It seems this summer has been full of international conflict. Endless news headlines reported tragedy after tragedy from the death toll of Ebola in West Africa to ISIS’s targeting of Iraqi minority groups. Tragedy even hit close to home with the domestic shooting of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Through all these accounts of suffering, one mechanism of human emotion remains active: compassion. Whether reductively supporting a sole group, or understanding all viewpoints from every angle, most people respond to tragedy with some degree of compassion. The only difference is to whom we are compassionate. This universal phenomenon reminds me that we are all human, and as such, share common values. The question remains, how can we understand and harbor compassion for people different from ourselves? Attending the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) conference in Chicago this summer has allowed me to propose an answer to this question.
The IFYC conference trains students to mobilize interfaith programs on their campuses as part of the “Better Together” campaign. Attendees this year trained to be leaders who organize interfaith projects on campus. The conference championed the two most important interfaith imperatives: enjoy similarities and embrace differences. The main agenda of “Better Together” to help students find common ground with students of other faith traditions, and using that commonality to ignite interfaith dialogue. Considering Georgetown’s dedication to cura personalis, it is safe to say that service, tolerance, and respect are common values most Hoyas harbor. Interfaith activities entailing any of those values will open the dialogue. The only action that must be done is actually gathering people of various faiths.
Interfaith dialogue can take various forms. One activity I really enjoyed during the conference was “speed-faithing.” Speed-faithing consisted of short sessions discussing the main doctrines of a certain religion. This activity made me realize that even a cursory understanding of certain religious doctrines allows one to better appreciate the faith. Personally, I seek more exposure to religious doctrines outside my own tradition. Though Muslim, I attend Sunday services at St. John's Episcopal Church and some Protestant services in St. Williams Chapel in order to better understand the similarities between my faith and Christianity (from a Protestant perspective). And I can happily boast that I have enjoyed every service I have attended! I cannot say I am the connoisseur of all Islamic knowledge, let alone of other faiths; however, I seek to learn about other religions and forms of worship because it is integral to being open-minded. To a greater extent, such knowledge is necessary for interacting with people different from you; it is necessary for international relations. Ignorance fuels myopia.
With the political strife occurring around the globe, it’s sometimes difficult to separate culture and politics from religion. The media does not always attribute religiously-based violence toward aberrant views of religion; consequently, many associate a whole religion to the violence executed in its name. As a Muslim, I am very familiar with this phenomenon. Nevertheless, interfaith cooperation can combat these generalizations and negative views, while acknowledging the need to combat extremism. Interfaith dialogue is central to propagating tolerance.