By ANDREW ARENAS
On Feb. 25, the Diversity and Unity Coordinating Committee co-hosted an open forum panel to bring together religious leaders in the Fredericksburg community to answer the question: “Can religious harmony exist?” The forum served as an opportunity to bring together the Mary Washington campus and the greater Fredericksburg community to have more religious dialogue in our daily lives.
Attendees grew to have a better understanding of their role in limiting the perpetuation of unjust and inequitable practices. This helps students become more comfortable collaborating and interacting across cultural and religious boundaries.
During the fall 2015 semester, students showed interest in having interreligious discussion on campus. This event was made possible with the help of Sister Munira Abdalla, chief administrator for the Islamic Ummah of Fredericksburg, and Robert Renner, a UMW
Diversity and Unity Coordinating Committee Chairman Zaire Sprowal, who moderated the panel asked thought-provoking questions on differences of faith and culture. Panel members included the Rev. Lawrence A. Davies, the Rev. Allen Fisher, Sheikh Lamptey, the Rev. Gay M. Rahn, the Rev. Donald Rooney and Rabbi Michael Weinstein. All panel members come from a variety of different religious backgrounds, with most serving the city of Fredericksburg.
“Diversity is something that we need to accept with the understanding that there is a greater unity that we can participate in to give greater meaning to our personal lives,” Davies said.
The importance of religious freedom and liberty was stressed heavily throughout the panel. The members went through ways people can accept others who are different and have deeper conversations about religious contrasts. Using respectful language during conversation can go a long way in developing lasting relationships with others.
“Fear, hate, pride, and ignorance are what impede discussion on our differences,” Weinstein said. Using racial slurs and an abundance of stereotypes impedes intellectual conversation about cultural differences. It takes a tremendous amount of time and courage to approach others about contrasting qualities of faith.
“The level of openness of learning from others is becoming quite rare now,” said Rev. Rooney. Lamptey describes that with variety there is so much that you can learn about yourself and from others. Maintaining our honesty, fairness and respect for one another is crucial to having healthy relationships with others. In times of difficulty and hardship, it is important to have patience because through patience comes clarity.
“As a Muslim, we see difference as beauty because if everyone was the same the world would be very boring,” Lamptey said.