Stop Being So Polite - Thoughts on Interfaith Dialogue

“Is it ok if I pray?” Fatima asked. I suppose I should have appreciated the courtesy, but part of me was shocked - and a little offended. “Of course, you can pray.” I told her. “Put in a good word for me while you’re at it.”

We are here. Together. You can pray to your God, and I’ll pray to mine. It’s completely cool if we do it in the same space, and I’ll still drink wine. My tradition sanctifies it. Yours forbids it. So be it. We are here.

We are at a conference designed to address difference, The 9th annual Muslim Jewish Conference in Burgundy, France. For five days, we were a collective of 100 people from over 30 countries, exploring religion, identity, community, and difference. I watched the natural subgrouping at first, and quickly I became annoyed. People seemed to tiptoe around the proverbial “other” with an overwhelming desire not to offend.

I, on the other hand, ran around asking all of my stupid questions, and my new friends from Dubai, Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Pakistan, Sudan and Iraq answered. They helped me see beyond the seemingly dominant, violent leadership in Muslim communities; they broke down passages from the Koran, and they showed me how they pray. I also spoke to a gay, religious imam about tolerance and homosexuality in Islam while unpacking the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism with a Canadian friend wearing a hijab.

I’d say the highlight of the week was facilitating. I had the opportunity and deep honor to lead a session. I started with an icebreaker, asking everyone to share one thing that they judge about themselves and one thing that they love. The room softened and opened. I then admitted that I judge myself all day - and everybody else. This confession brought in a wave of laughter.

By exposing my own heart, I invited others to playfully do the same. The personal became universal and the dialogue deepened. Everybody stayed long after the session ended in rich conversational territory. Magic happens when you go into the spaces and places that you avoid. In this case, people became friends with souls from countries that their passports won’t allow them to visit. Watching Moustafa collide into a hug with Alon while dancing to Ram’s music melted my heart, and eventually moved me into my sleeping quarters for girl time.

My roommates and I spoke about love, sex and marriage. Fatima told me and my Israeli friend Halo about her wishes for matrimony and what it’s like to date in a religious world. She told us about the Muslim version of tinder that gifts couples a free trip to Mecca who meet and marry through their service.

We all laughed, made jokes and a deal to stay optimistically open for partnership. I’m hoping Fatima gets her "pilgrimage" sometime soon, and I look forward to hearing from her on the journey.

This week, I invite you to break down a wall. It could be inside of yourself, in a relationship, in your community or just in a conversation. The simplest way is to speak your truth when you might typically swallow it. Be willing to risk rejection, judgement or appearing ignorant, even offensive. Step out of fitting in and people pleasing because only then can you create the space for discovery and intimacy.

That, my friends, matters more than being polite.