Needing to Know Your Neighbors

Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.

“Come on, Nora, let’s go to the church,” said my mom when I was a young girl. We weren’t going to church for Sunday service, but for interfaith. My mom, a convert to Islam, and my late father, an Arab Muslim, instilled the importance of getting to know and learn from people of other religions at a young age. They started an interfaith group that included the Abrahamic traditions and Baha’is.

I remember going to that church and other houses of worship after that. I am a practicing Muslim with Christian and Muslim family members. “Interfaith” was always a part of my childhood. Many Muslims will cite the Qur’anic verse, 49:13, inspiring interfaith cooperation,

“O humanity! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.”

While I think this verse is an important one for interfaith cooperation, another one also stands out to me from 2:4,

“And those who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith].”

As a Muslim, the Qur’an is my holy book. But, God also says in this verse, “and what was revealed before you” meaning the Scrolls as revealed to Abraham, the Torah as revealed to Moses, the Psalms as revealed to David, and the Gospel as revealed to Jesus. I do not believe that these four books have been preserved in the original form or language in which they were first revealed, but many of the values found in these books are nearly the same in Islam. In other words, to ignore, at the very least, the values of Jews and Christians as found in their holy books, is not to be adhering to this Qur’anic verse.

I will not mince my words: the absence of dialogue between different religious groups and even between members of a particular religious group will lead to more ignorance and then fear and then seeing that group as “other.” When we see someone as “other,” it is much easier to act unethically (cough..cough…foreign policy of country X). Singing “kumbaya” together is not the aim for me. Rather, it behooves me theologically as a Muslim to engage people of different traditions because I enjoy teaching others about Islam and learning about the beautiful practices of other religious believers. Furthermore, I have found that interfaith engagement, especially on issues like racism, immigration, the environment and other ailments we humans have created, is effective in bringing people together to find solutions to these problems without proselytizing towards any group. I want to love God with all my heart and soul and my neighbor as myself. I need to know my neighbor. Hence, I continue to engage with “interfaith.”

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One thought on “Needing to Know Your Neighbors

  1. It’s interesting to hear your story about being raised with an emphasis on interfaith literacy and cooperation while being a part of her own tradition. In my context in Texas interfaith work is extremely polarizing, something that is only reserved for the liberals who want to “water down their faith”. One of the challenges you addresses is the importance of recognizing truth in other traditions. I think that is one of the main tensions of interfaith work, forcing us to look to be aware enough of our own tradition to be able to relate to others. I enjoyed your case for doing interfaith work as a theological necessity.

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