is necessary when you’re a female priest in a Christian church! She has a feisty, bubbly spirit which is really quite refreshing.

I got a sense of her strong beliefs and commitment to her faith from the very beginning, which I think is the fundamental similarity between us. Of course, it is also the fundamental difference but that’s what we’ve learnt to appreciate about one another. Christianity and Islam, being two of the world religions, share deep theological similarities but also differences. And I think what our relationship communicates is that it is possible for us to bridge these differences through friendship.

Frankie and I regularly discuss and debate concepts of our respective religions, knowing full well that there isn’t an ultimate conclusion because we both hold divergent views. That, however, doesn’t cause a divide, but instead unites us in friendship. I am proud and respectful of her as an individual because she is as committed to her faith and her beliefs as I am. And the fact that we can discuss those beliefs openly means that our friendship is built on a platform of mutual trust, understanding and respect.

We often say to one another, ‘your truth is not my truth and vice versa, but we can move on having accepted our individual differences’.Islam teaches pluralism, after all– emphasising that there are bound to be differences in opinion. Whilst there may be little common ground where our faiths are concerned, there is plenty of it in our personal lives. Sometimes, we’ll sit down and both complain about our husbands! As women, we share similar experiences and it’s always a relief confiding in somebody who can relate to you.

It’s important that people recognise that the world is full of unique and wonderful human beings, who don’t always hold the same beliefs that we do. Ultimately, we’re on a journey of discovery on this earth. And friendships are no different from that.



Frankie: I recognised early on that Nuzhat was a very honest and frank person. We were introduced during a panel discussion on Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, which was being put on at the cathedral. I noticed straight away that Nuzhat didn’t sugar-coat her opinions and that her belief in her faith was concrete, just like mine.

A lot of the time people find it difficult to trust others in an interfaith situation. I guess it’s only natural considering one can never really be sure of another’s motive; you may think the person from the other faith is committed to converting you. But trust is a gradual thing that needs to be nurtured and most importantly, requires reciprocation. There are many similarities between Christianity and Islam, for example, which perhaps we wouldn’t have been able to identify had we not given our friendship time to blossom. Now, through many discussions, I see that the understanding of justice, of faith, love and equality are very similar between both religions.

Nuzhat and I had to pretty much go back to basics because you tend to carry quite a lot of preconceptions about others from different cultures or backgrounds. That’s exactly why friendship – and in particular, an interfaith friendship, requires time and patience as well as a lot of respect and understanding.

Ultimately, we’re dealing with the very ‘real’ aspect of ourselves in this friendship. Sharing ideas of your faith and your beliefs – things that are so innately personal – is a challenging thing to do. But one of the values of friendship, which I cherish a great deal, is that comfortable space where you can say, ‘Listen. I might cause offence by asking but I really want to know...’ etc. It’s a wonderful place to be; to feel safe enough to let your guard down and give another human being access to your personal thoughts and emotions.

And that’s really what Nuzhat and I hope people can learn to do. Why should we be afraid of going deeper and stretching out towards one another? Society doesn’t need to be based on fear and suspicion but resilient things like trust, honesty and the goodness in humanity

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