This is a guest post from Matt Chisem from XLP.
“I strongly feel that it is only when there is a deep understanding of one’s own religious beliefs and commitments that progress can be made in achieving true understanding and respect for the religious values and beliefs of others”- David Smock
On Wednesday 13th July, a group of students from Sir John Cass School in Stepney came together to discuss all things faith related. Accompanied by an extremely healthy amount of pizza and fizzy drinks (irony intended), young members of the Christian and Islamic faith began to open up about their experiences of religion and what it was like to be growing up as a Christian or a Muslim. Due to the amount of young people who turned up, we had to split the discussion into two groups!
I was particularly impressed with the maturity and the integrity that was displayed by the majority of the group who attended. This was in part due to Dumaeza, who set some ground rules in place before starting the discussion. These included guidelines such as speaking positively about your own faith rather than negatively about your own and not judging those present based on what some people from their religion may do. This facilitated a safe environment where the young people felt able to offer their opinions without fear of being condemned or shouted down. However, the discussion proved to be successful and healthy predominantly due to the enthusiasm and sensibility of the young people, some of whom were engaging in interfaith dialogue for the first time. They created an atmosphere of respect and tolerance which was vital for topics that can typically create tension and offense.
Topics of conversation varied widely, from whether you had to go to a church to be a Christian to the religiousness of Tower Hamlets. One of my favourite moments was when a young Muslim began to passionately discredit Islamic State and how their actions were in total contradiction to the Qur’an and the Muslim faith and everyone in the group, regardless of their own religious beliefs, agreed with him. It made me optimistic of a culture of tolerance and unity, in a time where religion can often divide communities and lead to violence and unrest. This was made only more powerful by coming from a group of young teenagers. I think we can all learn a thing or two from these inspirational young men and women in how to conduct ourselves when talking about and engaging with our own and others’ religious beliefs.