Interfaith Conference Brings College Students Together
Muslim and ‘Evangelical’ Christian students convened at a conference at Wheaton College, in the USA, recently to explore what they could do to ameliorate relations between their two religious groups, a situation the event’s organizers called “the greatest interreligious challenge of our time.” The conference was arranged by NeighborlyFaith, an organization that bills itself as “a nationwide movement bringing Christians and Muslims together.”
The people at Neighborly Faith are right to think that there is room for improvement in ‘evangelical’ Christian-Muslim relations. According to the results of a survey from the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and PSB Research released in 2019, most ‘evangelical’ Christians do not harbour much interest in “building bridges” with Muslims. The survey (which used results from equal numbers of Evangelicals and Muslims), found that only 22 percent of ‘evangelical’ participants said they had regular interactions with Muslims. A similarly small number believed “that such interaction helps the groups to understand each other better”. By contrast, 53 percent of Muslim respondents said they interact with Christians frequently. Further, the survey indicated that 61 percent of ‘evangelical’ Christians supported the so-called “Muslim ban” that the Trump administration implemented between 2017 and 2018, as opposed to only 20 percent of Muslims. More than 20 speakers attended the event, which was designed for ‘evangelical’ and Muslim students.
The conference’s keynote speaker was Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and author. In his remarks, Hamid talked about his friendship with ‘evangelicals’, and how one of them, theologian Matthew Kaemingk, introduced to him the idea of “Christian pluralism.” After learning about this, Hamid wondered if there was a similar ideal commitment to pluralism in his own Islamic tradition. He found that there was. “If you know who you are, then this allows for a mutual respect and generosity of spirit that wouldn’t otherwise be possible,” he said. “Friendship with those who are different can only be possible if we liberate ourselves from the fear of difference.”
A survey conducted after the conference seemed to support previous findings that “frequent interaction lead to more perceived similarities” between members of the two faiths. Organizers highlighted ‘evangelicals” improved perceptions of Muslims in particular. “Among conservative evangelical students, an anonymous post-conference survey showed that while 49% had neutral or somewhat negative attitudes toward Muslims coming into the conference, only 6% remained neutral while 0% maintained a negative attitude – 94% left the conference with either somewhat positive or very positive attitudes toward Muslims,” Neighborly Faith reported. “Similarly, 44% of conservative evangelical students were either neutral or disinterested in building friendships with Muslims before the conference. Afterwards, only 4% remained neutral, while 0% remained disinterested.”
SaadHazari, a Muslim student at Benedictine University, was one of the conference’s attendees. He told Newsweek that some of his dearest friends are ‘evangelicals’ and most of his interactions with people from that religious group have been pleasant in the past. Hazari said he thinks that the Neighborly Faith conference and other events designed to spark dialogue between people of different religious backgrounds was important because it forces people to peek out of the “bubble” they might otherwise put themselves in.
Hazari said that the spirit behind the conference reminded him of a certain quote from the prophet Muhammad that he likes to keep close to his heart: “None of you have truly believed until you wish for your brother what you wish for yourself.”