Celebrating similarities, not differences

Playground fights aren’t the way for religious societies to spread the word.

Imagine this scene. In a school playground, two young boys are fighting. One’s Muslim, the other Christian. After ending the scrap, a teacher recieves this explanation: “Miss”, cries the Muslim boy, “he said my religion’s based on lies and that I will go to Hell when I die!” The teacher turns to the Christian boy and receives a similarly breathless response. “Miss, he said that Islam was the only true religion and that his God would punish me for not being a Muslim.”

The teacher has three options for dealing with this scenario. Firstly, separate them, allowing for their differences, but hoping they never meet to fight again. Secondly, force a reconciliatory handshake and hope that the boys put their differences aside and get on with each other. Her final option; encourage the boys to learn about their differences and enjoy them without conflict.

Away from the playground, there is evidence to suggest that two religions, and the world-views they encompass, cannot co-exist peacefully. Whether it is in Gaza, Sri-Lanka or Iraq, religions find themselves not side-by-side but face-to-face. But must religious societies at York re-enact this sort of stand-off?

The tension caused on campus after the Christian Union’s Hot Potato talk, entitled ‘From Darkness to Light: My Conversion from Islam’ embodies this. Scheduled during Islamic Friday afternoon prayers, meaning that no practising Muslim could attend, the meeting caused offence and a fair amount of indignation. Clearly the naming of the talk, which seems to suggest that Islam is a dark, ‘other’ religion, was insensitive. The timing was also unhelpful – the talk must have been a one-sided affair given that no Muslims could attend. The fact that the CU to refused to listen to Ogtay Huseyni, the President of York’s Islamic Society, request to reschedule the event also failed to reflect well on the CU.

Whilst it is difficult to imagine the CU and Islamic Society taking team building exercises together, they certainly share much common ground, both part of a religious minority in a secular environment. Surely if their common aim is to make students aware of a God, time spent squabbling amongst themselves is time wasted. The two religions, after all, are not that dissimilar in comparison to, say, Hinduism. How many members of the CU know, for instance, that there is a chapter in the Koran dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, or that Jesus himself is revered by Muslims as a great prophet? The recent debacle would suggest that the CU was unaware even of Friday afternoon prayers.

If the playground fight analogy was taken further, it would suggest that the two societies should engage in open dialogue. To avoid conflict and unnecessary hurt, the two religious societies must be sensitive to the other’s timetables, beliefs, and concerns. Fortunately, we do not live in a war zone. Campus is neutral ground for debate, the perfect place for interfaith dialogue. In other words, children, play nicely.

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