The Times Show a Need for Interfaith Dialogue – Jackson Thiel

Recently the news world has been gripped by the evolving conflict between the United States and Iran. Usually during break I have a tradition of not looking at any news for two weeks—for the sake of my mental stability. Unfortunately, as a Political Science major who just spent the semester learning about terrorism, my friends and family have been asking my opinion on this—darn. Now as much as I love it, this is not a blog about international relations, but rather a blog about interfaith relations, and I feel like now with the heightened tension between the U.S. and part of the Islamic world, now is a good time to show the importance of interfaith dialogue. 

Interfaith dialogue is not about comparing differences between religions and deciding which ones are better. At its core it is an interaction between people that is meant to promote understanding and acceptance of each other’s beliefs. Dialogue doesn’t have to happen in some grandiose setting between only the most distinguished leaders of their respective religions. All that is necessary is two people of different backgrounds willing to learn about each other’s beliefs.

My first interfaith dialogue experience happened way before I was a member of this fellowship. I was on a trip to Paris in 2015, a time when Paris was full of refugees from the Syrian Civil War. Now me, being from a pretty white town in Wisconsin—I had never interacted with a Muslim before. All I knew about them was what I had learned in the post 9/11 world. But when I was there, I was shocked to see that Muslims face the same type of problems that we see here in America and around the world. Some of them were living on the street just trying to survive, they were begging people who walked by for anything. I couldn’t help but think about how their lives must have been before they were torn apart by war and forced to flee from their homes. It was then I realized that their belief in Islam is not all that defines them, as my belief in Christianity is not all that defines me. Because of this, I felt an understanding with the people living on the street and felt a calling to consider what is similar and connects us rather than what divides us. 

Today, perhaps more than any time ever it is easy to find areas where we are different from others and use that as an excuse for hate. I think we can all agree that the world needs less hate now and the path to that starts with understanding what is similar and shared between all human beings. With regards to religion the path begins with interfaith dialogue and understanding the aspects of everyone’s religion in a way that can lead to growth. Interfaith dialogue shows that there is no competition when it comes to religion. Every set of beliefs has characteristics and traits that can be admired by others. This idea doesn’t have to just be used when comparing religions but it is something we can apply to every interaction with people of different cultures.