The Youth Interfaith Walk was a three-day hybrid event to bring together individuals of different religious orientations and cultures. With the objective of enhancing social cohesion and interactions among youths of different religious communities, Ms. Fatima Jiwani decided to launch this initiative as part of her fellowship with the ‘King Abdullah International Center for Interfaith and Intercultural dialogue’ (KAICIID). KAICIID is a unique intergovernmental organization bringing together followers of different religious traditions, religious leaders, and policymakers to the dialogue table so that they can find common solutions to shared problems.
In addition to being a KAICIID Fellow in the International Cohort for 2021-22, Fatima is also a doctoral candidate researching Interfaith Studies at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and is a recipient of two international interfaith fellowships. She says, “I have taught religious studies for over a decade. Now, after gaining expertise in interfaith theology, I wanted to bring the knowledge of both into practice. In my understanding, communal disharmony is caused when we don’t know each ‘other’. This can lead to the human mind sometimes creating fearful caricatures of someone we have never met. Through interfaith dialogue, I wanted young adults, who are the future decision-makers of our country, to connect and interact in a safe environment. I’m grateful for the KAICIID fellowship that facilitated the opportunity.”
This multi-religious initiative was conducted through a hybrid schedule over three interventions, a ‘Meet and Greet’ session on October 8th, 2022, the Youth interfaith walk on 9th October 2022, and finally an online reflection session on 23rd October 2022. During the ‘Meet and Greet’ session, participants engaged in icebreaker activities, where they had the opportunity to share their feelings, experiences, and understanding of religion while learning about each other. While talking about her experience at the session, Muskaan Lakhani observed, “We are different, different people. We had never met before this. This is the first time that we met people from different groups, so it was amazing!” Saurabh Shukla, one of the participants and representative monks of the ISKCON temple, said that he was hesitant about meeting people of different faiths but after the session, felt that he “got to meet new people and learn about their religions, (and) learned that there are different beliefs, but there is only one God.”
For the second session, participants visited and learned about three religious places of worship. With the support of Mr. Yudhister Das and Ms. Parijata Devidasi, The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) Temple was selected as the first religious site to introduce Hinduism and the philosophy of Krishna consciousness.
After a sermon and Q&A session, the group went on a guided tour of the temple’s various sites led by the participating monks and experienced the faith in its environment of religious dedication and worship. Naushad Batada, a participant, remarked, “I have never known or seen such dedication as it is of the monks. This is the first time I have met one. I am amazed with their spirit of service and decision to spend the rest of their lives in service of God! In fact, speaking to Saurabh, (participant and Hindu monk) I feel that I don’t do enough service myself. I have decided to engage myself more in service after this walk.”
The second site of the Interfaith walk was the ‘Dhanpathohar Gurudwara’ (Santacruz, Mumbai). Here, the participants were introduced to the Sikh faith philosophy of the Khalsa Panth, its symbolism, and the ethical values of Sikhism.
On request, they each were gifted a ‘Kara’, a religious steel bracelet that is a symbol of infinity and connection to God. The participants also experienced a special cultural and religious ‘langar’ (partaking of food) specially prepared for them at the Gurudwara.
Finally, the last site of the interfaith walk was the Mount Mary Basilica, a 17th-century heritage site.
Bishop John gave the students a tour and understanding of the church’s architectural history, the significance of the paintings, and other material culture, followed by another Q&A session.
During the final reflection session, Fatima recorded the participant’s experiences. Misbah reflected, “Through the interfaith walk, I got to know insights of different religions and cultures.” Simran mentioned that “One thing I found in common in all religions was humanity,” while Shivali added that, “to me, I found service to be the common factor in all three religions.” Talking about the impact of the walk, Fatima expresses, “In the long run, I am hoping that this will help create awareness, understanding and a pluralistic attitude among young people, which in turn can be a catalyst in initiating friendships and strengthening communal bonds.”
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