“A courageous space for a courageous peace”
LWF and partners Joint event encourages young people to lead interfaith dialogue
(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation and Al Amana, an ecumenical and interfaith organization based in the Sultanate of Oman, have jointly organized an online event titled “Courageous Space for Courageous Peace: Youth and Interfaith Relations in One period of uncertainty” on Friday in conjunction with the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week during the first week of February each year.
The event served as a platform to encourage youth-led interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding within their communities.
Living in Bangladesh with a religious population of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians, a multicultural society is no stranger to event panelist Holi Deo. However, she said that in her country, interreligious dialogue “is not our [youth] initiative, but rather religious leaders who initiate interreligious dialogue.
“As young people, we need to start talking about these issues. In my country, the dialogue is often not open to us and the talks that take place do not go far [toward unity]. After the discussions, everyone goes home behind closed doors and lives as if their [religions] are the best, superior,” said Deo, who is a Christian.
Deo, who is an intern at the Al Amana Center, said the center facilitates activities between Muslims and Christians that allow young people “to share their feelings about faith”.
Four panelists and more than a hundred online participants from diverse religious backgrounds agreed that building trust, learning from each other and finding similarities are keys to opening the doors of interfaith dialogue to evoke change and that young people can and do hold these keys.
Inspire each other
Panelists and attendees shared how they found comfort in their faith traditions and communities at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I spent 2020 alone studying abroad. It was difficult without my family, but I found peace thanks to the aunts of the local mosque who checked on me regularly,” said panelist Seruni Fauzia , a young representative of the Ahmadiyya community in Indonesia.
Along with finding familiarity and safety in their own faith communities, many have witnessed the collaboration of diverse faith communities coming together to help those in need during the pandemic.
“It was good to see how people from different communities were distributing food during quarantine and how this work transcended people from their own traditions,” Fauzia said.
Daphney KiKi, a young participant from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea studying in Fiji, where Hindus, Muslims and Christians live together, shared an example of interfaith collaboration. “The willingness to offer prayer together in these difficult times is a way forward in future interreligious dialogue,” she added.
The young leaders stressed that there is still work to be done to move beyond the concept of “tolerance towards unity and cooperation”, said Rebecca Rajakanthan, a panelist from the Lutheran Church of Singapore. “We are starting to see more spaces for dialogue opening up as people realize that tolerance is not enough. We need understanding, acceptance and learning to be in community with love and respect.
The leaders also indicated that the internet and social media are useful tools for dialogue, but can also be “a double-edged sword.” While they welcomed the technology to reach diverse communities, some found social media to be filled with hate speech.
“People are really pushed into these tiny online communities and it’s really hard to talk to people different from you just with texts on the internet,” said panelist Jamie Cohen, a Jewish-American.
Abdujalilu Amry Kishama, a law student at Morogoro Muslim University, Tanzania, a panelist at the event, said he found online forums to be useful tools for teaching the faith to youth groups and their give the opportunity to ask questions.
There have also been concerns that women are rarely invited to interfaith dialogue in many faith traditions and that social media can be platforms to hear these voices and “start conversations about sexual harassment”.
“I am convinced that it is not enough to wait for others when I yearn for peace now. I have to take the first steps to come together in interfaith dialogue,” commented Johanna Kluge, executive coordinator for international youth work at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria.
“The LWF and Al Amana are happy to have a panel of guests. As program staff, we are here to listen, learn and understand how interfaith encounters promote peace which is more than just a slogan,” said Rev. Dr. Sivin Kit, LWF program manager for theology. public and interreligious relations.
A year of peace
The online event was part of the LWF youth theme for a “Year of Peace” in 2022 to create “courageous spaces” to continue asking questions that began at the Advent World Gathering for Peace on the Land of Young Reformers and additionally to learn peacebuilding skills, participate in projects and initiatives, and participate in peacebuilding conversations.
“Interreligious dialogue is often perceived as a theoretical activity reserved for specialists or those who are more experienced or an activity that is too formal and disconnected from daily life,” said Savanna Sullivan, LWF youth program manager.
“Young people are and can be leaders in interfaith work. The LWF seeks to draw ideas that can encourage more young people to contribute meaningfully within and beyond their own faith communities,” she continued.