Updated: May 15, 2019
Lately I've become more involved in "interfaith dialogue" and efforts in my city of Nashville. Last week I spoke at the interfaith Walk for Values event on the subject of "truth" from the perspective of humanism. I've written several blog posts of late, exploring why religious, spiritual and philosophical differences divide us and how we can overcome it.
I'm the organizer of the Nashville Interfaith Meetup Group. Last night we met at the Islamic Center of Nashville. Imam Ossama Bahloul and President Rashed Fakhruddin hosted our group for an interfaith discussion.
Here are five things that made last night's gathering especially profound for me:
Hearing an Egyptian Muslim and Egyptian Christian speak to each other in Arabic.
Imam Ossama expressing his sadness and frustration over Islamophobia and how people judge the 1400-year old religion of Islam by the hatred and violence of the 5-year old extremist group, Isis.
That moment when a Muslim man referred to an Atheist woman as his "sister," and agreeing to disagree on the subject of the existence of God while affirming their unbreakable human bond and oneness.
When a Christian stood up and expressed gratitude to Ossama, Rashed and the Islamic Center of Nashville for being the first ones to show up and offer assistance when their church was destroyed by fire.
When a Jewish woman shared that her father was worried that she was in danger by visiting the Islamic Center of Nashville, and the resulting conversation of how we can be instruments of peace in this world by correcting false views and encouraging friendship and dialogue among people of religious and cultural differences.
In my view, one's religious, spiritual or philosophical beliefs do not have to divide us as human beings or diminish our common bond as one human family. The following five beliefs are a good start to changing our global discourse, sentiments, and actions about the power of religious, spiritual, and philosophical diversity for good:
1. Every person can fully embrace and follow their religious tradition, spiritual interests, or philosophical views without creating division, destruction, hostility, or hatred.
2. Every person can find a rationale and motivation within their religious tradition, spiritual interests, or philosophical views to be an instrument of goodness, peace, love, and compassion in the world, and affirm the inherent, equal, and unconditional worth of every human being.
3. Every person has the right to follow their own inner guidance in choosing their own religious, spiritual, or philosophical views and practices.
4. Every person can participate in a process of personal growth, self-actualization, and fulfillment of one’s highest beliefs and aspirations, and encourage the same for others.
5. Every person benefits when each of us follows our own unique inspiration for building a world that works for everyone.
I had coffee with a Baha'i friend who shared with me a central principle of the Baha'i faith, which is that we are all created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization, and that the unification of the human race is central to this endeavor. To the Baha'i, this doesn't mean we dilute or eliminate our cultural and religious distinctions and differences, but that we embrace unity in diversity.
"Consider the flowers of a garden. Though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty." - Bahá’u’lláh
In my own study and discussions with Imam Ossama, I learned that the fundamental philosophy of Islam rings on universal humanity. Islam always encourages its followers to live with tolerance, harmony, love, brotherhood and peace on the earth, adding that humanity is more precious than any of the religions. Islam teaches that all humanity is a single body. This also means that all humankind is a family - brother and sisters, equal before God. Islam teaches us to harmonize our relations and adhere to the principle of peaceful co-existence of all human beings irrespective of their faiths, religions, and ideologies.
If you're interested in exploring practical ways that you can encourage more interfaith understanding, tolerance, unity and acceptance, including countering rising hostility toward Muslims, give this a read.
I feel a great gratitude in my heart for my new friend Imam Ossama Bahloul, and I call him my brother. I would stand beside him in difficulty, defend him as the good, peace-loving and honorable human being that I know him to be, and come to the aid of he and his family in time of need. I trust him implicitly. I feel a little more hope for our world knowing he's in it.