Since December 2011, I presented a "Thought for the week" on the Mike Shaft programme on Sunday mornings on BBC Radio Manchester roughly once every two months. The time allowance was originally two minutes, since reduced to 90 seconds!
The BBC require something light for a Sunday morning audience, but with real content. While I start from a Muslim perspective, I emphasise the commmonality of the Abrahamic faiths, rather than their divergences.
The texts below are listed with the newest at the top.
I grew up in a very poor family. Our television, especially the BBC, was how I knew what was happening in the world and was an important part of my education. The BBC's mission statement, “to inform, educate, and entertain”, gives an order of priority for how to consume TV and radio.
Racism still exists in Britain, but integration in the UK is far ahead of other European countries. In my view, no country in Europe comes close to the UK when considering the representation of ethnic minorities at the top levels of politics, media and the professions. We should celebrate this with pride, while recognising that we still have further to go.
If they are below average height, most people will accept that without hesitation. However many people are very reluctant to accept that they are below average intelligence. Despite that, our limitations, whether in height or in intelligence, are real. Accepting them is hard, but a necessary part of achieving as much as you can.
As well as being intellectually dishonest, “whataboutism” conflicts with fundamental teachings of religions such as Christianity and Islam. I also make the wider point that you should always be more critical of your "own group" (however defined) than you are of other groups.
The inequality of pre-modern societies was deeply unfair. However it was that past inequality that made human progress possible. Everything of value from before the industrial revolution owes its existence to past inequality. Without past inequality, all of us living today would be desperately poor. It is past inequality that made our wealthy, modern, world possible.
Nearly 40 years ago, a bereaved client said something to me that I have never forgotten. I shared it in my "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester, along with my view that the God of the Old Testament is often severely misrepresented.
After covering the Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachings about loving your neighbours, I go on to discuss what we owe our fellow citizens. We have many legal obligations to them. However being my fellow citizen does not, of itself, entitle you to any affection.
My "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester preceded Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year. I reflected on the wonderful story of how their religious beliefs enabled the Jewish people to survive for so long living in lands ruled by others without being absorbed.
Views of the USA, and knowledge about it, vary greatly. Even though I did not set foot there until the age of 30, I grew up with a deep knowledge of, and affection for, the USA. I shared this in my "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester as the date was the fourth of July.
My "Thought for the Week" shared a small, but important, point that many people miss. That is the need to be honest about the limitations of your own knowledge, but also recognising when other people are not competent to discuss something. Refusing to debate the ignorant will save you time and is better for your blood pressure.
BBC Radio Manchester asked me to replace my planned "Thought for the Week" with one about Prince Philip, given his very recent death. I focused it around the life choice he made when he decided to marry Princess Elizabeth of Britain.
Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad changed the world more than anyone, but only because people chose to follow them. If dissatisfied with the world, you need to take action within your resources, and find others to collaborate with.
I based my "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester not on a religious text but on a Peanuts cartoon strip. What is the message in Linus Van Pelt's cry "I love mankind... It's people I can't stand!!"?
Judaism and Islam both teach the importance of preserving the lives of others, and your own life. That requires you to be meticulous about avoiding coronavirus infection risks. My 58th"Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester, which followed shortly after my 70th birthday and 42nd wedding anniversary, both celebrated in isolation at home.
Many well off people still think of themselves as poor, because they only compare themselves to those who are richer. This harms society by making them less generous. It also harms them, by making them feel bad about themselves, damaging their happiness, health and longevity. Even the poorest in our society are far better off than most of the world's population.
Being liked helps your career, and is also good for your physical and mental health. Naturally most of us want to be liked. However sometimes you need to prioritise other things. Deciding person by person whether you care if they like you makes you more effective.
When I was a student, reading the introduction to "The Book of Mormon" led me to ask a question. What if Jesus worked his miracles today? How soon would people doubt their authenticity? Watching "Messiah" on Netflix reminded me of the question, and I used it for my "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.
The ability to publish our thoughts online, and to share them using social media, has made it possible for everyone to speak to a large fraction of the world. Sadly however, the internet has facilitated intemperate and abusive speech, and the propagation of falsehoods. Much of this is due to anonymity online, which leads people to behave much worse than they would if their identities were know. We can all take action by refusing to engage with anonymous accounts: never respond to them, never share them, never follow them.
