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Coexistence panel opens interfaith dialogue at OU

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Ohio University Student Senate’s International Affairs Commission hosted an interfaith panel, “Coexistence,” on Monday to encourage interreligious understanding and dialogue among OU students.

The panel was comprised of diverse individuals from all different faiths: Rev. Evan Young, a Unitarian Universalist from United Campus Ministry; Rev. Rob Martin, a Christian from Athens First Presbyterian Church; Javad Anjum, a Muslim Ohio University Ph.D. student from India; Prof. Amritjit Singh, who formerly practiced Sikhism; and Stephen Kropf from Athens KTC Tebetan Buddhist Meditation Center. The panel was facilitated by Hashim Pashtun, an Afghani graduate environmental engineering student and Senate international affairs commissioner.

The panel’s purpose was to facilitate and answer questions that have been raised by society about other faiths, and to encourage a peaceful, tolerant dialogue.

Approximately 30 students attended the panel that sought to assist coexistence and peaceful tolerance throughout different religious traditions. When asked if they “believe it is desirable for different faiths to coexist peacefully,” the panel unanimously responded — yes.   

“To coexist sets the bar low,” Young said. “We should aspire to embrace people of all faiths and celebrate our difference.”

The panelists also spoke on the difference between political and religious violence. Young and Kropf agreed that violence attributed to religious intolerance is often consumed in political gain, rather than conflicting religious ideologies.

“Matters of the spirit and faith are superseded by politics. That’s counter to the teachings of all religions I have experienced,” Young said, connecting the commonality that all religions share. “We are part of a larger whole and have a duty to serve, just like everyone else.”

However, Singh said the bars between politics and religion become intertwined in areas that experience great amounts of violence attributed to religion. When recalling personal experience to violence, Anjum said religion behind violence “is trying to make sense of nonsense.”

The panel was then asked about how their faith has been misunderstood by other people and Western society as a whole.

“Since 9/11, the misrepresentation of Arabs and Muslims has grown,” Singh said. “People look at someone like me and they assume I’m an Arab Muslim who is related to someone that caused those attacks. Fear is the root of misconceptions.”

The entire panel stressed the importance of asking about an individual’s faith when it’s unfamiliar.

“Any member of anything would rather be asked a question than have a slur yelled (at them),” Singh said.

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