In a recent broadcast of Speaking of Faith on National Public Radio, host Krista Tippett interviewed a couple of young women from Los Angeles who have been taking a slightly different tack on interfaith dialogue.
Aziza Hasan is the Jordanian-born daughter of a Palestinian Muslim father and an American Christian Mother. Malka Haya Fenyvesi is a first-generation Jewish American whose parents survived World War II and the Holocaust.
In Los Angeles, Malka now directs interfaith programming at the Progressive Jewish Alliance and Aziza is with the Muslim Public Affairs Council there. Together, they created a program called NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.
They bring together young Jews and Muslims from all across society to talk honestly and openly about issues that challenge and divide them, without feeling that they have to resolve everything. As Malka says,
I think there’s always a bridge. The bridge is about understanding. I don’t think the bridge is about resolution. Part of what it means to do authentic dialogue work is that it’s messy in so many ways.
Part of this “messy” work involves learning how to engage in conflict in a positive way, a skill that many people have yet to master. Aziza notes that,
One of the biggest struggles we actually faced in terms of inside the circle of the program is also getting people to be honest and not necessarily polite. First we have to get them to be willing to engage in conflict in a positive and healthy way and then we have to try to get them to actually like say what’s really on their mind because after, you know, they start building these relationships, they get really excited. “Hey, we’re getting along, I really like this person,” and then they don’t want to hurt each other. What they don’t understand is that, you know, sometimes you have to be direct in order to really have a solid relationship, and it’s our job really to push them to that corner.
Together, they work to cultivate “curiosity over assumptions,” to allow people to discover what each other is feeling and thinking about the issues that face them every day.
Genuine appreciation for one another cannot be built on a foundation of dishonesty, even a dishonesty that overlooks painful issues so as not to offend one another. These young women and the work they are doing may well point the way to a deeper and more long-lasting interfaith reality.
- Curiosity over Assumptions Speaking of Faith, National Public Radio
(podcast, transcript, and notes)