A ground-breaking Christian-Muslim event was held, with distinguished speakers discussing the role of faith in culture and society, to mark the end of the FutureCube exhibition at the Cathedral that has been on display there since 27 July.
The FutureCube was commissioned by the Islamic Reformulations research project based in the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and displayed in association with Exeter Cathedral on the Cathedral forecourt.
Professor Robert Gleave, Director of the Islamic Reformulations project, opened the discussion by explaining that the project looks at how Muslim belief and thought are being reformulated in the modern period: which involves not only reading the textual works of learned Muslim theologians but also looking at how Islam is being re-expressed outside the scholarly-textual-tradition. Mohammed Ali’s cube works are a striking example of precisely that.
Artist Mohammed Ali expressed how profound it felt to have his cube displayed at the magnificent Exeter Cathedral and to have the opportunity to talk about his art. He emphasised the effectiveness of using art to engage in dialogue with other faiths, which had been demonstrated over the last few weeks with the sorts of questions the FutureCube had provoked among the city’s passersby.
Giving his reflections, The Very Rev. Dr Jonathan Draper, Dean of the Cathedral, said reactions to the FutureCube’s presence outside the Cathedral had been many and varied, but the greatest reactions had been positive: people talked of it “as an imaginative way to get people thinking and talking about Islam in our community.” He added that people have also talked about it as an interesting statement about how the religious communities of Exeter can relate positively to one another.
Imam Muhammad Abrar of Exeter Mosque said “as Muslims we are committed to raise awareness and understanding of Islam, not only Islam but about faith.” Muslims, he said, faced challenges that are common to all faiths in society so there is a need to work together. One of those challenges is to stimulate the interest of young people in religion.
Professor Emma Loosley of the University of Exeter discussed how many people held alarmist views about Muslims and their relationships with other faiths as a result of relying on media propaganda. She said that her many years of stay and research in Syria told a very different story. One example is a big inscription found in a Christian monastery dating from 1419 written by a Muslim ruler of the time: “anyone who attacks a pilgrim coming to this shrine will have to deal with me.”
Alyaa Ebbiary, who has worked in interfaith for over 10 years, said that there is an aggressive and fundamentalist form of atheism creeping into British public space, a space becoming increasingly unwelcome for religion, particularly for Christianity. The need then is for constructive interfaith dialogue where Muslims and Christians mutually strengthen each other in the public space.
The final statement was given by Dr Mustafa Baig, Research Fellow on the Islamic Reformulations project, who said that Islam is not culturally neutral but throughout its history, it engaged with all the colours of the cultures it came into contact with. The FutureCube designed by Mohammed Ali not only takes on those colours in modern Britain but it presents a challenge for us all in terms of what the colours of faith might look like in the future.
The statements of the panellists were followed by a lively session of questions and comments from the audience. The event was very well intended and received positive feedback, with people expressing the wish to have similar events in the future.