Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Importance of interfaith Dialogue in North America

The United States of America was formed as a nation to be different from the predominantly European countries from which its founders came. One principle of the United States was to not have a state creed per se, but rather a plurality of creeds and freedom to choose whatever creed one chooses. Thanks to the freedom of creed in America, there are a number of creeds and philosophical practices throughout the U.S. There is solid interfaith dialogue in many bigger cities and metropolitan areas, but some areas can use better interrelations. Even for the areas with better inter faith relations, there is always room for improvement.

First, a breakdown of the creeds in America. Christianity, or Christian denominations, are the most prevalent faith in each and every state. (For example, in the South, Baptism is most popular; the Catholic church on the coasts; and Mormonism in Utah and surrounding regions). Things start to get more interesting when talking about the second most popular creed. Per the Washington Post, Islam is America's largest non-Christian-- or overall, second largest-- creed with it being the second biggest faith in 20 states. Judaism is the second largest creed in 15 states. Buddhism is the largest non-Christian creed in 13, primarily western, states.

West of Canada was built similarly. Quebec is an exception because it was an extension of the European Church state then it becomes a striking example of the French secularist state that rejected all aspects of religions (Except some). Yet, Quebec kept moving steadily towards a military secularist system in which the state started dictating what people can think of or believe in during the past few years. Although the majority of USA and Canada citizens are Christian in some form, other religious groups are growing. For example, in 2011, it was estimated that the amount of Muslims in the United States would double by 2030 (similar Canadian statistics are present).

It is ideal to have Muslims who attend mosques and members of these burgeoning faiths integrate in a predominantly Christian society. Many Christians would be surprised to see how much Islam has in common with traditional Christianity. Imagine having a nation built on inter faith principles. How natural and humane will that be?

Probably the best way to promote inter-faith is by simply being open-minded and discussing creeds without imposing it upon others. Don't fear sharing your own beliefs, and why you feel as you do. Meanwhile, while you can give your own interpretation of the writings of your domination, do not force them upon others. Everyone will understand a religious text differently, hence the many different sects within any given creed.

Christianity, on the one hand, has a much richer set of interpretations that are somehow distant from the original text. Islam is a great example of a creed that has a limited set of interpretations that are all based on the original preserved text (verbatim). A lot of efforts has been done in USA and Canada to offer the original text of Islam without much interpretations. After all, people need to know the original text that Allah (GOD) has revealed without the human understanding of the sacred text.

Remember that just like different creeds or sects have their own interpretations of scripture, so do specific individuals. Be aware of different methods in which you can apply inter-faith dialogue; a popular one is called SR, or scriptural reasoning.

Ultimately, inter-faith relations are imperative to have because they more concretely make you faithful, and they allow you to reconcile the differences between different creeds. You will likely find that the fundamental texts of your creed aren't that different from those of the other neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances or friends.

Many in this day and age will get married to a person of another creed. In fact, Fox News found in July 2010 through a representative sample of 2,500 individuals that 42% of marriages in the United States are of an inter faith variety. Interestingly enough, Jews are most likely to marry out of faith, while Mormons are least likely. Muslims are in between. Couples in inter-faith marriages are apparently less happy than those in same-faith marriages, which is evidenced by a higher divorce rate. Inter-faith marriages are much more common amongst older people, and many spouses will actually convert to their partner's creed over a period of time. Perhaps most promising in terms of inter faith relations, marrying a person of a different creed will cause you to feel more positively about that creed over time. Based on my personal experience, I have seen hundreds of Muslims in Montreal marrying to non Muslim ladies. I have witnessed marriages between Muslim ladies as well and non Muslim fellows but a small minority due to restrictions of marriage to non Muslims.

It should also be mentioned that inter-faith measures incorporate all philosophies, not just religions. So, if one has a spiritual or humanistic philosophy that doesn't traditionally fall into the definition of a religion, their beliefs should still be recognized and respected in interfaith dialogue. Examples of secular philosophies include practices such as humanism.

Inter-faith dialogue has been around for many centuries, but it still has plenty of room to grow. All religions have fanatics who believe that those of other faiths should be terminated (physically or socially) because they don't hold the same faith is evidence of such. Don't think that the problem of poor inter-faith relations is due to any one creed, however; all of us need to improve.

I have learned in Montreal that it is worth it to put the time and efforts to actually become familiar with other religious and philosophical texts, and seek to meet people who have a different value system or a different belief. Our minds and tolerance will grow exponentially.

Being open to learning and exchanging will add value to one's belief system and enhance our understanding of the purpose of life, what will come after life, how humans need to treat each other, where to seek knowledge, how to seek knowledge, and how to lead a civilized talk with our human fellows.

The more open you are, the better in terms of interfaith relations. After all, what's the worst thing that can happen from engaging in inter faith dialogue and research? You don't agree with what you're presented? The pros far outweigh the cons.

Be open and good luck!


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