Tue, 05/15/2012

On April 12, 2012, Georgetown University held its first Hindu-Muslim dialogue in several years. It was called “Shanti and Salaam” and drew many participants, including Georgetown’s Muslim imam and a prominent Hindu doctor from Georgetown Medical School. For me, the event was a true intersection of my Muslim religious identity and Indian cultural heritage.

Since my arrival at Georgetown, I have been eager to explore my Indian background. I took part in many cultural events, such as South Asian dance festivals and Bollywood movie nights. I also became enthusiastic about interfaith cooperation after attending the IFYC Leadership Institute in October 2010. I realized that dialogue among Abrahamic religions was especially common given our school’s Jesuit-Catholic identity and other institutionalized chaplaincies for Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, and Jewish students. However, interreligious dialogue focused on Hinduism, the largest faith community at Georgetown without a permanent chaplaincy, was relatively rare.

With my interests in South Asian culture and interfaith work, I always wondered whether a Hindu-Muslim dialogue event would be possible. I realized that my identity put me in a unique position to facilitate this dialogue; my family is Indian and Muslim, and we are often viewed as the “cultural bridge” between most Indians (who are predominantly Hindu) and the Muslim community. Growing up, I had read Hindu epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana and always viewed them as proud symbols of my Indian cultural heritage. Since I was eager to discuss these works with others at Georgetown, I began attending Hindu pujas. My enthusiasm for these epics brought me closer to the Hindu students at Georgetown. Also, I grew in my own Muslim tradition through reflecting about Hindu perspectives on issues like the teacher-student relationship, just-war theory, and spiritual devotion.

As I shared my experiences of religious growth with both my Hindu and Muslim friends, both student organizations became enthusiastic about holding a joint dialogue event. For both communities, this event was a chance to build new partnerships and set a precedent for interfaith cooperation outside of the Abrahamic traditions. Using my experiences with both religions, I worked with the board members of the Hindu and Muslim Student Associations to develop discussion questions on a wide range of topics. Although some of these questions revealed philosophical divides between Islam and Hinduism, we titled the event “Shanti and Salaam” (meaning “peace” in Hindi and Arabic, respectively) to emphasize the centrality of peacemaking in both religions.

After several weeks of planning, “Shanti and Salaam” was a success: the event drew over 40 student participants, and was one of Georgetown’s most successful interfaith dialogue events of the year. As a Muslim, I am glad to have experienced personal growth while understanding my Hindu friends on a deeper level. It was immensely fulfilling to live up to one of my favorite Quranic verses, which says, “O mankind, indeed We [Allah] have created you from male and female and made you into peoples and tribes that you may understand one another” (49:13).

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