Teens Discover That Embracing Diversity Creates New Friendships

Eighty teens gathered at the Islamic Center of Long this past Tuesday evening, to launch an Inter-Faith Initiative entitled “Embrace Diversity.” Jewish and Christians teens came to join their peers in celebrating the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, and to break the fast together.

Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders created this program as a response to religious intolerance after swastikas and other anti-Semitic sentiments were found on the Syosset High School building earlier this year. They felt that the best response would be to foster relationship building, and give teens an opportunity to embrace the diversity of our faith traditions.

“Youth can bring forth the movement,” said Dr. Isma Chaudhry, chair of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. “Their understanding is very pure. They are still at the stage where life is not complicated by politics, life is not complicated by global, convoluted issues.”

For two hours a room full of strangers transformed into a room of friends, as teens participated in ice breakers, shared texts about diversity from their sacred scriptures, and learned about the sacred holiday of Ramadan. One of the highlights of the evening were the speed meetings. Fashioned after speed dating, the teens lined up in rows for minute long conversations about facilitator-led questions. The questions began with favorite movies, hobbies, and family traditions, and questions they have about one another’s faith. Teens explained that they were amazed with all they had in common. One Muslim student was surprised to learn that the reasons Jews wear yarmulkes on their heads are similar to the reason Muslim women wear hijabs. “It made me realize how alike we really are,” he said, “and how thankful I am to have this opportunity.” “I think it is fantastic that Jewish, Christian and Muslim teens can get together to learn about each other and to learn that we are all created in God’s image, and that by learning about each other’s faiths, we will also find out that there are so many similarities,” said Rabbi Jay Weinstein, co-chair of the council. Tuesday’s event “proved that embracing diversity enriches humanity.”

The night concluded as Muslim teens participated in their evening prayer, and teens broke the fast together over a buffet of delicious food.

Leaders are already planning to continue the series in the fall. In September, teens will meet at Midway Jewish Center during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and then in early winter they will meet at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cold Spring Harbor, in preparation for Christmas. These events aim to foster relationship building and mutual respect for one another’s faith traditions. Leaders of faith believe that when we learn about each other, we discover many of our similarities and that we are all children of God.

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