Reflections on a Weekend of Friendship

by Virag Kinga Mezei last modified 24 September 2019 08:04 PM
Reflections on a Weekend of Friendship

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

24 September 2019

From 22-25 August, the “Weekend of Friendship between Young Muslims and Christians” was held in Taizé, France.

The first day was devoted to the importance of the document signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyib of Al-Azhar in February 2019. The second day’s theme was hospitality and its relevance today. The topics were introduced by representatives of Islam and Christianity. These reflections were followed by small group discussions, and those who wished could join workshops about existing examples of dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Muslims.

In our increasingly diverse societies – and in a world where religion is all too often used to justify violence, exclusion and hatred, it is extremely important to have places and occasions where people from different religious backgrounds can meet. By listening to what the other actually has to say about him/herself it becomes possible to see beyond the stereotypes and enemy images of the “us versus them” divide.

This event in Taizé was special in many ways, but the most important thing (I felt) was really simple: we spent a weekend together. Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims and those who do not identify with any religion; from different countries, with different experiences of diversity and coexistence. I think this fact in itself is a reason for hope.

Of course, our background was something we could not leave behind or disregard during the weekend. As a Hungarian who is passionate about interfaith dialogue, I feel a mixture of sadness, anger and shame when I think about how referring to Christian values became an excuse for intolerance and hatred towards Muslims in my country. And even though this seems paralysing sometimes, these days made realise how much I want to change that.

It was inspiring to hear how these young people work to create a culture of dialogue and trust in their societies – even in contexts where an incredibly painful history (or, in some cases, not-even-distant memories) makes it more than challenging. In Bosnia and Hertzegovina, for example, Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox are organising workshops, study trips and summer camps in high schools together, to help the students discover the beauty in diversity. When asked what advice they would give to others who wish to start an interfaith initiative, their answer was:
“Just be normal. Play sports, travel, do things together. We are not that different after all.”

Simple as it seems, I thought this was the best advice possible. There were moments during the weekend when we completely forgot that we belong to different religions. We are Christians and Muslims, yes, but so many other things as well: we have hobbies, occupations, favourite movies and foods – and these are not that different after all. By doing everyday things together, suddenly it is easy to see that the other person is just like us.

Being normal” together and sharing our experiences as Muslims and Christians felt like the two sides of the one coin that is dialogue.

I admired the Muslim participants for having the courage to be “the Muslims” in the ocean of Christians that is Taizé, and also for their patience when it came to answering all the questions about their faith. I knew this would have been difficult for me, and so I am all the more grateful for it.

It was during the last day when a Muslim girl in our sharing group told us about a song from Taizé they sometimes sing in their mosque. She started to sing it, and then we all joined in:

„Ô toi l'au-delà de tout, quel esprit peut te saisir? Tous les êtres te célèbrent; le désir de tous aspire vers toi.”
(You who are beyond all things, what mind can grasp you? All that lives celebrates you, the desire of all reaches out towards you.)

It was just a few minutes. It was just to show us which song it is. And still I felt that in those few minutes something very important happened. Not because Muslims were singing a Christian song, not even because we (Muslims and Christians) were singing it together – but because for a few minutes these two words did not make a difference at all.

Disclaimer

The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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