I attended the focus group at Interfaith Scotland which addressed some questions concerning the role of young people in interfaith dialogue. The purpose of this focus group was to gain insight from young people of different faith backgrounds who were interested in interfaith dialogue. The focus group had many faiths represented by young people including: Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. Many questions were posed to the group and many different topics concerning how to reach out to young people were discussed. One question remained constant: why is it important to have young people involved in interfaith dialogue? After giving my own answer and hearing the responses of others, who are millennials like myself, I realized that our social and cultural awareness of other faiths comes from a place of compassion and genuine interest. Some answers pointed to the role and responsibility that young people feel for their personal impact to society and the world. In the focus group the topic of interfaith experiences at a young age was also discussed. Family and experiences shape a young person’s outlook on life and their interactions with others, which can inform them about interfaith and how to dialogue with others. I had several experiences as a child which opened up my experiences to people of different faiths. I will share one such experience.
My first interfaith experience that shaped me was when I was only six years old. I attended an all girls’ secular school in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the United States and the school was predominately of a Christian protestant background. However, one of the first songs I ever learned at this school was a song called “Sevivon sov sov sov”, (I still know the song today, even the Hebrew part!). This song is a traditional Hanukkah song. Another one of my favourite’s was “Hanukah O Hanukah”, to my mother’s surprise. I loved these two songs as a six year old more than anything else. I would belt out singing them at home and in the car. I however, didn’t even realise that these were Jewish songs until our holiday concert at my school where our music teacher explained the songs my class would be singing for the school. Our music teacher at the school was Jewish. He told the school that since Hanukah was usually celebrated at the same time near Christmas, he wanted the Jewish children at our school to feel included, as well as teach the other non-Jewish children about Hanukkah and Judaism during this time of year. Music was the first avenue of interfaith dialogue in my life.
Since this music class, my interfaith interactions and interest in dialogue has grown. My interactions with children from other faith backgrounds at my secular school set the stage for my awareness and comfortability in conversing with people of other faiths. I realise now even after living in another country, that the quest for millennials and interfaith stems from their foundation which their parents have set for them as well as their access to social media and a 24/7 news cycle which allows the youth to be constantly updated and informed on what is taking place around the world. With one click or swipe, we all have access to information about interfaith including religious festivals, celebrations, places of worship, prayers and interfaith relationships between world leaders.
However, the question still remains: why is it important to have young people involved in interfaith dialogue? When answering this question, I can’t help, but think of Pope Francis’s remarks from his homily on Palm Sunday mass. He said, “Dear young people, you have it in you to shout…Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”. In his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Francis was referencing the role young people in this world and the importance of their voice when referencing the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. His message resonated with many youth across the world. Young people have the resilience, tenacity, and empathy to look beyond past societal constructs of islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and overall religious intolerance. This generation has seen said to be the most culturally aware generation that has ever lived. The youth across the world, and especially in Scotland have a voice and as we can already see, they are using it! The youth have an important role in interfaith dialogue, and I look forward to seeing more of what they can and will do in the future.