Interfaith dialogue necessary to make campus a safe space

Outside of the Nueces Mosque on Friday, Jan. 22 around 2 p.m., a large crowd of people stood shuffling inside and taking off their shoes. Many of the girls were huddled in a circle, teaching Jewish students how to wear a Hijab. Others chose not to, simply looking on.

Texas Hillel, the UT center for Jewish life, and the Nueces Mosque, a student-run mosque, stand within half a block of each other and both within half a mile of several churches. University Interfaith Council organized Interfaith Friday and Shabbat, which brought together two different religious communities and created interfaith dialogue.

According to Gallup, the majority of Americans currently see both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as problems in the U.S. Interfaith dialogue is necessary for creating and maintaining a peaceful and calm environment that allows people to work together without fear or discomfort.
With Muslims and Jews being the two groups most likely to suffer hate crimes, according to the FBI, it is important that conversations such as these continue to occur. Many students, who were originally out of their comfort zone, were put at ease by the ability to freely ask questions and get to know cultures that they were not familiar with. Jenna Conwisar, government sophomore and one of the organizers of the event, agreed.

“Interfaith work is so important because it brings together different communities for the sake of coexistence and understanding,” Conwisar said. “It’s so common to have stigmas about groups of people you aren’t familiar with.”

At the Mosque, Shaykh Mufti Mohamed-Umer Esmail gave a sermon about being kind to one’s neighbors. He interpreted this as being kind to those that one lives next to, the stranger next to us on the bus and those different from us in faith. He encouraged everyone to open up their homes and their minds to those different from them.

“Since birth we are surrounded by different religions. … My dad would say, ‘We don’t believe in Santa Claus, but you’re not going to argue with them.’ We are still going to be friends,” Shaykh Umer said. “If you looked into the past of Christianity, you’d find the same conflict. Islam is 600 years younger. All major religions go through it. We just pray for the best.”

When a Volvo in the parking lot was blocking a student trying to get to class, someone remarked, “Ha! We all have the same issues.”

Later, at Texas Hillel, four types of services were offered — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Alternative. The alternative service was in the format of “ask the Rabbi,” which allowed those who attended to gain a better understanding of Judaism.

Interfaith dialogue means understanding the other’s points of view and learning to work together. Many have even drawn parallels between Islamophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Interfaith dialogue is necessary to create an accepting, productive and comfortable learning environment and culture. Going forward, understanding and being able to embrace those who are different is an important part of creating a safe and comfortable campus for all.

“God wants us to be a fruit salad, not a smoothie,” Shaykh Umer said. “We can be together, but we can be different."

Kashar is an English freshman from Scarsdale, New York. Follow Kashar on Twitter @leahkashar.