The role of madrasas in inter-faith dialogue



Inter-faith dialogue has become an urgent necessity today. In this regard, what role can or should madrasas play? Can they indeed play any role at all in this? Before discussing this issue, it is important to understand why inter-faith dialogue has become so necessary today.

Undoubtedly, in today’s world inter-community harmony is a major need, and the lack of it has emerged as a major challenge. Inter-faith and inter-community harmony must be built on the foundations and concerns that different faith communities share in common. It must also seek to build bridges of understanding between these communities, and to remove mutual misunderstandings that are a major source of inter-community conflict.

In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, Muslim religious groups in the West, for instance, have increasingly realised the pressing need for inter-faith dialogue. They have invited people of other faiths to visit mosques and the offices of Muslim organisations so that they can observe what happens therein and can have their questions and concerns about Islam and Muslims answered. This has had a positive fall-out in terms of improving inter-community relations, which is itself something that Muslims themselves require.

Several Muslim countries are also developing plans for promoting inter-faith dialogue. In June 2008 the Rabita al-Alami al-Islami (‘World Muslim Council’) organised an international conference on inter-faith dialogue. This was a very major initiative. At the conference it was decided that an international institution would be established to further promote this sort of dialogue. It was also decided to institute an award for inter-faith dialogue work. Through these and similar initiatives, one hopes that Muslims will now play a major role in promoting inter-faith understanding and peaceful dialogue.

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A Muslim Adjusts to University Life

I have been fortunate enough to have the two very different types of college experiences. For my undergraduate career, I attended Loyola University, the Jesuit Catholic University of Chicago and lived at home during that time. Recently, I have moved to a small town in Missouri for my graduate studies. Needless to say, this shift was quite drastic and required much more adjustment on my behalf.

At Loyola, I found myself among a very diverse crowd and a wide assortment of Muslim classmates. Because starting at a new university is always a challenge, it was very important for me to find a strong Muslim support network in addition to non-Muslim friends. Logically, I started at our university’s Muslim Students Association. Here I was able to meet an intermixture of different students with varying degrees of faith. I found that the best way to identify trustworthy and supportive friends was by being open, clear, and proud of my own identity and beliefs. In this way, it was easy to understand similarities in order to develop friendships and to use the differences to facilitate propagation of our faith and tolerance, instead of conflict.

Because I was a commuter student at the time, I did not face the struggles of dorm life and diet and lived quite comfortably at home. I had the luxury of being on campus in order to become involved in student activities and volunteerism as well as going home when studies got demanding. During this time, I worked to maintain a strong commitment to my religious obligations. I quickly understood that being out of my parents’ supervision meant that I would hold the sole responsibility of carrying out religious duties. Maintaining a strict prayer timetable between my classes and extracurricular commitments was vital to establishing other spiritual habits. For example, I made sure to be prepared when night classes ran through the time for breaking the fast during Ramadan and spoke to professors about Muharram commitments ahead of time.

Yet the most important way I worked to develop my spirituality was by sharing it with others. Being open to questions and discussion on faith was integral to strengthening my own. This applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Working as a campus liaison for our MSA gave me the opportunity to create interfaith events where many different faiths and cultures were able to come together and discuss our beliefs and heritage. Last year, we held a “Building the Peace, Breaking the Fast” event on a day in Ramadan that coincided with a Christian and Jewish fast. Our organizations used this opportunity to spread knowledge about our beliefs while standing together on the shared objective of peace between our religions. Events such as these allowed for campus harmony and also supplemented my spirituality as well.

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