The year in review: 2010 gave us some surprising wins in interfaith dialogue
By: Ahmed Chaudhry
The past year has been in interesting one for interfaith dialogue and relations. Whether the global community came out better or worse is debatable, but one thing for sure is that it was varied and diverse in its nature.
The majority of interaction between faith groups throughout history seems to be one of conflict: wars, hate crimes, oppression and the like (a point several of the fiercely anti-organized religion readers of AnnArbor.com will be sure to superfluously re-iterate). It might be out of scope to say 2010 was different; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wore on, Qur’ans were burned in America, and numerous religious groups were denied rights to practice freely from the Middle East to China. However, some of these news stories from this past year, while ugly in their appearance, yielded positive gains and unlikely heroes that helped make strides for a more peaceful co-existence amongst faiths.
The summer and fall brought what politicians and news heads cleverly labeled the “ground zero mosque” controversy as well as planned (and in isolated incidences, carried out) Qur’an burnings. In the former, the most ignorant of politicians in conjunction with an increasingly implicit media perpetuated a surge of misinformation that contributed to a (hopefully temporary) rise in Islamaphobia in America. While Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich fought against the “ground zero mosque” which was not planned at ground zero… or a even a mosque, Keith Olberman and American humorist Gladstone amongst others prevented the debate from becoming an entirely one-sided affair. Amidst this entire debacle, which is still causing many Americans on both sides to harbor intense feelings, a veritable Superbowl of interfaith dialogue was initiated.
The latter was also a story which, on the face, seemed yet another of religious conflict as pastor Terry Jones of Florida organized a ‘Burn a Qur’an Day,’ While Jones himself did not carry out a burning, others across the United States actually did, including an incident nearby in Lansing in September. The unlikely heroes that emerged from these events included CAIR director Dawud Walid who made an important distinction between the practice of free speech and a hate crime and Jacob Isom of Amarillo, Texas whose Qur’an stealing stunt went viral on the internet.
It’s no surprise that on the overall spectrum of interfaith interactions, the less pleasant of the bunch tend to make headlines. People seem to have become morbidly fascinated with watching the parts of society that are rapidly deteriorating. Make no mistake, however: 2010 had a good share of advances in interfaith dialogue which should leave people with hope for what’s to come in 2011 and beyond.
The UN General Assembly unanimously proclaimed the first “World Interfaith Harmony Weekbetween all religions, faiths and beliefs” to be observed yearly on the first week of February starting next year. In February this year, an international dialogue between Islam and Eastern religions was held in New Delhi. It was inaugurated by Hamid Ansari, the Vice President of India and was attended by leaders and scholars of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. On Nov. 27 of this year , 150 university scholars and delegates from 25 countries gathered at Dhaka University in Bangladesh for the second International Conference on Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue to perpetuate interfaith knowledge and research as well as improve the role of universities in educating youth on interfaith dialogue and working towards peace.
The last is especially significant as it seems it is the world’s youth that made the most positive strides for interfaith understanding in 2010. While much of the world’s older population (though not all of it by any means) was busy muddling their religious convictions in political and judicial affairs, many of the notable advancements, though not making headlines, came from the youth of the world. So is it crazy to think we’re moving in the right direction? Or does that depend on what your opinion of the right direction is?
Ahmed Chaudhry was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and moved to the Michigan in 1994. As a recent graduate of Albion College, where he received a degree in biology and religious studies, he plans to pursue a career in public health.