Sara Hindi on setting aside biases
The Indy Festival of Faiths that was organized by the Center for Interfaith Cooperation took place on Sunday, August 30th at the Veteran’s Memorial Plaza, in Indianapolis, IN. The festival showcased lots of faiths and cultures through dance, music, art, and a Jewish, Pagan, and Sikh wedding ceremonies.
The Indy Festival of Faiths celebrated diversity and taught the Indianapolis community more about one another. An event like this allowed people to discover the commonality between all faiths and cultures. And when we become more educated about cultures we shatter our own stereotypes and biases that we have toward one another.
Different faith and cultural organizations from all over Indiana set up tables at the festival in order to engage people and inform them about the work that they do. The Muslim Student Association at Butler University has been participating in the Festival of Faiths since it first started. Maya AlShawa, President of the Muslim Student Association and an intern for the Center for Faith and Vocation, at Butler University said,” Part of Butler MSA’s mission statement is to help create understanding both in the small Butler community AND the greater Indianapolis community. The festival of faiths allows Butler MSA to interact with others who have different religious and philosophical backgrounds. This enables us to engage in interfaith dialogue, and furthermore, promotes understanding amongst people.”
As part of the Indy Festival of Faiths, two discussion forums were held in the War Memorial as a way for people to talk about issues and the future of Indiana. The first discussion was I am Change, which was a workshop about fostering young leaders. And the second discussion, which I attended, was the Social Awareness Table Conversations.
Social Awareness Table Conversations
The event was a collaboration of the Desmond Tutu Center at Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary, Center For Interfaith Cooperation, Center For Faith and Vocation at Butler University & Global Indy. Eight round tables were set up in the room each with a topic. The topics of the table conversations were: RFRA and Marriage Equality, Community Violence and Racial Tensions, Threat of Domestic and International Terrorism, Dying Well, Diversity in Religious Institutions, Future of Indiana, and Hate Speech and Free Speech. All of the conversations were lead by community leaders and experts. They all had open-ended questions to facilitate the conversations. Everyone gathered at one table and discussed a certain topic for six minutes, and then they had to switch to the next table. Everyone had the chance to go to four tables out of the eight.
Maya AlShawa said, “The Social Awareness Table Conversations allowed people with different perspectives to have face-to-face conversations about sensitive, but extremely significant topics. Participants could explore the different viewpoints regarding a specific topic, which promoted great conversation, education, and understanding of each other. The booths and tables set up in the general festival are educational, but these conversations provided a smaller, more intimate space and opportunity for interfaith dialogue and engagement. “
The Director of The Center for Faith and Vocation at Butler University, Daniel Meyers kicked off the conversations with an excellent set of rules for the participants:
- Be a student and a teacher
- Talk from not for
- Generosity of spirit
- Process not product
- Be aware of how long you comment
The first table that I sat at was, Dying Well, which was led by Daniel Meyers and Anne Williamson from WayFinding. The question that was asked was: what does dying well mean to you? Several mentioned that it meant saying goodbye to love ones, resolving relationships, and to live well. Many people from different faiths agreed that our faith talks about what is means to die well.
The second table that I sat at was, Hate Speech and Free Speech, which was led by Don Knebel who is a board member for the Center for Interfaith Cooperation and Hazem Bata who is the Executive Director for the Islamic Society of North America. The discussion was based off of four pictures that represented hate speech that was not protected by the First Amendment. Everyone at the table was shown four pictures of: cross burning on private property, holocaust denial, anti-Muslim bus posters, and “Piss Christ.” Don and Hazem then asked everyone if whether or not each of these pictures should be legal or illegal. Everyone at my table was split between legality. And argued that context matters (when, where, how).
The third table that I joined was, The Threat of Terrorism, which was led by David Shaheed – Marion County Superior Court and Douglas Hairston – Mayor Ballard’s Front Porch Coalition. The discussion was based off of a lot of themes. One of the themes was that the media influences our opinions and biases about domestic and international terrorism. Rather than labeling a terrorist for their actions, someone who is a terrorist is labeled as one only when he/she is from a certain group of people. The media has put a face to terrorism. And the media focuses more on international terrorism than domestic, which makes it seem like a lot terrorism is only internationally.
The fourth table that I joined was, Diversity in Religious Institutions, which was led by Matthew Boulton – President and Professor of Theology and Imam Michael Saahir – leader of Nur-Allah Islamic Center. The question that was asked was: Do you think diversity exists in religious institutions? Several mentioned that gender is always a barrier in religious institutions, especially for woman. Implementation is important in order to have diversity in religious institutions. Others mentioned that being surrounded by diversity allows other to forget who they are. We must always focus and talk about our commonalities between different religions rather than just our differences. Our differences make us who we are, but our commonalities bring us together.
The table conversation was then wrapped up with the question: What do we want the future of Indiana to look like? This was a great end to all the different conversations that we had because we have conversations and resolve our differences so that we can all come together and envision a better future for Indiana for all of us.
Charlie Wiles, Executive Director for The Center for Interfaith Cooperation concluded the event by saying, “The more we embrace diversity, the better we can be. I grew up in Indiana and for years the only diverse experience that we used to have was going to a Chinese or Italian restaurant across the street.” Charlie mentioned how overwhelmed with joy to see all the diversity at the interfaith festival and in the room.
Maya AlShawa mentioned,” I liked that participants could choose the tables with topics that interested them, and appreciated the opportunity to share my viewpoint with others, as well as being able to hear other people’s view points about the same topic. I believe staying at one table for more than one section was not allowed, and that could be a possible area to improve upon. The time at each table is fairly short, but if a meaningful and significant conversation is taking place, I think it’s worth letting participants stay, and continue to engage in that face-to-face conversation (assuming it does not affect the organization and flow of the event).”
I really enjoyed the table conversations because everyone was engaged and contributed to the conversations. People put their biases aside and listened. Talking is important, but we always underestimate the power of listening because we get more done and envision a better future when we listen to each other. It’s important to have fun festivals and celebrate diversity, but it’s also just as important to talk about different issues. There is so much we can learn from one another, let’s keep talking.