First Text Study Better Together

by Adah Shair, UNF Interfaith Center Student Assistant, Muslim Student Association Treasurer, Better Together Service Coordinator

“We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.”

~ Kofi Annan

The day of 26th of September, 2013 was when the first Better Together Text Study was held in the Interfaith Center Tri-lounge. The premise of the text study is to shape an interfaith dialogue around the exploration of sacred texts and their answers to themes like the story of creation, service to others and interfaith collaboration. The facilitators of the event were UNF alumna Sama Beg, UNF Interfaith Center Coordinator Rachael McNeal and UNF Interfaith Center Director Tarah Trueblood. Sama, a devout Muslim and a passionate supporter of interfaith dialogue was representing the Muslim Sacred text. Rachael and Tarah were representing the Jewish and Christian scriptures respectively.

The event started off with the Interfaith Center ritual of stating the Safe-Space guidelines and a Check-in by the participants. As the participants stated their religious/non-religious identity during the Check-in, I was surprised to witness the diversity of faiths seated in one room; faiths that were different and even sometimes conflicting. To have people engage in a conversation that looks beyond the apparent differences of their varied background and beliefs was the first accomplishment of the event.
A verse from the Quran (5:48) set the discussion in motion. The verse explained diversity as a means to test humans and emphasized the need for different communities to work together in the service to mankind.

“….. So vie with one another in doing good works.” The word ‘vie’ drew attention from the participants. Vie means to struggle, to strive and its use in the verse backs the knowledge that it is hard to co-exist and work with individuals different from our own selves; yet it is important and necessary to do so. As a Muslim, I was thrilled to have others listen to a verse from the Quran that does not preach violence and hatred, but tolerance and harmony.

The text from the Jewish scripture was chosen from the Book of Genesis (Chapter 1) and was accompanied by a narration from the Mishnah. Rachael gave a brief description of the Jewish scriptures and described the Mishnah as the first major recognized document of the Jewish oral traditions. The 20 minute session facilitated by Rachael was very informative for me, as I finally understood the difference between the Tanakh and the Torah.

The verse “And God created man in His Image, in the image of God He created him….” (Genesis: 1:27) fueled a discussion on how the same concept is repeated in other beliefs. To me, the verse drew very close to the Sufi belief of Man being the seed of God.

The discussion on the Jewish scripture was followed by a reading from the Christian Gospel of Matthew. The verse really got everyone thinking. It was not a direct verse that glorified or negated interfaith dialogue in the Christian faith, but instead used a metaphor to describe the Kingdom of God. The verse was stated in four different versions and it was interesting how everyone in the room chose the one they felt most comfortable with and tried to interpret based upon their preferred version. The discussion that followed was so thought provoking that I took a backseat and became audience to the keen observation of others regarding the choice of words in the verse.

While I appreciated the simple and comfortable verse from the Quran, I was intrigued by the choice of the text from the Jewish and Christian scriptures; it compelled me and everyone else in the room to think, to question and to make an effort to interpret the chosen readings.

I think constructing an interfaith dialogue based on the most concrete element of our faiths-the Scriptures, is a firm step forward. To sharpen my knowledge and soften my prejudices, I am looking forward to the upcoming Better Together Text Study on October 24, 2013 with Sama Beg, Rachael McNeal and Tarah Trueblood.

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