“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” —Bahá’u’lláh
One thing I’ve discovered in my interfaith fellowship is that I unconsciously and consciously hold a lot of assumptions and biases about other people’s faiths that are pretty inaccurate. I used to think that Hanukkah was a really important Jewish holiday that is always celebrated around Christmas. However, talking to the Jewish interfaith fellows showed me that although it is a major holiday, it pales in personal significance to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and that Hanukkah is based on the lunar calendar, so it doesn’t always happen during Christmas. In fact, a few years ago, Hanukkah was celebrated around thanksgiving.
Not all Christians consider Sunday to be the holiest day of the week.
Not all Muslims think women have to wear hijabs.
Not all Jews practice dietary regulations found in the Torah, nor think they are necessary.
Not all Hindus are strict polytheists.
Not all Buddhists are atheists.
Not all Sikhs wear turbans and carry a kirpan.
Not all agnostics are materialist reductionists.
Not all atheists consider religion to be the worst thing since unsliced bread.
The list goes on and on.
Whether we like it or not, we live in an increasingly pluralistic society. In a world where we come in contact more and more with religious diversity, it’s vital to check your assumptions at the door and approach other schools of thought and practices with an open mind. Assumptions and biases can lead to miscommunication and strawmen at best, and have dangerous consequences at worst. See, for example, a travel ban on Muslims from the U.S. President, and the many acts of religiously motivated terrorism by Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist extremists.
It’s easy to rely on assumptions and biases we get through culture, media, misinformation, or the internet. However, instead of acting on incorrect assumptions, it’s far more advantageous to ask people of other faiths what their values are and how they view the world. When one has an open mind, they have much to gain from other traditions, whether it be theology or unity. The great spiritual teacher Sai Baba knew that, and he taught from both the Bhagavad Gita and the Koran. Because of the wisdom he gained from it, Hindus, Muslisms, and Zoroastrians alike looked to him for spiritual guidance. One Muslim wrote that he originally thought of Hindus as his enemies. However, after spending three years with Sai Baba and learning from his teachings, he began seeing Hindus as his brethren. As someone who is constantly trying to learn from all faiths and not be constrained by labels or dogma, I find that keeping an open mind when learning from other interfaith fellows and religious texts helps me gain a greater appreciation for other understandings of the world.
One guideline that I’ve personally developed during my fellowship with the CGRC is to keep an open mind about the ideological framework when talking about religious practices that the other fellows hold sacred. Not everyone holds the same values or belief system, nor do they practice the same rituals, especially within religion. In order to truly understand the faiths of the world, we have to make sure to keep an open mind and be cognizant of our biases.