This is the eighteenth post in the Interfaith Ramadan 2016 series. Articles written by contributors from diverse faiths and none will published every day throughout the month of Ramadan.
What does “interfaith” mean to you? Hopefully, and especially if you’re a regular reader of the Interfaith Ramadan series, it has positive connotations. The word “interfaith” certainly invokes positive thoughts and feelings for me now, just as it has for a long time. However, its depth of meaning and importance has grown exponentially for me in recent years. For this, I am incredibly grateful, and have many people to thank.
Growing up in a Protestant Christian family, in predominantly Christian environments, and attending mostly Baptist churches, my first “interfaith” experiences are more accurately described as interdenominational. It seemed like a big deal 20 years ago for members of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other churches (even Catholic!), to come together to form a community choir in the small WV town where I went to high school. Somehow it happened, though, and it was wonderful.
When I went away to college, I encountered more people of other religious backgrounds, though still mostly Christian denominations. I always looked forward to the annual Interfaith Week, in which the various campus ministries worked together to create joint events, which were often musical programs. The most significant interfaith event I attended during college was a conference in Washington, DC around 2000-2001. I distinctly remember a session on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in which I first learned of the similarities among the three Abrahamic faiths. We sang a beautiful interfaith song, and I could truly feel my heart and mind opening. I have no doubt that my experiences during that conference had a tremendous impact on me and my future views on interfaith connection and cooperation.
It wasn’t until after college, and a few years after moving to Richmond, that I began to have more broad and diverse encounters with people of other faiths and beliefs. I again joined an interdenominational community choir, and this one happened to also be intentionally interracial and intercultural. Even though I am no longer a member, I am thrilled that One Voice Chorus (@OneVoiceRVA) is still proudly “singing the beauty and power of diversity.” A few years and a few Religious Studies courses later, I came across the Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond (@ICGR_RVA). By this time, I had several close friends of various backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities, and was excited about the possibility of being able to form additional interfaith and intercultural connections.
The first ICGR event I attended was the RVA Peace Festival (@RVA_Peace). I had become increasingly concerned about the ongoing violence in our world, and was inspired by the history and mission of this event. I was convinced, and still am, that interfaith and intercultural respect, understanding, and cooperation can help bring true and lasting peace to all. As you may have noticed by now, music is an important and influential part of my life. One of the many things I love about the RVA Peace Festival is the diverse musical and artistic entertainment it showcases. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to assist with this portion of the event last year, and am excited about what we have planned for this year’s Peace Festival!
Speaking of incredible interfaith and intercultural events, the ICGR Interfaith Benefit Concert for Love and Unity in May was the highlight of my year so far! In the opening Dance of Universal Peace, led by a Sufi Universal worship leader, we sang “Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” which reminded me of that conference session on the Abrahamic faiths that I mentioned earlier. With everything from Jewish mysticism, meditative jazz and guitar music, to a lively gospel choir and an audience sing-along to “Imagine” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” it was truly an interfaith celebration of music, dance, peace, and harmony!
Richmond really is quite diverse in many ways, and I am so thankful for the amazing new friendships I have developed with co-workers, students, choir members, ICGR members, and many others over the past 10 years here. One such friend is particularly special to me, as he is now my husband! You can read a little about him, as well as my favorite interfaith love story book, in my post on author J. Dana Trent’s (@jdanatrent) blog Interfaith Inspiration: A Baptist-Muslim Love Story. Our personal interfaith story is another blog post in itself, but since this is the Interfaith Ramadan series, I would just like to mention how inspiring it is to experience Ramadan with him. l have learned so much about Islam, devotion, and commitment over the past couple of years, especially during this holy month. Thanks to him, “interfaith” for me now carries with it a deeper meaning of shared life and love.
All of my interfaith and intercultural encounters, experiences, friendships, and relationships (including, but certainly not limited to, my interfaith marriage) have helped me to more fully see and appreciate the importance of respect, understanding, and cooperation. I believe these types of positive, loving, unifying thoughts and feelings can be practiced and put into action with everyone we encounter, especially those who may seem different from us. It’s not always easy, but from what I’ve learned about Ramadan, now is the perfect time to try!
Transcending The Politics Of Parents In An Interfaith Classroom - Betsy Markman
Related Posts: Three Ways Christians Can Benefit from a Ramadan Fast - Rev J. Dana Trent