Thursday, May 28, 2015

Different Faiths, Similar Faiths

I've often come across initiatives that try to build bridges of understanding between groups of people, be they religious, cultural, language, ethnic, racial, what-have-you. These initiatives have always fascinated me because I've seen how effective they are.

I used to work as a Program Coordinator for a nonprofit. While there, it was one of my responsibilities to reach out to university students to get them to start an initiative on campus called which essentially aims to build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim students. As a student of Middle Eastern Studies and the wife of a Muslim man, this was definitely in my wheelhouse.

No American can deny that Islamophobia is a thing, right along with any other type or xenophobia or racism that exists in this country. While it was definitely heartbreaking to talk to students who had experienced hatred because they were Muslim or someone thought they were Muslim due to the color of their skin or name, it was heartening to see the way they interacted with students like me of a white Christian background.

In fact, what I found was that I appealed to these kinds of students the most on campus. I appealed to white non-Muslim students because of the same reasons I personally am interested in the subject. They had grown up in a post-9/11 world and probably had witnessed injustice toward a friend, colleague or classmate. Something inside them stirred and they felt it was their responsibility to do something.

There are many ways people can "do something" to fight injustice. And I'd like to highlight a video I just came across: "Two Faiths One Prayer." Here, a few Muslims and Jews take to the streets of Los Angeles to pray. Throughout the video, we see these individuals pray together but also hear personal stories about their misconceptions of the "other" and how this experience was eye-opening and life changing.

I think essentially this is a type of exposure therapy. It's easy to hate someone or something you don't know or are unfamiliar with. That's why when we watch the news, we can say we hate a group of people because they did something in another country and not care about what happens to them when disaster strikes.

As Americans, we are lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) to be relatively isolated from the rest of the world. We don't have a history of fighting with our neighbors, thankfully. So exposure therapy in the form of initiatives and projects can be really rewarding and enlightening, especially as the U.S. has become more diverse.

Videos like this one show us similarities. Not only between people and their experiences but also faiths. People often focus more on the language (Allahu akbar) and what it's associated with in the minds of the masses, and not so much on the meaning. God is the greatest, and he is One. No different then the Shema', "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." When you focus on minute details, you don't see the forest for the trees.

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