Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reflection on Interfaith by Mohammed Ali

The purpose of the Emerging Minds Project (EMP) is to create an intellectually open and dynamic environment for students to learn about and discuss social justice issues of today. Each month, a group of students come together at 5710 to dialogue with an experienced facilitator who works in the field.

This blog is an outlet for each of our members' voices. While this is a collection of their personal thoughts, we hope to display a glimpse of the multifaceted ways that each topic impacts the individual members of the EMP cohort.

*The views and opinions expressed in these blog entries are that of each individual author and do not necessarily reflect a collective opinion of the EMP cohort or that of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Reflection on Interfaith by Mohammed Ali.

Last week, our Emerging Minds Project cohort met with Mr. Hakan Berberoglu of the Niagara Foundation (which is not the same as “The Niagara Foundation”) to talk about interfaith discussions. These discussions--whereby the Niagara Foundation provides resources enabling religious communities of different callings to meet, learn, and grow mutual respect for one another--are entirely voluntary. They depend on the mutual interest of participants to organize and hold such discussions. Unfortunately, there are communities that Mr. Berberoglu has worked with that are simply opposed to the idea of holding interfaith dialogues. For me, one of the most resonant points of our discussion focused on why some people would be so opposed to reaching out to members of different faiths.
It was difficult for me to understand why people would vehemently oppose opening dialogues with members of different faiths. I have personally always believed in the power of interfaith and intercultural dialogue to promote peace through mutual understanding and avoid unnecessary conflict. As we have seen in the past decade, misconceptions about different faiths can have deadly consequences. The attacks on the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001 and the resultant precipitation of hate crimes against Muslims in the United States both stand as heinous examples of how hatred can bloom from the seeds of misunderstanding. It seems to me that the joy of learning is one of the most underlying aspects of the human experience, so how could people refuse a chance to learn something about others and themselves through conversation? I understand that hatred is certainly a powerful obstacle to reaching out to different communities, but I wondered what enables this hatred to grow in the first place? As a secular person myself, it is easy for me to think about religious communities as an outsider, yet I feel I am not alone even for those of faith in wondering how so much spiritual hatred can sprout between us, the so-called “Children of God.”

In pondering this question, I found that Mr. Berberoglu provided us with a wonderful insight. He said that in order to participate comfortably in an interfaith or intercultural dialogue, a person needs to know herself. She needs to feel assured in her faith, so much so that she may experience the diversity of the world free from inner apprehensions of corruption or the distillation of her faithfulness. Taken in a larger scope, the cloistering of religious communities from the outer world, from the grander scale of human culture, is in part motivated by fear of losing faith and muddling its followers' identity and purpose. This fear is what divides people and forestalls the growth of interfaith dialogues.

How, then, ought that fearfulness be undermined? Is it the responsibility of spiritual leaders to teach and train their followers to be so sure of their faith in God that they had no reason to be afraid of those who live outside of their communities in ways different from their own cultural and religious norms? Ought we hold all people to this standard of sureness? I find these questions difficult to answer. Certainly, some people find this hatred for other faiths the surest means to express their convictions for their own faith; hence the violence against Muslims in America, for example. Perhaps if such spiteful people recognized the spiritual strength and self-conviction for their own faith; hence the violence against Muslims in America, for example.  Perhaps if such spiteful people recognized the spiritual strength and self-conviction required to be comfortable speaking about faith amongst those of other callings, they would at least be humbled looking inward towards their own sense of conviction, rather  than looking others to inspire hatred and express their fears.