It’s 5:00 AM and I wake up to a loud voice in Arabic signifying the call to prayer. I look out the window over the mosque and think of the Muslims waking up to pray and begin their day with worship. Although I am not a Muslim, it calls me to a sense of peace and respect. I have experienced this in many places, from Turkey to Indonesia, and I cannot help but feel inspired each time.
This past summer as I sat on a Buddhist temple in the middle of Myanmar with a young girl named GeGe, I was overcome with appreciation and a new sense of clarity. I looked out at the hundreds of temples in various sizes that covered Bagan, and listened to GeGe tell me what the temple meant for her and her family. Protecting the temple gave her a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and happiness. She expressed her love for it, and I couldn’t help but think of the love I have for the temples of my own religion. Our lives couldn’t be more different, but what brought us peace and joy was fundamentally the same: our religions.
Religion has been the most powerful force of good in my life. As I have witnessed the hope and strength it brings people of all religions, I have developed a deep appreciation and respect for different religions than my own. My time at Chapman has brought me many experiences to be inspired by those of different faiths. Interfaith work has enriched my life in ways I never imagined.
Recently I was in the meditation room in the Interfaith Center, praying and studying, seeking comfort and peace during a stressful time. Within the hour I spent in the room, I had one of the most powerful experiences of my life. As I sat in silence, I watched a Muslim student come in to pray, while another student sat meditating, and another studying from their religious text. That moment, when students of different faiths all occupied the same small room, seeking peace and fulfilling their spiritual desires, I felt so connected and united with them. I did not know any of them by name, or their individual circumstances, but I knew the pursuit of peace brought us all together. In a world where many believe that our different beliefs are the cause of conflict and hatred, I witnessed first hand that mutual respect and co-existence are not only possible, but are natural. When politics and stereotypes are pushed aside, the powerful truth of our similarities and collective search for peace is stronger than any difference.
Whether seeing others pray in a Mosque in Istanbul, being in a temple with a young Buddhist in Myanmar, or sitting in the meditation room at Chapman, I have developed love for religion and interfaith work. I feel an immense amount of gratitude to be at a university where I am comfortable to live my beliefs and witness others do the same. As the world thirsts for peace and unity, I know that desire can be quenched as we open our eyes and hearts to those around us and realize the incredible power we have when we use our differences to strengthen each other. I stand as a witness to the truth that there is no end to the positive change that interfaith work can bring, whether at this university, in this country, or simply in the life of a single student.