Why I’m Motivated to Bridge Religious Differences
by Dawud Walid
My passion for bridging religious differences has been shaped not only by my spiritual connection to the Islamic tradition, which promotes striving towards the common good, but also by how I was raised.
As a youth, I was privileged to travel abroad with my father, who worked for an agency that promoted trade and commerce. I was exposed at a young age to people of diverse ethnic backgrounds as well as introduced to people of various faiths. I met people who practiced indigenous African religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I visited a Catholic church in West Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall and toured the home of Anne Frank in Amsterdam.
Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was a cousin and disciple of Prophet Muhammad, said, “People are enemies of what they do not know,” and “Whoever is ignorant of a thing finds fault in it.”
I believe that much of the conflict that exists among people of diverse faith traditions—that is not rooted in politics—is mere ignorance of the other. Therefore, based upon my experiences in which I find confirmation from my spiritual tradition, organic intermingling and purposeful dialogue with others are the only hope that we have in cultivating peaceful coexistence between various peoples of faith. Hence, I have been involved in both interfaith and intrafaith activism for the last 15 years.
Though I am an advocate of interfaith and intrafaith activism, I am certainly not a proponent of theological relativism, the concept that all philosophies are equally valid and that we must affirm others’ theology even when it conflicts with ours. I find such relativist discourse to be unauthentic and counterproductive. The purpose of interfaith and intrafaith dialogue is for us to recognize our differences to dispel misconceptions, which breeds fear of the other, so we can move towards the states of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and optimally mutual cooperation to make a more just world.
The Qur’an states (5:2), “Cooperate with each other in virtue and piety, but do not cooperate with each other in sin and enmity.”
As a member of the Metropolitan Detroit Interfaith Workers Rights Committee, I join others of various faith traditions to advocate for labor rights and social justice based upon our sincerely held beliefs, not to convert them to my theology. With rights to have the existence of unions and collective bargaining being stripped, to Wall Street banks secretly renegotiating lenders’ mortgages, which have caused thousands of American citizens to become homeless, we need each other as various faith groups to challenge these injustices. Jews cannot do it alone, Christians cannot, nor can Muslims. It is through such collaboration based upon our acceptance of transcendent values within our separate traditions, which will earn us the pleasure of the Divine according to my belief.
As there is a need for interfaith cooperation, I also see the necessity for intrafaith dialogue and cooperation among Muslims. Thankfully, American Muslims have not experienced sectarian tension that has led to violence as in Iraq and Pakistan. Irrespective of schools of thought within Islam, Muslims share common social challenges, which need to be addressed, and one of the most pressing is Islamophobia. Mosque construction projects have been met with vitriol across America in which anti-Muslim bigots do not distinguish whether the majority of worshipers in the mosque are Sunni or Shia Muslims. When I’ve interviewed Sufi Muslim women, who were discriminated against due to wearing hijab, the offenders did not distinguish between whether they were members of a Sufi order or not in their discrimination. In all of these scenarios, to the offenders these were Muslims all the same. Hence in 2006, I joined Islamic religious leaders in Metro Detroit from various traditions to clarify misinformation disseminated about Islam. This convening then gave birth to continuing monthly meetings in which other common challenges are discussed between Muslims of various persuasions.
Life is short, and none of us know how long we will have to work to effectuate change for a better world. The Creator will take care of the afterlife; that will all work itself out. I believe that this world was entrusted to us to protect the creation and to cultivate the common good for all human beings. My work in bridging religious differences has been and hopefully continues to be for the common good of all of us.
Dawud Walid is the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), an imam, and board member of the Metropolitan Detroit Interfaith Workers Rights Committee.