“Whosoever does righteous deeds, male or female, who has faith, to such God will grant a higher existence in the hereafter that is good and pure. They will be rewarded according to the best of their actions.” (Qur’an 16:97)
The message to translate our words and beliefs into action is universal. It transcends religious beliefs, cultural, ethnic, gender, age, and racial considerations. We find in all the Abrahamic traditions strong calls to put our words into action and to become elements of change. None or our actions will be in vain. “Words without actions are meaningless.”
In The Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith, the preeminent Jewish philosopher Maimonides affirmed that, “God knows the actions of humans and is not neglectful of them.” Following Jesus’ (PBUH) teachings on faith in action, Mother Theresa said that, “Faith in action is love, and love in action is service.” In my particular faith tradition, Islam, our Creator reminds us that, “Indeed, Allah (SWT) will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an 13:11) This is a clear call against a static faith; a call for action and change beginning with ourselves. Our beloved prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have said, “Faith and Good Action are partners. One is considered incomplete without the other.”
Many leaders from other religious traditions have also embodied the principles of faith in action. The Dalai Lama is reported to have said that, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.” Mahatma Gandhi called for individuals to, “Be the Change that you wish to see in the world.” Along this same line, he also mentioned that, “…the future depends of what you do today.” Action, actions, and more actions. Interreligious efforts need to evolve from words into tangible projects that benefit humanity today. Interfaith projects and engagements need to have a purpose beyond the “Kumbayah Kodak moments.” This coming together and holding hands in prayer is very nice to see and experience but more is needed and expected from our communities. For the interfaith communities of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to be able to work together in meaningful projects, they need to swiftly engage in knowing each other. I propose an innovative, interfaith approach among diverse religious communities. We may name it Interreligious Communities Exchange Program for the Improvement of Racial and Ethnic Understanding. In this program, practitioners (and even non-practitioners) of the different religious communities that come from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds would be exposed to each others’ social activities. The activities may or may not be religious in nature. This means, for example, for one group of Christians to witness a group of Muslims or Jews or Buddhists experiencing some of their daily affairs in a variety of setting such as: children in school, youth in college or other educational settings, sports, artistic activities, running their businesses, or following a normal day at their job. It would also be important to arrange activities that demonstrate each others’ acts of worship which would help dissipate many misunderstandings one may have of the other. The activities should be formally prepared and conducted allowing space for observers to have an opportunity to interact with the group if desired.
The resulting interfaith projects after this “get to know you” stage could include any kind of activity already being carried on by the particular religious community. The goal is to incorporate the multi-ethnic members of a Church, Synagogue, or Mosque with members of other faiths. It may well be something as basic as a soup kitchen to more complex activities like running health clinics, employment initiatives, school dropout prevention, and other professional training initiatives. And how about working together in de-radicalization efforts? Yes, each group needs to recognize that radicalism, intolerance, and extremism are present in all religious traditions. A great deal of work needs to be done to prevent these ideas from leading to violent or criminal conduct. A lot of initial hands-on hard work needs to be done in this aspect to be successful.
True and committed interfaith work and action are not only desirable but necessary tools towards achieving peace, understanding, and a sound, lasting coexistence. It’s hard to envision peace and stability in our neighborhoods without having much-needed interfaith and intra-faith dialogue efforts in place. Those who choose to address these conflicts by checking these dialogues at the door will not achieve peace as they are ignoring the essential elements of these conflicts. The efforts start here at home: in our places of worship, in our schools, in our jobs, in our whole nation. Hands on!
Picture: White Doves at the Blue Mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif [*Wikimedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 2.0 Generic license]