The Quran gives a significant amount of coverage to Jesus, including the story of the Virgin Birth. Despite that, I rarely hear Muslims mentioning Jesus. I used my post-Christmas "Thought for the Week" broadcast to ask why.
In September, I attended the funeral prayers of a close friend in Manchester Central Mosque. While praying, I reflected on how important that location has been in my life, and the importance of a place called home more generally. I made that the subject of my 51st Thought for the Week on BBC Radio Manchester.
The circumstances of our birth, and many other aspects of our lives are beyond our control. We only control the choices we make. Those choices in turn determine what becomes of our lives. In my 50th "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester, I illustrated this with the story of Ruth and Naomi.
At its heart, religion is about ultimate truth. That point leads to Pascal's wager. However religions also strongly affect the way people live their lives here on Earth. That can be very beneficial for their adherents, or it can be very damaging. My page gives one religious example each way.
Few of us can be world-changing figures such as Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. However every one of us can do something, even if it is very little, to make the world better. Doing that will also make you feel better about yourself.
I share the story of Maximilian Kolbe. He and other Christians who have lived and died for their faith should inspire all of us, regardless of our individual religious faiths or beliefs. This is the text of my 2018 "Thought for Christmas Day" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.
You have a responsibility to make your life better. Sometimes that may conflict with the way other people want you to behave. Are you betraying your heritage by mastering an extra language? I asked this question in the context of Israel's citizens of Arab origin, but it arises for many countries.
Why does the Holocaust hold a special place in our consciousness? It is not just the numbers killed. It is the Nazis' desire to exterminate all Jews, young and old, everywhere they could. Also the industrialised killing methods the Germans used, and their meticulous documentation of their crimes. That this happened in one of the world's most civilised countries is a continuing lesson for all of us.
Space constraints at Mecca mean that most Muslims will never be able to perform Hajj. If you go on Hajj more than once, you are taking up a slot that would have enabled someone else to perform their only Hajj. In my "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester I asked if that is being selfish.
Voters often complain that politicians lie. The accusation is valid, but blame rests not with the politicians but with the voters, whose behaviour shows that they want politicians to lie to them. I covered this in my 42nd "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.
Jesus taught us to "Love your neighbour as yourself." In my 90-seconds "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester I asked whether that is realistically possible. On this page I also look at identical teachings in Judaism and Islam.
When humans emerged from Africa around 200,000 years ago, they were undifferentiated. Spreading into different environments led to different genes conferring survival advantages. That is why Icelanders look different from Australian aborigines. However technology eliminates virtually all of these genetic pressures. With growing travel and intermarriage, eventually all racial appearance differences will disappear. I estimate this will take less than 1,000 years.
My 90-second "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester devoted to unconscious bias. In it, I shared two examples of my own unconscious bias, including a riddle which defeated me, my wife and my sister. The page also has some additional resources on the subject including the Implicit Association Test. By understanding and overcoming your own unconscious bias, you will make the world a better place.
Walter Mischel's marshmallow experiments showed that children as young as four differ in their ability to defer gratification. Those who can are far more likely to succeed in life. It is an ability you can teach yourself by taking it seriously. I made this the theme of my BBC Radio Manchester "Thought for the Week" delivered on New Year's Eve.
Many young people are so unselfish that their career aspirations focus entirely upon helping others. They should focus on taking care of themselves. As well as avoiding becoming a burden on others, becoming richer will enable them to help others more.
Most Jews, Christians and Muslims believe, as I do, that our lives are in the hands of God. Unfortunately, some believe that the true statement “You will not die before your time comes” justifies mistreating their body, neglecting their health, and ignoring basic safety precautions. They misunderstand what religion teaches.
Passover reminds all believers in God of His power and His concern for all who worship Him. The Quran give the Passover story in detail. The precise way anyone chooses to remember Passover is up to them.
Survey evidence shows that richer white Americans are far more likely to practice a religion than are poorer white Americans. Does being richer make you more religious, or does being religious make you more successful? I explain why I think religion helps you to succeed in life.
Muslims fast because God commands us to. However each of us has their own personal perspective on Ramadan. I used my 90 second "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester to explain that for me Ramadan is primarily an opportunity to reduce my external activities to spend more time on reading and reflection.
Having a "Prayer for the Nation" presupposes that we know what a nation is. There are some simple requirements for becoming one nation. I used this as my "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester. Very briefly, we become a nation from our sense of shared history, from thinking of all citizens as part of our extended family, and from only using the word "Us" to refer to all Britons.
