People of various faiths gathered in the Presentation Room last week for an evening of interfaith discussion.
The MSA, Amnesty International, Power2Change, U of T Hillel, the Equity & Diversity Office, and the Indigenous Centre collaborated to bring this interfaith dinner and dialogue to the Student Centre on Tuesday.
The topic chosen this year was “Extremism in Religion”, considering the recent political and religious issues occurring around the world.
Rachana Sai, president of Power2Change, said that due to “the [rise of] ISIS, we contact[ed] the MSA and they were just as interested as we were in hosting such an event”.
“Considering the current political structure and turmoil occurring in the world today, in regards to the spread of religious violence, [this dialogue] would benefit the UTM community,” added Maleeha Baig, president of Amnesty International at UTM and external relations director for the MSA.
The event started out with a panel. Originally, there were three panellists representing Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, to facilitate the discussion. However, the panellist representing Judaism had to leave shortly before the event due to unforeseen circumstances.
Amjad Tarsin, the president of the Muslim Chaplaincy at U of T, was the Muslim voice on the panel and George Simopoulos of Power2Change conveyed the Christian opinion on the questions asked. History professor Ken Derry was the moderator.
When asked why an interfaith dialogue was chosen, Baig said, “Since religions are constantly put in the spotlight where they are made to appear against one another, a dialogue instead of a debate would create this sense of unity and togetherness that we need more now than ever.”
Questions from Derry touched on multiple sides of the topic, such as the main reasons for violence, which the panellists argued out are driven by psychological and political factors rather than religious factors.
They were asked to express their views on secularism and ways to curb violence done in the name of religion.
“We have to be careful not to fall into that trap of ‘us versus them’, even as a minority, that just because you did this to me I can do it to you,” said Tarsin. “We all have to be committed to securing everyone’s wellbeing in this broad system of values. We’re looking for a solution, not blame.”
Simopoulos added, “Oftentimes religion is misused, but I think that our goal is not to explain away violence from religion but to first understand what that religion states and to understand what it says about violence.”
Another concern from specifically Muslim students in the audience was the reasons behind the constant spotlight on Islam and not on any other religion when it came to extremism and hands-on ways to tackle these issues.
Sai commented on what she hoped the dialogue would achieve. “I am hoping people would reconsider their thoughts and opinions they might have about a particular faith and come to the realization that very often a religion doesn’t seek to promote violence, hegemony, or patriarchy, but it is media who promotes these ideas using incidents around the world whilst reinforcing these beliefs,” she said.
The panel was followed by dinner.