It is an oddity in England that during the World Cup we see thousands of St George’s flags proudly flying across the country. Yet on the day that we celebrate our nation’s Patron Saint himself the same enthusiasm is absent - as it is on most other days of the year.
Across the world, St George is celebrated for standing up for his beliefs, justice and equality in society. Supposedly he was born in Turkey but he is the Patron Saint of many countries including Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ethiopia. He is our country’s chosen Saint not because of heritage but because of what he stands for – tolerance and togetherness.
It’s in this spirit we should celebrate St George’s Day and as a local Yorkshire Imam, today I’m reflecting and discussing with people in my congregation and beyond why St George’s Day should be a day when everyone comes together, united by our shared identity as English citizens.
What makes us English? Is it our obsession with the weather, our insistence on apologising, our stiff upper lip or constantly offering cups of tea? It can be hard to define but there are principles of honour, duty to our family, justice, and a sense of civic responsibility which we can all recognise. Moreover, ours is a culture built upon freedom and equality that has a strong history of democratic process. It is this history, our faith in democracy, and our support for one another through our networks and communities that whatever the future holds, we will remain a strong and united nation.
At a time when there is heightened concern about our country’s future, St George should be a unifying symbol of belonging we could all rally behind. As a Patron Saint, he represents values we can all aspire to – selflessness, courage, faith, compassion and commitment to justice. That’s why I was so pleased to see the celebrations in Morley on Sunday. Indeed, expressing pride in St George is something many people want to do more, British Future research found 61 per cent of people want to see the flag flown more often in England.
Therefore I hope we will see St George’s flag proudly flying across the country once more when the women’s football World Cup starts this summer. But I’m optimistic our celebration of St George and our national identity will go beyond the tournament. St George can be an umbrella under which we stand united. Let St George serve as an emblem to remind us of that we may challenge each other views but that we do so in his tradition of peaceful tolerance and with respect for our democracy.
Qari Asim is a Leeds imam. He is chair of Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board and a trustee of Hope not Hate and British Future.