Your choice of marriage partner should be made for entirely selfish reasons. However once you are married, you will only be happy if you behave very unselfishly. That paradox underlies having a happy marriage.
The purpose of helping others is the unselfish one of helping them. However as well as spiritual benefits, there are usually tangible benefits for yourself. You will often learn something, or even just get some useful exercise. It can also be enjoyable.
Religions are often reduced to lists of beliefs and practices. While valid, this approach misses something fundamental. The most important thing about a religion is how it affects your view of the world and the meaning of life. For me the most important aspect of Islam is personal accountability to God.
An individual's memories give him his identity. Similarly a nation is held together by its collective memories of the past. That makes history a vital subject to study at school, and afterwards. If a people forget their history, or never learn it, they stop being one nation and become just a random collection of individuals who happen to live in the same country.
Most of us are brought up to identify strongly with our family group, ethnic group and religious group. However God requires us to be just, even if we have to testify against ourselves or our kin. When there is conflict, we come under enormous pressure to "stand up for our side." That should be resisted.
"Give me a child until seven and I will give you the man" say the Jesuits. It is partially true. However neither our genetic endowment nor past have to determine our future. We can change ourselves by deciding who we want to be and then taking action.
Success in life requires a balance between inner direction and responding to outside events. Taking up opportunities is normally a good thing to do. However you need periodically stop and take stock, to ensure that what you are doing supports your own strategic priorities.
Humans are good at finding evidence to confirm their existing views. We all suffer from it, and psychologists call it "Confirmation bias." However there are ways of reducing its impact so that we can think better and see the world more objectively.
It is easy to forget that you can achieve little without your health or if you are not around. That means it is essential to take care of your health and personal safety. Furthermore your life matters not just to you, but also matters to everyone you can help.
Our decisions lead to outcomes which are sometimes good and sometimes bad. Successful people accept that when they get bad outcomes, they made bad decisions, and they try to make better decisions in the future. However unsuccessful people tend to put the blame for bad outcomes elsewhere. Consequently they never learn to make better decisions.
Young people are often idealistic and want to help other people. They need to remember that your ability to help other people is much greater if you are successful and rich yourself. Nobody should feel guilty about concentrating on their own personal success and wellbeing.
Historically most people left few written records. However the use of electronic media today generates vast amounts of writing that will be preserved indefinitely. This repository will be of immense value to future historians.
Many people adopt a false personality for interviews and other purposes. However being authentic and true to yourself is less effort than trying to adopt a fake persona. That reduces your stress levels with health benefits and extra ability to concentrate on work. Also being found to be deceitful seriously reduces your chances to succeed in life.
All religions have rituals for specific occasions. While rituals are easily mocked, in reality they help people to share joy and to cope with tragedy. I was moved to write this piece after hearing a bereaved mother explaining on the radio how her friends avoided meeting her in the street. They didn't know how to talk to her about her terrible loss, and did not realise how their avoidance was hurting her. All she wanted from her friends was a hug and an affirmation that they cared.
God giving the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai is a key event for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While is easy to mock those Israelites who lost faith in Moses and began worshipping the golden calf, in reality many people find it easier to follow others instead of doing what is right.
People like to hear the word "Yes." It means that turning down requests is often difficult. Success in life requires learning how to say "No" politely but clearly, instead of saying "Yes" and making yourself unhappy.
Unhappiness is sometimes due to personal tragedy, ill health or extreme poverty. However many people who should be happy are not. Often this comes from inability to decide what they really want. Strong personal principles and rules for living stop you making bad decisions and lead to you being happier. It does not matter whether these principles come from a religion or from elsewhere.
Humans are used to things being limited. That makes infinity hard to think about. However God has unlimited love, and can give an unlimited amount of love and attention to each of us. I share a numerical analogy which has helped me to think about this.
This "Thought for the week" broadcast was based upon a discussion that took place when I was speaking at the annual conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews on "Muslim Jewish relations in an increasingly secular Europe". As well as the text of my radio broadcast, the page includes the abstract for the conference workshop and the slides used for the presentation which focused on how Muslims and Jews can co-operate on issues that affect both communities.
This quotation appears in the Quran and in the Talmud.Two years ago meet a kindertransport child made this quotation vividly real for me. Accordingly I based my second "Thought for the week" radio broadcast around it.