by ANTON KURATNIK

It seems that in addition to being the MSA’s token white guy, I’ve also become its token interfaith guy. I guess the two go hand in hand, given that my token whiteness allows me to more freely navigate the seas of the religious diversity. It’s not like I mind. Interfaith work in my opinion is an important part of what Muslims must engage in. Yet at the same time, I no longer feel as passionate about it as I did a few years back, probably for the same reason that my friends (of all faiths) have felt a lack of interest for it all of their lives.

Indeed, the word “interfaith” can carry a plethora of negative connotations for many of the orthodox adherents of the worlds’ religions. For some, it can imply disenfranchisement. As a Muslim, I’ve certainly felt an outsider to many an interfaith dialogue and organization where the person representing and speaking for my faith was a person whom most Muslims would consider to be outside of the fold of Islam. Given that this is a common situation for those of other religions as well, these dialogues and organizations in the end serve little purpose, as they do not represent the faithful mainstream and thus have little influence anywhere.
For others, “interfaith” can mean “empty talk.” In many cases, this association may be actually true. In cases of interfaith dialogue, for example, the largest problem is self-selection, i.e. the fact that those who choose to participate are those who need to engage in dialogue the least, because they are already tolerant and respectful. Neither does the effect of the dialogue trickle out much to those who did not participate in the dialogue, so the usefulness of it generally sticks with the participants and fails to spread to the wider population.

I imagine a different kind of an interfaith movement. An interfaith movement that serves those with a strong identity in their faith, those who want to act and to create actual change. An interfaith movement that works on the common ground between all faiths towards a common goal without trying to synthetically create new religious intersections.

Finally, “interfaith” can mean “being uncomfortable.” Certain practices common in the interfaith field create this feeling. For example, in the past Ramadan quite a few Christians around the world joined Muslims in fasting. While I certainly do not object to the gesture, I am not prepared to return it, which I feel a certain amount of peer pressure to do. Interfaith activists often espouse events such as meditating with the Buddhists, singing with the Christians, and fasting with the Muslims, making the overall mainstream feel rather uncomfortable and disenfranchised from the movement.

The problems abound. So why am I still the token interfaith guy?

Well, probably because I imagine a different kind of an interfaith movement. An interfaith movement that serves those with a strong identity in their faith, those who want to act and to create actual change. An interfaith movement that works on the common ground between all faiths towards a common goal without trying to synthetically create new religious intersections.

These ideas are hardly new, but I grew up with them. I am the child of Eboo Patel’s InterFaith Youth Core and Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion. That is, I see community service and the general teachings of mercy and compassion as the only existing common ground between all faiths and traditions. I see helping those in need as the mission of every religion on the planet and I ask: “Why can’t we work together if we have a common goal?”

Engaging in community service together has a variety of benefits and solutions to the aforementioned problems. First and foremost, it is effective. Interfaith service work affects the participants and those who they benefit and is slowly making its way into the media, thus changing the stereotypical image of religion as a source of division. Secondly, it is a platform for natural dialogue to occur. Working with people of other faiths will certainly lead the participants to discuss their beliefs, but now with the knowledge that they share something in common. Thirdly, engaging in community service is a means of bringing together adherents of various faiths without putting them in potentially uncomfortable situations.

Finally (and I’m stealing Eboo Patel’s words here), we live in a diverse world. Our coworkers will be from all walks of life: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, etc. We need to break out of our bubble and learn how to interact in such diversity without compromising our faith. I believe joining together in common projects is precisely the method. We all talk about how our religions are religions of peace, but actions speak louder than words. What are we doing to prove our commitment to peace?

Engaging in community service together has a variety of benefits and solutions to the aforementioned problems. First and foremost, it is effective. Interfaith service work affects the participants and those who they benefit and is slowly making its way into the media, thus changing the stereotypical image of religion as a source of division.

The biggest problem that I see facing the interfaith field today is the fact that it is lacking the orthodoxy. We might complain about misrepresentation, about non-Muslim speakers going up to the podiums and speaking for Islam, but we never actually step up to the plate ourselves. We don’t like where things are going, but we are too lazy to get involved and change things. I don’t need to tell you the hadith (traditions of the Prophet Mohammad) of changing things with your hands, you already know it. What we have to do is act. It is up to us to build the world where religion is seen as a cause that unites humanity in good while preserving its diversity. Otherwise someone might do it for us, and we probably won’t like the result.

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  • Sadat Anwar

    Br. Anton, we will be hosting a women’s debate (Women in the Bible & Qur’an) at North American Muslim Foundation in Scarborough (namf.ca) on Saturday, February 20th. We would appreciate your attendance and support. Please contact me by email for the flyer with full details.

  • Samuel Maynes

    If you are interested in some new ideas on the interfaith movement and the
    Trinity, please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be
    Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic
    theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan
    Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute
    Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the
    Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned
    Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their
    variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas
    reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the
    first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known
    as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other
    names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we
    expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or
    Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two
    insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit
    is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme,
    so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a
    synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe
    Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned
    Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing
    ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned
    “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle
    that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy
    Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other,
    but the Glorified Spirit proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

Twitter: tmvmagazine

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