Campus Life Editor

Imam Yayha Hendi, Muslim chaplaincy director at Georgetown University, helped celebrate Multi-Faith Week at F&M with his Common Hour presentation entitled “More in Common than You Think: United Voices for Dignity and Justice” Thursday. In addition to his position at Georgetown, Hendi is the founder and secretary general of Clergy Beyond Borders as well as founder and president of Imams for Universe, Dignity, Human Rights, and Dialogue.

“I start with the greeting of peace: shalom, peace be unto you, assalumu alaikum,” Hendi said, highlighting the first similarity between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

These analogous greetings are used in churches, synagogues, and mosques and serve the same purpose of extending positive thoughts and wishes to one’s neighbor.

“Yes, each religion has a dogma unique to itself,” Hendi said. “But because we have things that separate us does not mean that’s all we have. Believe me, we have much more in common than we have differences.”

To illustrate the many common factors the three religious groups share, Hendi showed quotations from Islamic, Judaic, and Christian texts, including the Quran, the Torah, and the Bible, that echo similar sentiments. The quotations dealt with issues of monotheism, peace, love, equality, and mercy, among others. However, Hendi’s main argument, appearing towards the conclusion of his presentation, involves direct, less abstract concerns.

“We share so many challenges, my friends: poverty, racism, wars, child abuse, domestic violence, militarism, territorial and geographic challenges, HIV, sexual trafficking of women, and religious extremism,” Hendi listed. “These are enemies that are threatening America and the world. There’s no such thing as Islamic HIV or Christian HIV or Jewish HIV. We are all partners in these challenges and also in the possibilities of solutions we can put forward.”

So, Hendi questions, why is there strife between religions? Why is it so difficult to come together and solve common problems?

“There are so many people in so many religions, whether they are Muslims or Jews or Christians or Buddhists or Hindus or Baha’is, who want us to think that we are meant to clash, that we are meant to hate,” Hendi said.

“Instead of being in the business of eliminating one another, can we be in the business of celebrating each other? Can we be in the business of learning about each other in order to move forward? What is the problem? What has been the problem?”

The answer: a failure both to communicate and to listen.

“The problem has been that we have ignored the story of each other,” Hendi said. “We have yet to listen, we have yet to hear each other’s [stories]. In order to move forward we have to be united about the need to learn about others from within.”

There is no excuse for ignorance in today’s society, a society in which information is available at the click of a button or the turn of a page.

“We live in the age of technology, the age of Facebook,” Hendi said. “We need to find ways where we can learn about other cultures and other religions. Education is our best friend.”

Not only do people have the responsibility of educating themselves, but they also need to re-evaluate where and on whom they place blame and judgment.

“Blame yourself before you blame others,” Hendi said. “We are each responsible for the evil we could have prevented. We need to tell our fellow religions, ‘Not in my name.’

“Not in the name of Islam will I allow people like Osama bin Laden to speak on my behalf because he does not,” Hendi continued. “He does not; he never did, and his people will never be allowed to do so. Not in the name of Islam will I allow suicide bombing. Not in the name of Islam will I allow the attack on civilians. Not in the name of Islam will I allow the attack on the Christians or Jews or Buddhists or Hindus.”

According to Hendi, the negative actions of a radical few should not reflect the views of a whole community, a whole organization, or a whole religion. It is the duty of the moral majority to stand against what is wrong, rectify the situation, and declare its true beliefs.

“Who makes it difficult for Muslims to be Muslims?” Hendi asked, also referencing Christians and Jews. “It’s Muslims because Muslims have to stand up to Muslims and say, ‘No,’ when they do wrong.”

Working on education and accountability can help groups to work together to solve deep-rooted issues like poverty, militarism, and racism, which, despite Martin Luther King, Jr.’s identification as key problems numerous years ago, are still pertinent today.

“We need to turn the walls into tables that will bring us together,” Hendi said. “We need to be positive as we move forward.”

According to Hendi, these tables should breed dialogue between different religions and help people to not only acknowledge commonalities but also to peacefully, respectfully, and constructively disagree with one another. The recognition of opposing viewpoints is integral in developing solutions and approaching issues from all sides. Hendi makes clear the point that embracing each other’s differences is key to becoming equal contributors to a solution that will help the greater good.

“I do not want Judaism to be in the front or Christianity to be in the front or even Islam to be in the front,” Hendi said. “I don’t want a specific religion to be dominant. I want us to walk side by side.

“I say you do not need to be wrong for me to be right,” he continued. “You do not need to die for me to live. God wants us to live side by side and with each other.”

Hendi ended on a hopeful note, taking into consideration how difficult a task achieving his goals may seem.
“I have seen hearts changing, minds changing,” Hendi said. “I have seen people migrating from absolute exclusivity to full inclusivity. I have seen that in every way, shape, and form. So yes, the road is uneasy, but it is certainly full of hope, and it us who can make that hope possible.”

Hendi’s presentation was one of several events organized on campus to celebrate Multi-faith Week at F&M. Other events included an interfaith dinner with Rabbi Jack Paskoff of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, a special Common Ground event, a religious club fair in Steinman College Center, an interfaith Hillel Shabbat dinner at the Klehr Center for Jewish Life, and a comedy routine by Muslim comedian Negin Farsad.

“May God protect our unity,” Hendi concluded with a fitting summary to the whole week. “May God keep us united with one voice for justice for all and peace for all. Amen.”

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