Where Muslims are a learning experience

ith their strong diversity of faiths, college campuses are essential training grounds to teach tomorrow’s leaders about interfaith cooperation, including engagement with Muslims.

Muslim students pray before a rally against Islamophobia at San Diego State University in San Diego, California, Nov. 23.

Last Sunday, in a Thanksgiving ceremony, a group of students at Bowdoin College in Maine performed an unusual act – unusual, that is, in light of the American debate over accepting more Muslim refugees fleeing Islamic State. They held an interfaith service, focused on gratitude, with readings and prayers by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike.

In their variety of faiths, college campuses may be the most diverse places in the United States, a country that is already the world’s most religiously diverse and also the most devout in the Western world. Yet as in much of the US, Muslim students on campuses are not widely welcomed. A recent survey by two professors, Alyssa Bryant Rockenbach and Matthew Mayhew, found only 46 percent of students say Muslims are accepted.

If Americans are ever to embrace the country’s Muslim minority or generously accept Muslim immigrants, a change in attitude will need to take root at colleges and universities. That is where tomorrow’s civic and religious leaders are being trained. Achieving a diversity of faiths on campus is not enough. Schools must also help students build trust and understanding between those of different religions.

Since 9/11, hundreds of schools of higher education have searched for ways to reduce the isolation of Muslim students and to prevent discrimination against them. In a few colleges, controversies have erupted after Muslims were given public space for Islamic prayers. In others, students and faculty have found ways to foster interfaith cooperation, such as the Bowdoin Thanksgiving service. At the University of Maryland, College Park, Muslim students recently invited non-Muslim students to wear a hijab for a day.

Since 2010, the White House has nudged schools to act through a program called Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. And a Chicago-based organization, Interfaith Youth Core, has trained thousands of students on ways to resolve religious differences and work together for common goals.

One of the group’s techniques to help dispel misconceptions and shed light on different religions is to pair up students for quick discussions about each person’s faith (or nonfaith), much like speed dating.

Colleges that encourage students to engage with others of different faiths can help resolve the political debate over how to treat Muslims who wish to find refuge in America. A nation founded on the Pilgrim experience should know how.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Where Muslims are a learning experience
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today