Some members in our community have mixed feelings about engaging in interfaith activities. We need take a step back to understand the importance and purpose of dialogue with people of all faiths and traditions. First things first, interfaith is not proselytizing. Interfaith focuses on educating others about how your faith fits into the larger picture of American society; this includes talking about similarities with other religions as well as differences. Interfaith is not pretending that every faith teaches the same morals and ideals. Each faith has its unique belief system that needs to be understood in its proper context. To quote Diana L. Eck from Harvard University’s Pluralism project, Pluralism is “the energetic engagement with diversity” and “the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference”. The keyword: understanding.
CAIR-Philadelphia works with local, state and national faith-based organizations to bring civil and human rights issues to the forefront. Protecting the basic human right to practice and express one’s faith freely is the responsibility of people of all faiths and traditions. During CAIR-Philadelphia’s news conference in which we challenged Pennsylvania’s anti-Sharia legislation (house bill 2029) that stigmatizes Muslims and the practice of Islam, our interfaith partners stood by us, and we sent a clear message to the bill sponsors that an attack on one religion is an attack on all faiths.
Our continued support and participation in the Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation shows our commitment to strengthening the bonds of cooperation across all faiths and cultures. The Interfaith Peace Walk was established as a response to enhance community relations after 9/11. The vision of the grassroots organization is “to nurture a transformative process of reflection, relationship-building and action among faith and secular groups working toward peace and justice through periodic dialogues about challenging issues, community service and ethnic groups experiencing intolerance”.
CAIR-Philadelphia’s involvement with the Philadelphia Interfaith Children’s and Youth Festival, a 2-day family event for youth to learn about different faiths and traditions, teaches youngsters and teens the importance of diversity in our society and to reaffirm that all people should be treated with respect and dignity.
Unlike learning about others through media, often with bias and prejudice, interfaith activities and dialogues solidify understanding based on social interactions and facilitate cooperation on social issues. Interfaith strengthens our nation’s democracy by increasing constructive social interactions and civic participation based on mutual understanding.
Rugiatu Conteh is CAIR-Philadelphia’s Outreach and Communications Director