Top 20 Interfaith America Stories in 2020

Interfaith America launched on March 27, 2020, as an immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic that locked down much of the world. Our mission was, and is, to provide inspiring interfaith resources to our partners who are educators, chaplains, interfaith innovators, and civic leaders. Over the past nine months, we have published over 350 articles written by students, religious leaders, college presidents, alumni, and IFYC staff, and launched Conversations with Eboo, Psalm Season, and our Racial Equity Media Fellowship.  

We are so grateful to all who have participated in our launch and proud of the work that has been done so far.  We wanted to highlight 20 pieces that exemplified what we are trying to accomplish with the site. After a laborious process, we narrowed it down to these 20 pieces and hope that you will find them inspiring in both remembering 2020 and launching us forward into 2021. 

1. Building interfaith America in a time of Covid-19 by Eboo Patel   

Donald Trump’s use of the phrase ‘Chinese virus’ and the many reports of racism faced by Asian Americans calls to mind the many ugly moments from American history when minorities were scapegoated during a time of crisis. 

2. Hope is a Weapon by Dr. Mary Hinton 

As someone who rejoices in peace and believes education can – and must – play a role in the creation of positive peace, you won’t often hear me utilize analogies that include war or weapons. I find those words to be harsh and enabling of a culture of violence. But, in this moment of crisis, the phrase that most immediately comes to my mind as a leader is: “Hope is a weapon.”  

3. Centering Radical Mercy This Ramadan by Jenan Mohajir 

Muslims around the world begin their Ramadan fasts based on the lunar calendar, upon sighting the birth of a new moon. A small barely visible crescent launches us into fasting days and prayerful nights, into community and solitude simultaneously. 

4. Why We Named Every Name at Howard Graduation by Kanika Magee 

What's in a name? In cultures like those in West Africa, babies are not named until the family has had a chance to pray and reflect and determine what the divine is saying about the new life that is before them—for there is an understanding that the name holds meaning. It speaks to the hopes and dreams for that child. 

5. Ps. 23: A Poetic Interpretation by Marilyn Nelson 

When invited to sit with a psalm for this initiative, my first thought was of the 23rd Psalm, whose comforting words and images so many of us know from memory. I knew I didn’t quite understand all of it, but I remembered scenes in movies in which there is an inescapable crisis to which a character responds either by closing their eyes and reciting those familiar words, or by crying “Mommy!” It seemed clear to me that this was the psalm I should work with, the psalm of faith and hope. 

6. Hindu Muslim Bae-Bae by Anand Venkatkrishnan 

A few months ago, while Indian citizens filled the streets in protest against a bigoted law, a Hindu and a Muslim celebrated their wedding. My partner and I have been married for a couple of years, but because much of our extended family lives in the same city, Mumbai, they came together at the end of December to celebrate us at a secular reception. 

7. Writing the Book I wanted to Read by Simran Jeet Singh 

I remember being in elementary school and thinking to myself that, if my classmates could just see characters in their book with turbans and beards and brown skin, then maybe – just maybe – it would help them see my family as more normal and less foreign. 

8. Stanford Student Advocates for Black Lives by Silma Suba 

Micheal Brown unmuted himself, looked into his laptop camera, and began to speak to the 3,000 classmates, staff, and faculty who had joined Stanford University’s ‘Campus Community Vigil for Black Lives’ live stream on June 5.  A virtual ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner provided his background as he challenged the gathered community, his deep voice wavering with emotion.  

9. 12 Black Interfaith Leaders That Shaped America by Carr Harkrader 

“I sing of a new American,” Pauli Murray wrote in her poem, “Prophecy,” in 1969. As a priest, legal scholar, and civil rights activist, Murray recognized the often tragic history of the United States, particularly for Black people and institutions. Her hope for a new America was both tempered and inspired by that knowledge. 

10. Caring for Our Neighbors by Parth Bhansali 

On April 6, in the span of a few hours, I found out that both of my parents and my younger brother tested positive for Covid-19 and that I was furloughed from my work. I immediately began applying for an unemployment insurance claim for the first time in my life while worrying about the health of the people who meant the world to me. 

11. Building Interfaith Community at Work by Farah Siddiqui 

Like many people, I spend 40 hours a week, sometimes more, at work. (In olden times, that involved me going into an office and interacting with lots of people who weren’t my children.) Now imagine, all those hours in all those days being surrounded by people who don’t look like you, dress like you, or believe like you. 

12. Images of Love, Hope and Unity Surround Kenosha by Paul Raushenbush 

Ugly tan plywood appeared on windows around the city of Kenosha in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake on August 23, as the city braced for protests and potential damage to property. In response, a group called Kenosha Creative Space came up with the idea of encouraging residents of the city to paint the plywood with the themes of Love, Hope, and Unity.  

13. ‘I Go Right to the Edge’ & Other Prayers for College by Silma Suba 

College campuses across the country are engaged in an unprecedented experiment in learning. We reached out to religious life coordinators and interfaith chaplains across the U.S. to share prayers, reflections, meditations, that offer courage and wisdom from diverse faiths to help us navigate this time of uncertainty. Here are their responses. 

14. Is Repentance Communal or Individual in Nature? By Rebecca Russo and Joe Morrow 

Dear Joe, since we last wrote, my family and I celebrated Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and I was reminded of just how difficult repentance is, even on a micro-level. We took our kids to Lake Michigan on Rosh Hashana for the ritual of tashlich, during which we symbolically cast away our sins from the past year by throwing pieces of bread into a body of water 

15. 10 Tools to Bridge Divides Around the Election by Mary Ellen Giess

The democratic process is underway across the country, and standing up for a free and fair election has never been more important.  Even as we get out the vote and support a fair election process, we must also ask ourselves:  who do we want to be the day after the election?  How will we build a more united country in this divided time? 

16.  The Eye of the Storm by Maya Williams, Harmeet Kaur Kamboj, and Keryn Wouden Anderson 

Three IFYC Alumni from different worldviews pulled off an amazing interfaith feat this fall, creating an original piece of art in less than two weeks from start to finish without ever having met before. 

17.  Recognize Democracy as a Sacred Project by Eboo Patel 

To help our nation heal in the wake of the 2020 election, I think the most important thing we can do is to recognize that democracy is a sacred project. I realize that some people might be uncomfortable linking the religious concept of the sacred with our democratic system of government. 

18.  I Am Human / Oseh Shalom by Rabbi Sandra Lawson 

Five years ago, after witnessing and learning about the oppression of a marginalized group, a group I am not a member of, I came home, wrote the song I Am Human, shared it with my roommate, and cried. 

19. Queering Deepavali: Traditions in the Time of COVID by Raja G. Bhattar 

Deepavali (or Diwali) is the Hindu festival of lights and literally translates to “row of lights”. There are many mythologies surrounding this celebration every Fall. For a portion of Hindus, Deepavali signifies the new year; a time for renewal, community, and planning for the year ahead. 

20. Hanukkah, Culture War & the Unison of Illumination by Noah Silverman 

This week, Jews all over the world will celebrate the festival of Hanukkah. For eight “crazy nights,” we will light increasing numbers of candles on a special nine-branched hanukkiah and, in North America and other parts of the world dominated by Christmas-culture, we will exchange gifts.  

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.