Respect, Listen, and Dialogue: Essentials of Interfaith Work

By Yalda Rahimi, Interfaith Center Student Assistant

I got asked once, “How can you be a religious Muslim but also hang out with people of other faiths?” Well, the answer is really simple: I respect, listen, and talk to people.

Yet, a better answer would be the kickoff event of Interfaith Week; the Brunch for Lunch: Student Identity Panel -the key word here is identity. People around us identify us by our appearance or by a characteristics that we have. For example, when the person who asked me that question identified me as a religious Muslim and presumed Ican’t hang out with people of other backgrounds. Instead of accepting labels and presumption put on me and my fellow students, it wis time for us to voice our personal identities for ourselves. It is time for us to show diversity, to share the story of the girl behind the scarf, or the girl presumed to be “white washed”. It is time to leave our presumptions at the door, and leave them there forever.

Now going back to my “identity” as a religious Muslim woman who is presumed to be oppressed and can’t interact with people of different background, I would be more than pleased to say that I, a Muslim woman, worked together with a group of amazing people who identify as Jewish, atheist, Buddhist, Christian, and agnostic. That’s right; we are of different religious and non-religious backgrounds. We are of different identities, color, gender, and we had dialogue with each other and the diverse audience of about forty. Stories of presumption, hardship, religious discovery were shared among the panelists.

I took part in this event not just to share my story but to also listen to others. I mentioned that the identities shared during the event were from religious and non-religious backgrounds; the beauty of it was that the panelists were not all from the UNF Interfaith Center. In fact, I was the only Interfaith Center student staff on the panel. Students from various departments on campus were nominated to speak. The departments included Intercultural Center for PEACE, UNF Women’s Center, LGBT Resource Center, and Volunteer Services. We were a group of students with different stories, but it was through these stories that we were able to come together in one room and interact. We were given the opportunity to erase the labels created by society and create new ones for ourselves.

One takeaway from this event is that we humans should not be viewed as labels. I should not look at a white guy and presume him as Christian or assume that a dark skinned girl has to be Hindu. It is in these presumptions that we create a disease within our hearts. Because misconception dwell within our hearts and minds,we often don’t allow ourselves to listen to the real stories of others.. In order not be seen as the Muslim woman who can’t interact with Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists, I must medicate my mind and heart through respect, listening, and dialogue with those of different backgrounds.

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