“Interfaith” seems to be an obscure, meaningless term tossed around during conversations by many students at Andover. I speak from personal experience when I say that I did not fully understand the definition of the word Interfaith until this year, when Andover’s World Interfaith Harmony Week encouraged me to think more deeply about its meaning by reflecting on my own experiences.
My first interfaith experience took place when I was just a boy in mainland China. As a child of devout Christian parents, my faith set me apart from others. I could never go on playdates on Sunday mornings because I always went to church, and when my friends came over I had to remind them to be careful with their language when my parents were present. Although this sometimes resulted in confusion and ridicule from my peers, my classmates were mostly more curious than antagonistic. I answered questions about what Christians sang about in praise songs, how someone could come back from the dead and why we needed to go to church so much. When my friends were doubtful and less accepting of my religious beliefs, I would try to prove to them that my faith was significant. At first, I found it difficult to explain why I was a Christian – after all, that is a question that still makes me fumble for an answer – but through repeated attempts to explain my faith, I developed a more mature relationship with my beliefs. My friends and I respected each other, and I ended up asking them about the various traditions in Buddhism as well. I balanced sharing my own faith with learning about the history and specifics of Buddhism from friends and school.
It was also during elementary school when I first encountered Islam. My homeroom teacher was intent on introducing her students to as many aspects of the world as our young minds could handle. Up to that point, I had only heard of Islam from news reports, in the context of terrorist attacks and oppressive regimes. As a fourth-grader, I was surprised to learn about the complexities and beauty of Islam and was even more shocked that Allah is, in theory, the same God that exists in the Judeo-Christian faith. I was intrigued by the similar values that Islam and Christianity both preach, which include charity, compassion and piety. Upon attending boarding school, I was able to learn even more about Islam by interacting with Muslims here in America. I am grateful to have been introduced to Buddhist and Islamic traditions and to have learned from many different people who hold those beliefs.
I have found, through reflecting on my past experiences, that dialogue is central to both personal growth and community awareness of inclusion and diversity. My interactions with people from the Buddhist faith helped to broaden my horizons and helped me respect others’ views while maintaining a deep connection to my own faith. In the United States, my increased knowledge of Islam has also caused me to be more wary of the bias present in some news reports on the Middle East in regards to Islam. Interfaith dialogue is invaluable for Andover students to develop a better understanding of others and promote understanding and empathy.
Going forward, Andover must more prominently advertise interfaith conversations. By simply holding a week dedicated to interfaith and organizing interfaith events and discussions, Andover is already raising awareness on this topic. Nevertheless, participation in this dialogue remains voluntary for most, and not all students take advantage of this opportunity to grow. The school must, therefore, discuss religion more frequency in English classes, invite speakers to discuss this topic for All-School Meeting and have increased advertising for Interfaith Harmony Week to rally students to partake in interfaith learning and growth. I am now convinced of Interfaith Harmony Week’s ability to unite and strengthen the Andover community.