Listening to the Voices of Young People event for #SIFW19

The #SIFW19 event on Monday evening at Glasgow University was jointly organised by the Council of Christians and Jews and Interfaith Scotland. It was entitled ‘Listening to the Voices of Young People’, and what an inspiring evening it was. Introduced by the Head of the CCJ, it then took the form of two separate talks given by two young people of different faiths, followed by a question and answer session between members of the ‘audience’ and the two young people, then finally a discussion, led by given questions.

Steve Innes from the Council of Christians and Jews gave the opening introduction. He also spoke about the beginnings of Interfaith Scotland and who came up with the idea – namely, Isabel Smyth, a nun in the Catholic Church.

We were then treated to the first amazing and inspiring talk, given by the young 2nd year medical student Rumaisa. Rumaisa is a young Muslim, and having lived in three different countries growing up, mentioned that the topic and idea of identity was a very interesting one for her. She did also say that the Muslim Youth Community is a very diverse one due to many reasons, and so she would be speaking for herself and not on behalf of all young Muslims. This point I found very interesting and also rings true for my faith and I think all others.

It was fascinating to hear as Rumaisa put it ‘how she lives out her faith in her life’. For her this would be in everyday actions such as how she eats, dresses and treats others. For Muslim women there is the very visual aspect of their faith which is the hijab. It was very interesting to hear her take on the reasons for wearing it. Another aspect Rumaisa mentioned, which again I think people of all faiths can experience, is what she called ‘the battle against the ego’. God is the focus in her everyday actions and that battle against the ego meaning she needs to stay humble, not become self-obsessed and be always thinking of others.

Rumaisa also mentioned the views of others towards her. She mentioned how grateful she was for example, for the University to find her a space to say her prayers. She mentioned the acceptance of others when appreciating for example that she wouldn’t shake hands with a male outside her family. These were positive examples in a country where Islamophobia is unfortunately far too common and when the man in charge of the country himself makes anti-Islamic remarks. She also showed her huge appreciation for the Muslim community in the University and her friends who supported her. Mentioning the charity work that the Glasgow University Muslim Society does, she said ‘as part of a community, you can do so much good.’ Her everyday life was a constant balance between religious life and public life, and along with that, figuring out how far to take the rules and recommendations from the Qur’an in everyday situations.

Aparna gave us the second inspiring talk of the evening. She is a young Hindu who moved to Glasgow from India just two years ago, and since then has been working for Interfaith Scotland. In her introduction to Hinduism, she said that within the faith there are many varied ideas. And how you take these ideas is a very personal thing. For her, God is ‘energy everywhere in the universe’ and every Hindu will pray differently. Aparna was brought up in a religious family where going to the temple was the norm. After a short time of perhaps some uncertainty, she returned to her faith and to visiting the temple after she left home as she found in it a solace, ‘like a security blanket’.

As a Hindu, Aparna said she saw it as part of her faith to be sincere, charitable and try to live out her life as a good person. She also found that it challenged her ego, in particular when dealing with other people’s views of her. She soon found acceptance amongst her friends however, and visiting the temple soon became a group activity. Aparna has also found her faith to be very helpful, particularly with stress when she was at university.  She found the move to Scotland a big adjustment, as obviously temples aren’t as convenient as they are in India. Now however, she is part of a temple community and finds a real comfort in this, the community being like a surrogate family.

After these two amazing talks by two inspiring young ladies, we were invited to ask questions. There were many interesting questions ranging from how could more work be done in schools/with parents to teach them the importance of different people’s faiths, to how to deal with people making assumptions about your faith that aren’t always true and how people should act around customs of certain faiths that they may not be familiar with. Following this, we were given topics/further questions to discuss in our groups.

It would be impossible to cover all the fascinating thoughts, experiences and ideas from the evening here in this blog and I’m only glad I was able to go to this amazing event. For me the main overriding feeling I got from the evening was ‘As long as we are open to other people’s differences, these differences should be respected’. And the advice, to follow the golden rule of treating other people the way we want to be treated. ‘There is space for everyone.’

Heather MacIntyre – #SIFW19 Ambassador

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