I grew up often contemplating and reflecting on such questions, given the various acts of violence that have taken place around the world throughout my childhood and adolescent life. It’s easy to simply give up hope and carry on with a pessimistic view of the world. However, through my personal experiences and interactions, I’ve come to an understanding that peaceful coexistence is a working project—an ideal we get closer and closer to only by persistently working towards it.
Although it seems impossible and unrealistic to achieve peaceful coexistence, we can certainly strive to improve our condition.
I was born into the Islamic faith, to a family of devout Muslims, from a Bangladeshi background. I grew up in my birth country of Oman, a predominantly Muslim country, with my parents and two brothers. At the age of 7, I moved to the United States and the world I had then known was almost entirely changed. My neighbors in Los Angeles, California included individuals from varying ethnicities, cultures, and languages. I was in an environment of people mostly speaking English or Spanish, two languages I had barely ever heard.
Only a few months after my arrival at the United States, the unfortunate events of September 11, 2001 took place. It was difficult to understand the magnitude of the event and the consequences it would have at such a young age, but over time things became clearer. All over the news and even in certain school settings, I would often hear criticisms of Islam and Muslims in general: how my faith was violent and my people terrorists.
I couldn’t be individually recognized as a Muslim through my appearance, but my identity was exposed whenever I went out into the public with my family. Although I was never the target of insults due to my Muslim faith, my family and I would frequently get suspicious looks, sometimes accompanied with fear and disgust. The number of looks I got lessened over time, but I knew that the susceptible, fearful mindset of people had barely changed. This is a narrative that probably applies in some manner to the majority of Muslims that have lived in the United States in the post-9/11 era.
All my life, I was afraid to engage in conversations with others revolving around my faith, and how it was a radical, extremist group that had acted in a manner outside the actual fold of Islam. My faith encourages peace and righteousness. Yet, there was really never a chance, or an opportunity, for me to express my thoughts comfortably. Upon entering college, my world again seemed to have changed—only this time, in a positive manner.
Georgetown University provided an unprecedented platform for engaging in interfaith and intercultural dialogue. For the first time in my life, I was proud to express my identity as a Muslim, getting involved in the Muslim Students Association on campus, and comfortable to participate in interfaith events that were held in abundance around campus.
A specific interfaith series I have had the privilege of attending included the “Challenging Texts” series hosted by Georgetown’s Campus Ministry. Chaplaincy directors discussed the intersection of religion, social justice, and community service, enlightened by the official texts from their respective faiths. For the past two years, I have consistently participated in an Interfaith Sandwich Making service program on campus, preparing and delivering sandwiches to the Georgetown Ministry Center, an institution that aims to provide the chronically homeless in Georgetown with stability and housing. Such activities only touch the tip of the iceberg with regards to what Georgetown has had to offer, allowing me to further my own understanding of different faiths and cultures and fostering a community that strives for a peaceful coexistence—the ideal I often questioned.
Now during my final year at Georgetown, as a Doyle Undergraduate Fellow under the Doyle Engaging Difference Program, I have a prime opportunity to further research the challenges and opportunities that arise in an era of increasing interconnectedness. The program’s focus on engagement with cultural and religious differences is highly valuable to any community, and I hope to take the lessons I learn through my work here and apply them to any future community that I will be part of.
I look to continue to strive towards diversity in coexistence, as part of a larger, devoted community here at Georgetown.