When Will it End?
Kanika Magee is the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and the Special Assistant for Interfaith Programming at Howard University, a leading HBCU in Washington D.C., and a 2020 Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.
Recently, we celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan, with our Muslim brothers and sisters. As an institution of higher education, our campus recently celebrated the end of an academic year and a commencement exercise for our recent graduates after one to 10 years of study, based on program and speed of matriculation. On Capitol Hill, Rep. Cheney recently marked the end of her leadership as a GOP leader because she dared criticize the former President of the U.S. And in the midst of each, I am wondering when the killing of others in the name of a belief system will end as well? For those of us from three faiths who track our heritage to Abraham (and his wife Sarah), this common heritage has resulted in a centuries long deadly family feud. I cannot express my sadness and concern for the many issues that erupt into violence across our world and particularly at this moment in Jerusalem.
What I remember most about my brief time in and around Jerusalem was how outwardly devout people were. I saw Jews and Muslims and Christians and Druze moving about their daily lives in ways I had not experienced in the U.S., where our daily attire and prayer practices often don’t hint at what we believe let alone state it clearly or directly. Beyond this, our concept of interfaith in the U.S. often reflects what I see as a diluting of faith: I will not state the crux of my belief out of respect for the other. Instead, I will limit my expression of belief to reflect only those parts that are shared easily and comfortably by others. While noble, it calls us to lose a large piece of ourselves – or to hide it – so that we can all get along. It has always been my hope that we can one day see each other in fullness and in truth – that we can be completely aware of our differences – and still get along with and respect one another. In my travels, I saw people who were clear about what they believed and the differences between them without apology.
This experience left a deep and lasting impression on me that I still reflect upon many years later. It is an experience I have drawn upon as I exist on a campus that typically reflects 70-100+ countries, though its population is primarily Black. With this collection of cultures, we find varied belief systems, diverse traditions, and a lot to learn. Our students walk about campus with pride in their cultural heritages, from the U.S. to Sudan to Nigeria to Bangladesh to Nepal to the UK to Spain to Trinidad & Tobago to Jamaica and beyond.
At this time of year, I am particularly struck by the language we use in the academy. Our concept of Commencement is especially meaningful as it marks the physical end of a journey but in language simultaneously marks a new beginning. We can look back at the way things were and chart a new path from what we’ve learned. We can branch out to new territory knowing we share a common bond or heritage with people we may or may not know. Life’s struggles, and economy, and job woes, and pandemic, and disappointments each remind us that this commencing won’t necessarily be easy or smooth but it is necessary and possible. Some return to familiar communities in a new position from which they re-create themselves as emerging professionals and adults and others move to communities that are unfamiliar and create something entirely new.
I am unsure of how humanity constantly finds the courage to re-create ourselves, to move to new places, and to embrace that which is unfamiliar and uncomfortable – yet my experience on a college campus reminds me that we do – and that new generations journey to and evolve in these spaces in ways that ensure there is a constant supply of those who are trained and reminded to embrace the uncomfortable, to listen to the other, and to change ourselves in the process. And even when the campus journey is completed, our language reminds us that we must commence being that which the campus journey has challenged us to learn and become. Not partisans. Not zealots. Not bigots. Not callous. Not ignorant. Instead, fully human, peacemakers, respecters, activists, believers, allies, advocates, educators, helpers. Let us begin.
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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.