Sunday, March 13, 2011

Musings of a Fatal Optimist

Since I was young, I've been instilled with the belief that you must accept everyone for who they are - including religious differences. There's a quote in the Quran that says, "You have your religion and I have mine" (109). This has always been essential in my practice of my faith. While for a long time this to me meant to avoid the topic of religion, I've more recently realized that accepting one another does not come from ignoring our differences. In fact, often times ignoring the topic leads to ignorant stereotyping that misrepresents an entire group of people. Discussions of faith are essential because of the lack of knowledge on the topic world-wide. Ignoring an issue really does lead to ignorance. Religion is one topic that we cannot afford to ignore anymore as it is constantly at the forefront of societal issues.

I've never had a homogeneous group of friends. A majority have been a form of Christian due to its predominance in the U.S., but I've been in association with friends of a wide spectrum - Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, etc. Today my best friends are of the following beliefs: Nondenominational Christian, Catholic, Lutheran, Agnostic, and Atheist.

I've been asked time and again how we can sustain such friendships with varying beliefs. For the majority of our friendship, my group of friends largely ignored religion, perhaps reflecting our fear of the issues that would be brought up or perhaps reflecting religion's small role in our lives. However, as we've grown together and apart we've begun to discuss religion more frequently as it has become a more central force in each of our separate lives. One of my best friends joked only last week that our conversations now revolved around three subjects - school, boys, and religion. A short year ago, that list would have excluded the last subject.

Sara, one of the best friends I described earlier, came to me at the beginning of the year asking if I would be interested in an interfaith Muslim-Christian trip to NY. I didn't hesitate before agreeing. This was a chance to further explore the topic of religion with both those of my own faith as well as our Christian brothers and sisters - how people of my faith view Christianity as our faith has similar roots. This seemed to me a great opportunity for a number of reasons.

  1. I can get to know more Muslim students. I've never truly been involved in the Muslim community on the University campus nor outside of it. As Islam has become a more central part of my life, I want to get connected with those of my faith.

  2. I can get to know more people of faith in general. I've always felt comfortable with those of the Christian faith. We can discuss the differences as well as the similarities and learn from one another.

  3. Above all else, to me this is a symbol to the world at large. We've seen the media hype up extremist religious groups' actions. We've seen it try to divide people further. I, however, am a fatal optimist. This trip is a symbol of how we, as people of faith and as people in general, can work together. This is a symbol of hope and of peace in a world that seems to often times forget its essential humanity.

Tomorrow I will be leaving to New York with one best friend and a slew of potential future friends. The road is unclear and I don't know what will come of this trip, but the fatal optimist within me is giddy with excitement to take this step closer to having a more open, accepting, and loving world. A world with a tad less ignorance and a dash more love.

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