Friday, 22 January 2016

Burns Supper and Muslim Identity

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day

Friday 22nd January 2016
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam
University College Cork, Ireland

Burns supper celebrations marking the life and poetry of Scotland’s bard will be organised in Scotland and across the globe on Monday.  In the last few weeks I have been reading up quite a lot about Burns Supper.  I will be attending my very first one tomorrow.  I was given a small book a few years ago that outlined what should and should not happen.  Well, the book actually said that everything really goes in the spirit of Robert Burns being a ‘free spirit’.  Robert Burns life was more than colourful, to say the least, but it was these colours that allows his life to be read, understood and celebrated in various way. 

It was recently announced that Syrian refugees to Glasgow would be welcomed to an alternative Burns Supper at the Celtic Connections Festival.  Festival organisers hope to "highlight the celebration's multicultural dimensions, reflecting Burns's global resonance, and particularly his passionate belief in justice and equality".  And this week a world's first will take place at a star-studded Glasgow Burn's night, with a transgender 'Reply to the Toast to the Lassies'. Playwright Jo Clifford will deliver the performance in response to the toast to the Lassies. 

There are Islamic traditions that detail ways to know a person, mainly - traveling with them, eating with them or doing business with them.  I’ve come to learn a lot about others by eating with them.  When I lived in Miami I was often invited to Jewish Sabbath meals and although I learnt about Jewish traditions from my Jewish host, I actually learnt how the act of breaking bread together helped bridge our differences.  There’s been a lot of heated debate in the last few days about the prime minister’s call for Muslim women immigrants to learn the English language as a way of integrating in to British society and combatting extremism.  Clearly there’s politics to both sides.  I suppose there are many ways of getting to know each other through words or actions. 

Maybe the friends of Burns were on to something when they started the tradition of Burns Supper as we eat and laugh together.