I’ve been working in the field of interfaith activism for almost fifteen years, and when I started it wasn’t actually a profession and it didn’t even have a name. People would look at me strangely if I said I wanted to visit a church or a temple, because I was obviously a Muslim. There was an idea that we were all different and we stuck to our kind, stayed in our spaces. There was little overlap. I remember how difficult things were after 9/11 and how my ideas of meeting with other faiths was met with resistance and even ridicule.
Today, we have come a long way in the city of Houston and around the world. We have organizations like Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, I have my own blog Interfaith Houston which organizes events and programs throughout the year, and we have much more throughout the city and even the country for which I am really happy. We’ve come a long way, even though that way has been twisted and rocky and really hard going most of the time.
The thing to remember when we talk about interfaith is that it’s not about preaching, it’s not even about talking. Interfaith dialogue is about listening, possibly sharing our own experiences with others. We talk about our own selves, not about our religions, because religion is not a person. Very few people can claim to follow their religion to the T but most of us can talk about what it means to us and how we try to practice it to the best of our ability. That’s interfaith dialogue.
I have to be honest and say this concept of interfaith as listening and sharing wasn’t obvious to me from day one. Like countless others, I began participating in – even organizing – interfaith dialogue activities so that I could inform people about Islam. After all, Muslims were the unknown “other” in a post 9/11 world. They still are, the rhetoric is growing stronger each year. I decided I needed to be vocal and visible, so that my friends and neighbors with questions would be able to talk to me and have their fears dispelled. And so it began, but somewhere along the way I decided to stop talking and start listening. I heard people of other faiths tell me similar stories of otherness. Catholic friends told me of a time they were called sinners by other Christians. Hindu friends told me of instances when people misjudge them based on their multiple gods and goddesses. Mormon friends told me they’re often not accepted by their brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s been such a long and painful process but I truly understand now: we are all the same. We are human, we go through the same struggles, have the same hopes and dreams, we all long for acceptance and peace and love. So what if we call our Creator by different names, so what if we question or deny that a Creator even exists? Who am I to judge? Who am I to decide who’s right and who’s wrong? Differences of opinions don’t mean we cannot be friends, cannot aim for a peaceful world.
And that’s when I finally stopped talking and started listening. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stop being an advocate for Muslims, and I still speak and write about Islam on a regular basis, but I am an activist for interfaith dialogue, not of any one point of view. And I think I’m better off by being so.