Students find unity in different faiths
Rachael Metzgar, a teenager who attends Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, didn’t know that Muslims removed their shoes before entering the mosque to worship.
Omar Abdelnaby, 13, who worships at the Islamic Center of Boise, didn’t know about the observance of Lent, when Christians remember the story of Jesus wandering the desert for 40 days.
Lexi Forbes, 12, who goes to First Congregational United Church of Christ in Boise, learned that at the Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel they have “this big scroll ... and they read from it.”
All three learned that and more about the faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity at an August summer camp that brought together about 20 young people — ages 8 to 14 — to spend a week learning about each others’ faiths.
Abdelnaby summed up what he learned this way: “Everybody is the same, and religions don’t really change the fact that we are people,” he said. “Some people shouldn’t really decide what the whole religion is just because of a couple of people.”
Abdelnaby’s response was just what the Rev. Kim Mislin Cran, at First Congregation Church, was hoping for. She worked with Beth Harbison, co-director of education and a teen adviser at the synagogue; Kiki Lyus, from the Islamic Center of Boise; and other adults to fashion an experience for children in which all three faiths were equal partners.
“We all wanted the same thing,” Cran said.
Across the country, amped-up rhetoric about keeping Muslims or refugees out of the country is creating tensions for faiths that are seen by many as different and threatening the dominant Christian culture. On a world stage, and even in the United States, religious groups are swept into unfolding tragedies such as the shootings in San Bernadino or in Paris.
In the face of hatred and killing, these Boise women looked for an avenue that was more inclusive, Cran said. “Maybe if we start with children,” she said.
“With all the tension going on in the (world) ... kids might feel alienated by different groups,” said Lyus. The interfaith camp was set for just before students went back to school, Lyus said. Camp coordinators hoped the camps would expose the youth to different faiths and help them feel more comfortable around other religions, she said.
They called their camp, held at the First Congregational Church, Under the Tent of Abraham, a reference to Abraham, considered the father of the three religions.
The notion for an interfaith camp grew out of a First Congregational program called the Peace Village, in which children studied about their religion and representatives from other faiths talked about their beliefs. The church taught acceptance of diversity and non-violence.
But the non-Christian faiths were part of someone else’s program, not planning it or having an equal role, Harbison said. Yet two or or three blocks away was the Islamic Center of Boise. And two miles south was the synagogue.
So the three came together. The result was the youth camp, where young people shared about their own faiths.
Metzgar drew a picture of a Menorah, a symbol of Hanukkah, which celebrates the rededication of the Temple after a successful Jewish revolt over the Greco-Syrians in 160 B.C.
At at the same time, she came to know Islam. “I learned you have to be really devoted to this religion,” she said. “You have to learn Arabic. You have to take classes every Sunday.”
On a visit to the synagogue as part of the camp, Abdelnaby saw the Torah, the five books of Moses central to Judaism.
“I was really surprised at how they wrapped it up and kept it so careful,” Abdelnaby said. “They think anything with God’s name on it or associated with God shouldn’t be harmed at all.”
Then he thought about how similarly Muslims treat the Koran, Islam’s sacred writings. “We are not supposed to put anything on top of it, for instance, because it is God’s sayings, and nothing can be on top of it.”
Creating the camp was a delicate process. All three faiths were represented, yet everyone had to be mindful of other people’s religions. When the campers told stories from their religion, they were mindful not to play the character of one of the prophets, which isn’t acceptable in Islam, said Lyus. Instead, she said, students might create a modern tale of the story they want to tell, or use a narrator.
By the week’s end, campers were friends. No sense of differences existed. “They are still kids so they don’t have bad feelings yet,” Abdelnaby said. “It’s nice to see people getting along even though their beliefs are different.”
Many left camp at the end of the week wanting to see their new friends again.
“Older kids want to learn more,” Harbison said.
Plans are underway for a camp next year. At the suggestion of some campers, the group will get together for an evening at the Islamic Center this fall.
“My hope is this will grow,” Harbison said.
Under the Tent of Abraham
Religious Freedom Conference: The Interfaith Alliance of Idaho holds its Pam Baldwin Memorial Annual Conference and Luncheon, “The Many Faces of Religious Freedom: Where’s the Balance?” from 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at the University of Idaho Law School Learning Center, 514 W Jefferson St. Ticket information at IdahoStatesman.com.