Interfaith communities come together with strength in numbers

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Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

Though the anti-Muslim flyers stapled across the West Mall and the vandalism of the Texas Hillel building were clearly intended to frighten, religious leaders on campus have come together in showing mutual
interfaith support.

“There is a really strong desire to build interfaith relationships and to create authentic relationships with folks of different faiths and backgrounds,” said Rebecca Mather, social justice coordinator at Texas Hillel. “There’s a desire and a call to stand in solidarity with one another.”

UT alumnus Usama Malik said he became involved with interfaith work at UT through his involvement with the Texas Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Organization. Malik said his original inspiration to get involved with the interfaith community emerged from his advocacy work against anti-Muslim rhetoric and misconceptions. He said he felt the need to outspokenly support others as well.   

“When any other group comes in through the crosshairs, we definitely want to stand up for anybody else,” Malik said.

Krystal Leedy, associate pastor of the University Presbyterian Church, is president of the University Interfaith Council, an organization that promotes interfaith relationships by means of community support. Leedy said the close connections between religions is not only comforting but also vital.

“It’s really helpful to have that camaraderie,” Leedy said.

Malik said the ability to think beyond the frame of one’s own beliefs is key. 

“We may disagree with our different beliefs or different perspectives, but we can at least agree to our humanity,” Malik said.

Leedy said the foundation of all religions is understanding and empathy.

“All of our faith traditions have compassion and love at their heart,” Leedy said. “We’re wondering what we can do that can be action-oriented that can show love to other faith communities and the University in some kind of radical way.”

Mather said one of the best ways to promote beneficial change against religious prejudices is community-building through open dialogue.

“The sense of community that has developed with the students who attend the meetings has been my favorite part of interfaith work,” Mather said. “A lot of our conversations are around heavy topics, but because we’ve done that work and built those relationships, it’s all resonated really well and been really meaningful.”

Malik said he appreciates these conversations because of the kindness they inspire. 

“It’s not just talking about our differences,” Malik said. “It’s saying, ‘I understand a calamity has hit your community; we want to stand together and address that issue but also be here in solidarity with you.’”

Although their newfound sense of solidarity is hopeful, Malik said there is still a long way to go.

“(The UT interfaith community) is definitely a strong one, but as always there is room for improvement as well,” Malik said.

Leeky said she hopes to make interfaith support systems more accessible.  

“It is incredibly important that faith be represented on the campus,” Leedy said. “We’re not looking to overtake the campus for Jesus, but we would like for students to know that there are spiritual options in the area, and they have the right and the privilege to take those on as they want in their lives.”