Faith in the City featured in the 11th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film:

I followed the colourful, kaleidoscopic celebrations of Diwali (Deepawali) at Leeds Hindu Mandir and documented the devotion, peace and commitment of First Eid or Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Breaking the Fast) at Leeds Makkah Mosque Masjid. I witnessed first-hand how Hindu and Muslim faiths spread the love and practice compassion and affection for fellow human beings with real conviction. I have to say that both these faiths, their generosity and open desire to understand and connect with humanity puts my experience of British staid christianity to shame.

lighting candles

In every church service I was obliged to attend as a child, I remember only two feelings: incarceration and hunger. The papery dry bread, the grey chalky stone pillars and diluted, bitter wine. Hours of meaningless, endless morals. I learned what’s right and what’s wrong from having five brothers and sisters – I didn’t need some guy in a dress telling me what they thought. It seemed like christians were always serving some kind of penance for something, but I really couldn’t think of anything I’d done that was so bad to warrant that kind of punishment. It’s for that reason I felt no affinity with christianity and could never logically  resolve why I should make the effort to believe in any of it.

In stark contrast was Leeds Hindu Mandir. Explosive fireworks, extravagant decorations, a deity for every aspect of human-ness,  joyful singing, dancing, the feasting of Diwali – the celebration of knowledge, learning, light and sound, it’s a truly sensual feast, a celebration of life, full of joy and happiness.

Fireworks and Om symbol

And my guide, the meandering wisdom and story telling skills of Mr. Vakharia. Rich and exotic stories of princes and princesses, animal deities, mysterious forests and epochs of love and universal connection. If you follow his story – it’s worth while. If you ever get the chance to celebrate Diwali, just remember: light is knowledge and you will be enriched from the experience wherever in the world you are. No expense is spared on the fireworks displays either and what’s great about that is they’re there for everyone to enjoy wether Hindu or not. That’s what I like most about these celebrations – the generosity and welcoming feeling you get really warms the soul.

diwali monkey

And then Islam, Imam Muhammed (the youngest Imam in the UK) introduces the concept of Eid al-Fitr the feast of breaking the fast of Ramadan. A celebration of self discipline, an affirmation of self worth even. There’s a lot of love, happiness and chicken – and man that was really, really nice chicken and rice!

eid shoes

And so unfolds the value of cherishing family and friends, the real commitment to sharing. As Imam Muhamed puts it, “…it’s pretty much celebration, going round visiting friends and family, eating as much as you can and ‘spreading the love’, compassion and affection…” . Sounds to me like the way life should be, I don’t care who you are – you can’t really argue with that now can you?

Makkah Masjid Mosque Leeds

Faith In The City is a series of documentary films exploring the cultural landscape of Leeds through an in-depth exploration of religious practices and conventions. Featuring footage of religious ceremonies, festivals and celebrations, and revealing interviews with religious leaders and practitioners combined with beautifully shot and edited footage to give a full and comprehensive representation of the cultural diversity that Leeds enjoys. Thanks to: GNNSJ Sikh Temple, Leeds Hindu Mandir, Makkah Masjid Mosque, Ziff Centre, UHC Synagogue, Leeds Western Buddhist Centre, Leeds Parish Centre, St. George’s Crypt, New Testament Church of God, NHS Chaplaincy Team.

By Ed Torsney