by Imane, a second year linguist and our EIW co-head

“Interfaith” is more than just a social event

I was two years old when my family and I first moved to Italy from Morocco. The first town I lived in was Monghidoro, inhabited by three thousand souls in the heart of the northern Appennine Mountains. I clearly remember seeing the elderly women of the village tie their shiny and colourful square scarves under their chin on their way to Sunday mass, holding a small wooden cross in their hand as they went.

I grew up in a country with such a strong Roman Catholic identity that it was inevitable to have constant conversations about where my faith stands as opposed to Christianity. I have heard them all from “Why do you worship that black box?” to “Parma prosciutto is the best thing in the world, why can’t you have it?!”. The questions would go from the most profound to the most playfully provocative. When I was younger I would sometimes even snap back in a similar style (“I really don’t understand why you must confess your sins to another sinner just like you”), but it was always worth it since the following discussions would be beneficial for both parties.

Back home, the differences between Muslims and Christians never felt alienating though, because they all led to the same single source: the one and only God on which monotheist traditions are based. This is stressed in the Qur’an as well, in a verse that reminds us that we owe our holy book to the previous revelations:

“O you who believe! Believe in Allah, and His Messenger, and the Book (the Quran) which He has sent down to His Messenger, and the Scripture which He sent down to those before (him),and whosoever disbelieves in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Last Day, then indeed he has strayed far away” 4:136

One of the premises of Qur’an is to come and perfect the previous prophecies whilst respecting them. Unlike other religions, which do not consider the prophets that came after their founding one, Islam encourages us to learn from other faiths, since they are entailed in the genesis of our belief. Interfaith dialogue should therefore be at the core of our practice. The fact that our Qur’an is a complete book does not justify limiting ourselves to religious discussions only with other fellow Muslims. I say so as I personally find that verbally exploring religion with people of other faiths really makes me reflect a lot about how I live and breathe my belief in my day to day life.

Coming to Cambridge as a fresher last year not only meant having to get acquainted to the peculiarities of University life, but as an international student, it also meant that I had to get accustomed to how things are done the British way. So I was surprised that one month in, nobody had ever asked me one single question about why I dress up a certain way or do certain things. The first explanation I gave myself was that everyone here is very knowledgeable about issues of faith because of the incredible diversity I see here as opposed to my country. However, I later realized that if there is one taboo in polite British conversation, it is probably the deadly triune combination of religion, politics and money. I started to think that people might fear being too forward by asking about something as personal and controversial as my faith.

Which is why some of the events I enjoyed the most were the interfaith socials, whether they would be hosted at the Jewish Centre, at the PR for a board game night, or a Christian Union talk on religion and science. I was very excited about the incredible diversity of religions I came across in Cambridge, very far from the almost exclusively Catholic environment I was used to. Beliefs that I had been reading about in history class and in novels were now narrated from a personal perspective by real people with whom I could have discussions that were animated by sincere curiosity.

I will leave you by reporting what is probably the 1000th Rumi quote you read on the internet today: “The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” Religions are many, different and divergent. Which is why we should reach out to the owners of the other fragments of the shattered mirror, look into them and perhaps see ourselves reflected.

Picture from @selwyn1882 on instagram