The Cordoba Foundation and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London launched a new film about Islam in Poland, directed by William Barylo. Hosted by Witold Sobków, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in London, the screening of the film and Iftaar (breaking of the fast) took place at the Polish Embassy in London on Thursday 18th July.
The film, “Polish Muslims: An Unexpected Meeting”, was directed and produced by William Baryło, a doctoral candidate at the EHESS, Paris and Research Assistant at The Cordoba Foundation.
The film gives insights to the sheer diversity of the Muslim communities in Poland and provides a glimpse of the relationship between Muslims and the whole Polish society. More than describing the centuries-old Muslim legacy in Poland and presenting the current challenges for the Polish society, ‘Polish Muslims’ explores the building of bridges in a multi-cultural society.
In attendance were leading figures from Muslim, Jewish and multi-faith organisations, charities, research institutions as well as community activists and youth.
The event was moderated by by Dr Anas Altikriti, CEO of The Cordoba Foundation and opening remarks from His Excellency, Mr Witold Sobków, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in London.
Dr. Altikriti remarked that “it is more than a happy coincidence that the name of the Ambassador coincides with Prince Witold, who welcomed in the 14th century the very first waves of Muslim Tatars to Poland.”
His Excellency, the Ambassador, studied Islamic Studies and Arabic Language in SOAS, welcomed the audience with a respectful “As-Salaam Alaykum”. He underlined the importance of knowledge to “fight prejudice, ignorance and stereotypes.”
Describing himself as an advocate of “the peaceful coexistence of cultures”, he asserted that Islam is a “peaceful religion, not a threat”, and highlighted its key values of “justice, compassion and solidarity.” The ambassador stressed the need for a society that is respectful of cultures, and urged all to “do our best to fight Islamophobia”, and that “the corrosive effects of Islamophobia should be recognised as unacceptable and not tolerated.”
The Ambassador extended its words of appreciation to The Cordoba Foundation “for their initiative, innovative approach and the clear vision of the work they have been carrying out since 2005”. He further commented: “The objectives of the Foundation are relevant in the times we have come to live and I hope that by the means of systematic and strategic steps we can ensure the progress of a peaceful and respectful coexistence of cultures, ideas and people.”
About the film, the ambassador admitted that “the lives and experiences of the Muslims in Poland is in many ways an unknown territory to many people” and thus congratulated the film director, William Barylo, for “all his efforts in bringing this part of Poland closer to us.”
His Excellency, Mr Sobków described the film as “fantastic”. Whilst there was a lot everyone learned from the film, he pointed out the film’s objectivity, which showed both the positive side and the challenges facing the Muslim communities in Poland.
Providing an overview of Poland’s cultural wealth and complexity, the film raises interesting and pertinent issues for discussion and debate. Precisions have been given especially on the general open-mindedness of the Polish society and government towards minorities, the activism of young Polish Muslims and the different Muslim representative organisations.
Rabbi Herschel Gluck, founder of the Jewish-Muslim Forum, said “this is an important perspective about a community which many are unaware of. It’s very important as an European that there is a thriving Muslim community in Poland which is respected and which is very engaged with Polish life. It’s actually an integrant part of the Polish narrative.”
Alicja Kaczmarek, head of the Polish Expats Association, commented: “The film was very beautiful and very interesting. A real eye-opener, proving communities can actually exist together. There is something we can learn whatever part of the world we are from. It generated an interesting conversation after.”
Catriona Robertson, convenor of the London Faith Boroughs Network (LFBN) and An executive member of the European Network on Religion and Belief (ENORB), said “I loved the film, because it is very particular. It doesn’t fall into the trap of generalisations.”
Dr AbdoolKarim Vakil, lecturer in Kings College London found “a wonderful film for opening up a window in a country and a context I don’t really know much about. I hope there will be a sequel of this movie.”
The Cordoba Foundation hopes with optimism that this film, questioning perceptions of cultural and religious differences, could foster a more lucid look onto the world’s 21st century multi-cultural society. The Cordoba Foundation is pleased that this event signals, hopefully, the beginning of future collaboration with the Embassy of the Republic of Poland.
The organisers thank the Polish Embassy in London for hosting the screening of this documentary at the embassy during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The event ended with a call to prayer and breaking of the fast (Iftaar), with a delicious Polish buffet.