This past school year of being a CRGC Fellow has taught me about how others practice religion in their day-to-day lives on campus and how their upbringings have shaped their faith. Each fellow brings their own story of how they practice their faith, bringing different perspectives to share with the fellowship. One thing I didn’t anticipate was seeing my own faith through a different perspective as well.
Throughout my life I have been taught Islam through a very specific lens. While many Muslims may incorporate Islam differently in their lives, the core values, at least through my perspective, stay constant. While trying to learn more about my own faith, I feel as if I had a lack of exposure to different Islamic perspectives because my Muslim community agreed on matters of faith for the most part. One experience that helped expose me to a different way of viewing my religion happened just this semester.
The Queer Interfaith Dialogue event, hosted by the Queer Interfaith group here at UW-Madison, allowed me to see the Abrahamic faiths, including my own, through a different lens. The event consisted of members sharing their experiences with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam respectively as members of the LGBTQ community. Each member shared their own stories of looking for acceptance and guidance through their faiths, even when they themselves did not feel accepted by their faiths. This was in large part due to them not feeling accepted by their own communities as they were searching for their own identities.
When a Muslim member of the Queer Interfaith group shared their experiences being an LGBTQ member in Islam, I was particularly struck, as I had never thought of my religion through the scope of an LGBTQ follower. Islam is not known for having a strong LGBTQ following, so being able to meet and discuss my faith with one was an experience I feel only helped me learn more about my own faith.
One difference that struck me in particular was the difference in how they used pronouns to describe Allah (God)—they called God “She”. While God is not assigned a gender in Islam, Muslims usually assign masculine characteristics and refer to God as “He”. When first hearing Allah referred to as “She” in Islam, I was not sure if I had heard it correctly and I was curious as to why the change was made. This led to a productive discussion, and eventually an understanding, between me and the Queer interfaith member over assigning God a pronoun. One aspect that we agreed upon was how, at least for us, Allah transcends gender, so assigning a pronoun can be a tricky subject. Listening to their experience, I was able to contextualize my own experiences with God and my community as only a single view on the subject.
While my views on my religion were not necessarily changed, gaining a new perspective gave me more insight on why I choose to follow my faith the way I do. I believe this can extend to interfaith dialogue as well. While it is not necessary to agree theologically, being open and learning about others can in turn teach you more about yourself.
My initial reason for joining the Fellowship was to learn primarily about other faiths, but seeing my own faith viewed through a different perspective was an added benefit. The experience was almost like an interfaith dialogue within my own faith.