On Sunday, September 15th, over 30 interfaith leaders and supporters gathered at the Pico Union Project center in Los Angeles to discuss how interfaith work is relevant today. The event was moderated by Dr. Steve Wiebe, Executive Director of New Vision Partners, while the speaker panel included seven interfaith leaders from Los Angeles and Saudi Arabia: Dr. Maher Hathout, Reverend Dr. Gwynne Guibord, Naomi Ackerman, Omar Ahmed Bahlaiwa, Dr. Selwa Al-Hazzaa, Ali Husein Alreza, and Samar Fatany.
Samar Fatany, a Saudi Arabian journalist, began the discussion by stating that the main conflict between people of faith is based on an absence of trust. She continued to say that in order to alleviate the multiple religious conflicts present today, it is necessary to build trust, eliminate differences, and create dialogue between religious communities.
In response, Dr. Maher Hathout reminded the audience that “trust must be earned” by working together. He outlined the progression of interfaith work in Los Angeles– the early stage only included Christians and Jews while the next phase allowed for an Abrahamic space where Muslims could be included and consisted of people trying to convert each other or prove that their faith was better. The current stage includes people of all faiths as well as a deeper respect and understanding that religion and faith are personal and between oneself and God. Over time, we have come to accept and respect the different methods of attaining closeness to God and gained trust with different faith communities.
Dr. Guibord focused on the relational part of interfaith dialogue and how it takes a lot of time and goodwill to create bonds of trust with members of different religious communities. She continued by praising interfaith organizations that bring people together and challenge assumptions in addition to digging deep in order to understand different faiths. Guibord embraces differences and said that by “living in a society of different cultures and religions, we have come to understand each other in a more profound way.” This is how we build trust and healthy relationships between different faith communities.
Furthermore, Reverend Guibord said that “everyone has a filter or screen through which they look at the world”—gender, religion, political views, etc. This screen affects how we see each other. Dr. Guibord continued to say that despite this screen we each have, we should “strive to experience other people as people of God…We have been gifted to each other to be in awe of one another.” Naomi Ackerman added that interfaith engagement is about telling stories, but more importantly, about listening to others’ stories and creating new stories together. By adjusting our filters, we have begun to work on our joined story together.
Overall, the event focused on the many ways interfaith leaders may play a role in improving respect of people of other faiths within their religious community. As we consider what it means to live in a pluralistic world, we are all left with the responsibility of contributing to improving the quality of life for all of us. In the words of Dr. Hathout, above all else, while change is slow, it is important to note that “life is not static—it is dynamic…You will not see the changes right away—you will be lucky if you live long enough to see them.”