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.
I am committed to building relationships with those of other religious or ethical traditions because I seek to better myself and the world around me through knowledge and experience. Knowledge is empowering, and it is the key to ridding our society of the existing atmosphere of fear and intolerance of various faith traditions around the world. The level of disinformation about non-Christian faith traditions is appalling and is the center of the fear and hatred that is so prominent in America today. Through building relationships with those of other faith traditions, one can break through the barrier of misinformation and discover the truth of the individual and their faith beliefs. Scotland has been very successful in peacefully and respectfully integrating a variety of faith traditions into its culture and communities through a mandatory religious education programme in the schools. They stand as a world-class example to those who are committed to interfaith work, and I have learned many valuable lessons from Interfaith Scotland. Witnessing the power of shared knowledge and how it can combat fear, hatred, and xenophobia within large metropolitan communities with various cultural centers helped to concretise my commitment to the interfaith movement.
I am also committed to building interfaith relationships because the more I learn about others, the more I learn about myself, my beliefs, my moral compass, and expand my paradigm of the world. During my time at the University of Glasgow, I was able to meet and build strong relationships with a number of people from various cultures previously unknown to me. I consider myself fortunate to encounter a skeptical Hindu from India, a Muslim from Pakistan, an Egyptian-Jordanian Muslim connected to Palestine, atheists from Poland, theosophists from Denmark, a Mystic from the Netherlands, a Sikh from London, and a devout Irish Catholic. Through open and respectful dialogue, I learned as much about these individuals as I did about myself. My world opened up to these amazing cultures, traditions, beliefs, and practices; establishing and maintaining these relationships has undoubtedly made me a better person, and each encounter helped to shaped me as a global citizen. Through my relationships with these individuals they have expanded my cultural world and shown me the interconnectivity of faith traditions and belief.
Through these relationships I also discovered that, as a student of theology and religious studies, texts offer us doors to various cultures and belief systems, but texts can only teach about the experience of others, they cannot allow you the opportunity for personal experience that establishing strong relationships with others from various cultures and faith traditions can. For example, I have several close friends who are Muslim, and for years I watched them celebrate Ramadan. Over the years we had many discussions about their individual beliefs and practices (some were more conservative than others; while some were Shia and some were Sunni). My intrigue led to me observing Ramadan in its entirety. I fasted, I prayed (to my understanding of the Divine One), and I spent one month in spiritual contemplation. My experience was so fruitful and transformative that I celebrated Ramadan for the next two years. This was a beautiful opportunity not only to learn about Islam and the various beliefs and traditions, but it also allowed me significant time dedicated to spiritual contemplation which has made a tremendous impact on my own spiritual growth as an individual. I learned about the true Islam, not the skewed terrorist version that is so prevalent in our modern media, but the beauty of the tradition and the absolute freedom and liberation of a faith where the deity is not imaged and leaves that responsibility to the mind and soul of the adherent.
Through building relationships with those of other religious or ethical traditions, I have expanded my own understanding of various cultures and traditions from around the world; they have taught me that no matter where we are from, we are all the same—human beings who seek to understand our place in the world. These relationships have made me a better person, and they have taught me that no matter what the color of one’s skin, culture, tradition, or belief, we are one global family. It has also taught me how important the interfaith journey and advocacy is in combating hatred and intolerance in contemporary society. Through knowledge, experience, and building strong relationships with others we can change the world—one person at a time.