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The Power of Interfaith Words

Performing in Toronto

The Power of Interfaith Words

by Salma Albezreh

How do you find the words to pray
For satan
You acknowledge his apples buried in your blood
History in the making

How do you find the words to pray
For humanity
You acknowledge your thoughts buried in a skull
Name love sanity

How do you find the words to pray
For monsters
You say their name until they are human again
Hate is conquered 

This is poetry, this is my voice. As I braved the terrain of growing up, my loyal companion remained my outpouring words, narrating the views through colored filters selected as thoughtfully as my emotions, molded extensively from my pool of consciousness to my crowded notebook. Stepping reluctantly into frustrating times of understanding the world often left me with anguish and confusion at the means humans used to pursue their interests.

The idea of faith swiftly made itself comfortable in my thoughts. I turned it around from side to side, examining what it contained. My Muslim faith dominated much of my identity, which in a non-Muslim society frequently left me staring straight into the ridges of my differences. Interfaith was introduced early in this sense to my palms as it often reserved a space in my recordings. At one point, through my gracious community, I was ready to share these thoughts, thoughts that seemed to me an effective medication for the aches, bruises, and heartbreaking consequences of intolerance and hate abandoned in the corners of my mind. These conversations too often were between me and an elder, and I soon desired someone my own age to exchange passion-stained concerns and hopes for the future of our distracted world.

Photo:    Faith In Us

For the past two years, I have had the opportunity of bringing together a group of youth to join me on this journey. With two of us from the Islamic faith, two from the Christian faith, and two from the Jewish faith, we came together to tell our stories of using art as a tool to translate tolerance and love across borders of faith in Dayton, Ohio. From an intention to combat Islamophobia to a small grant and finally to a promotional music video, Faith In Us has grown from the ground up. On behalf of the group, I applied for us to perform at the Parliament of World Religions, a well-established, international organization that hosts a major international conference every few years. Soon enough, we were packing our bags for Toronto, Canada.

I put together a script, a collaboration of my written words, spoken-word poetry, instruments, song, art, and film to create a performance of peace. What occurred among us that week taught us the meaning of our own work. We developed unbreakable friendships in those few days, understanding on levels deeper than preaching can reach, that tolerance and love really are thicker than any difference we can muster. Each one of us felt we could express our faith unapologetically with one another and feel heard and respected.

It was finally the day to get on stage in front of an international crowd. This was huge for all of us. We huddled together before the music began and wrapped our arms around each other, sharing our support through nervous smiles.

We broke and got into position with our backs to the audience, and this is how we began:

Good morning
My name is Junaid Khan
I’m 15 years old
My mom says I was born during the monsoons
I try to imagine it while playing cricket on the cobbled streets outside my house
It was June 17, 2018
I was riding home with my siblings
Returning from a shopping trip to buy new Eid clothes
The loud shuffling of the train was interrupted by the threatening men standing above me waiting for me to answer
The silver they were holding wasn’t expensive, but it could do the most damage in murder
I looked down rocking back and forth whispering verses of the Quran
The beautiful book I had dedicated hours upon hours to engrave every syllable into my memory
My perfectly ironed shirt was wrinkled where it melded with the punctured skin
Everyone was screaming
I’ll never know if they regretted it
I’ll never know if they knew I wanted to live at 15 even if I was Muslim
I wondered if we had arrived yet
And if I would see my mom’s face before I saw God’s

This is one of the ten stories we shared in our name that morning. Each one was about a victim killed in a religious hate crime. We are not these teens, but they were young like us and had hobbies like us, sports like us. We are not these teens, but we are alive like they once were. We are not these teens, but we are faithful like they were, committing ourselves to our respective beliefs as they did. We are not these teens, but what makes us different is our ability to advocate for the change that could have saved them. This is how we chose to tell our stories. Through the ones that are left untold. The ones that emphasize the weight of hate and why we are committed to exterminating it. These are our butterflies, stuck in time while meant to shift oceans somewhere across the world.

This motivated me to continue leading the youth of Dayton to become a generation of respect. To lead people is to know them. Each generation is attracted to beauty, but how they define and interpret it varies. Art bears incredible significance for me and my fellow youth. Music has the power to transport people straight through differences in language, experience, and distance. Art has the power to impel people to action, and film to share stories that make our souls swell with emotion.

Through art, interfaith becomes a virtual and accessible platform where youth can engage in conversation and express themselves. In cases like these, art can be used as a vastly effective tool to bring people together around a cause. Art is also vital to making interfaith relevant, because youth are becoming less interested in traditional forms of dialogue. Interfaith has the potential to take on a new, poetic, and active face through young passionate and creative leaders.

Interfaith is like a woven tapestry pinned with reminders of tolerance and love despite broken and fraying edges. We talk a lot about the beautiful unity among faiths in interfaith, but beauty demands complimenting variance, in faith and expression. To reduce faith to one shade is to take away from the beauty of the tapestry. Faith In Us embraces beliefs of all colors and textures as well as the divergent ways to weave them together.  For interfaith to continue, it will be forced to take on art as a main element of the dialogue. I envision interfaith taking a critical role in the art spectrum of activism, and art taking a major role in ways interfaith spreads its message.

Among the various truths excavated from my heart was the ultimate ambrosial truth that interfaith can tap into any movement shaking our world today. For it is a cooperative perusal of a holy truth. It is justice, arisen from its suppression. We thrust stages at the feet of all faiths and people, each of us parallel in stature to that of our brothers and sisters.

My newfound friends and I stood together on that stage, equal and in complete equity of the power of our voices. After an hour we felt light in our shoes with our message finally put forward. We stood together with one thing left to do. This is how we concluded:

In the spirit of love and compassion
Let us pray to our ultimate guide
Let us pray for the fulfillment of this gathering
For us to carry the opaque intention of love into tomorrow and every day after that
And find ease is holding each other above stereotypes
To continue to learn from and for one another
To respect one another
To love one another
With the expectation of receiving nothing in return
Let us pray for the youth to rise above their broken hearts
And mend one another in their hardships
To look for their commonalities
Even if it’s only their humanity
And find beauty in that
And come together solely in the belief that that is enough
For them to choose love
Let us not select words of hate above those of construction
Let us not select words of ridicule above those of question
Let us remain as we are together in this room
United and molded by our differences
Convinced of our worthiness of each other’s company and the respect of ourselves and those we are surrounded by
And let us know tranquility in our last moments
Let us have known one another
let us have known ourselves
Through filters of love

Header Photo: Picryl