Interfaith dialogue: Turning “us vs. them” into “Us”

It is personal interaction with our neighbors from other groups that brings interfaith harmony....

The Huffington Post’s Qasim Rashid discusses an interfaith conference at Princeton University, called CT5:

…while non-Christians defended Christianity quite well, for every other religion, there was an honest struggle. Lesson learned? Christianity was well defended because every single non-Christian in the room knew a Christian personally. Everyone had a Christian neighbor, co-worker, classmate, even family member. And this interaction was more powerful than the vitriol spewed from the likes of the KKK and WBC. Meanwhile, all too many had never met a Hindu on a personal level. Few had interacted with Jews, and even fewer had ever truly engaged a Muslim.

It is personal interaction with our neighbors from other groups that brings interfaith harmony. Quite often, we realize that we are not so different.

Coincidentally, this past weekend, I was the target of an “interfaith engagement” myself.

Nishaan Sahib (61K)
(Flickr user: Medleyview)Nishaan Sahib outside a Sikh temple in Las Vegas, NV

It’s not often that I’m approached and asked about my religion. More commonly, in public places, I tend to be the object of awkward stares. However, last Saturday, while I was waiting for a table at a local burger joint, there was one person who broke through the silent hesitation.

“Excuse me. Sir!”

I turned around to see a middle-aged white man approach me. He was a big man, wearing a hooded grey sweatshirt and blue jeans. He was completely bald, wore dark-rimmed glasses and had a goatee. He probably shaved his head.

He explained to me that he was a trucker and drove by several Sikh temples (Gurdwaras, as we call them) on the highway. He noticed that outside every temple, there was a large pole that was wrapped in fabric, with an “arrow” on top. He was wondering about that arrow.

I was impressed that he knew enough to recognize a Sikh temple, and me as a Sikh.

What he was asking about is the Nishaan Sahib, a flag that stands outside every Gurdwara in the world. I explained to him that it was a religious symbol that marks our temples, so that we know there is one in the area, and that the “arrow” was actually a double-edged sword that is a religious symbol for Sikhs.

He nodded his head and smiled as I explained this, and seemed satisfied with that answer. He thanked me, shook my hand, and went to his table in the restaurant.

Afterwards, I wondered about the different things people observe about Sikhs that I don’t realize. I am used to seeing the Nishaan Sahib, and it has significant meaning to me as a Sikh, but I never thought about how this is perceived by others. It also occured to me that while the Nishaan Sahib marks the location of a Gurdwara, it’s also an arrow to every Sikh. It led this man to ask me a question about Sikhism.

In this briefest of inter-faith engagements ocurring in a local burger place, two people left with full stomachs, and with a little more understanding about each other.

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Related Story:
http://www.sikhnet.com/news/interfaith-fellowship-day-speakers-build-bridges-and-embrace-diversity

 

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