I felt both honoured and privileged at having been chosen to go on the Scottish Interfaith Pilgrimage. As a young Sikh Doctor and member of the Scottish Interfaith Council Youth Steering Committee, I felt that this would be an invaluable experience to firstly share in other peoples faith but also to transition to the adult world of interfaith while transferring skills I had learnt from youth interfaith work.
The idea of a shared journey has been used by the Youth Steering Committee on our many conference planning retreats. I have felt that by travelling with someone you embark on a learning process about them and get to know them far more intimately than you would otherwise. A true friendship arises and from this friendship we are able to start exploring who we are and what our beliefs are. I still have extremely fond memories of our first retreat to the Holy Isle and what an enlightening experience the whole weekend unfolded into.
The word pilgrimage brings many connotations however in all cases it will be a special journey for each person involved. I felt an incredible excitement whilst travelling to the Western Wall, the Mosque at Al-Aqsa or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Samuel Danzig, one of the Jewish youth, showed such humility when at the Western Wall that you could not help but feel that it was a very special place. In Haifa, at the shrine of the B’ab, we were honoured by the Bahais who allowed us to pay our respects even during time reserved for Bahai pilgrims. This act of friendship and of trust truly treated us, people from all religions as they would treat people from their own.
Galilee was spectacular. To visit churches where events from the Bible took place was truly amazing. As a young Sikh I had grown up with these stories in school as much as those from my own faith and therefore they held a special significance. In Tiberias we stayed at the Scots Hotel which was formerly a missionary hospital founded by a Scottish Doctor, Dr David Torrance. I felt a truly special connection with this place due to my medical background. Medicine instils a sense of brotherhood and I believe this to be because of a common journey through medical school with colleagues and also shared experiences during our working lives both the happy and the not so happy.
In this way I felt this pilgrimage to be a complete success in that our shared journey and experiences can only bind us together and grow. However the pilgrimage also set goals for the future and was only the beginning of the journey. We found that we each had very different opinions and views with regards to the situation in the Middle East and our trust and confidence in each other allowed constructive debate. By showing that people of faith and religion can work together and resolve conflicts is an important message for the World to hear. Religion is often blamed for the problems in society by the media and politicians, however with the UN declaring that 2011-2020 a “Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace” I truly believe that we are on the first steps to a peaceful world assisted for the first time in a major way by people of faith.
Jagtar Nijjar is a medical doctor. He is a member of the Scottish Interfaith Council Youth Steering Committee, and is a member of the Sikh community.