Date: 08 June 2017
Shoshi Singer, the current President of Oxford University JSoc, shares her encouraging story of an Interfaith Formal held at Christ Church College.
As the bells chimed 6, our evening began. On Tuesday, May 16, Christ Church graciously welcomed the attendees of the Abrahamic Interfaith Formal. Students were invited to arrive early and experience an Evensong that took place in their Cathedral. Participants of all faiths respectfully attended, taking in the sounds and sights and noting the similarities of the Bible readings and blessings for peace and harmony. The chaplain took special care to offer an interfaith prayer, making us feel particularly welcome in this space. Our evening continued with drinks in the Ante-hall and a Formal dinner in the magnificent Christ Church Hall. Faith-based questions were placed on the table and served as icebreakers to guide intentional and meaningful conversation. A mixture of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu students mingled seamlessly throughout the dinner with conversation ranging from coursework and college life, to faith-based conversations such as ritual practices, religious names, gender roles, and religious accommodation. All dietary requirements were handled with ease and subsidised by the Venerable Arch Deacon, Martin Gorick, making it possible for many religious students to engage in an otherwise impossible experience.
After satisfying both our physical and spiritual needs, we transitioned to our second part of the evening through taking group photos on the famous, Harry Potter stairs. Small table groups broke off to take their own “selfies” and photos as if to set in stone their new, budding friendships. Slowly, participants made their way to the lecture room, to hear from our wonderful speakers: Rabbi Michael Rosenfeld-Schueler, Reverend Clare Hayns of Christ Church, and Hassaan Shawawy, a current Rhodes scholar reading Islamic Studies. Each shared their spiritual journey and talked a bit about their current projects. It was particularly moving to hear how each of them became more observant and how different stages of their lives continue to impact their religiosity.
As the evening progressed, the time for evening prayer was drawing near. Individually, Muslim students mentioned that they would need to step out for their evening prayer. Unfortunately, we had not sorted this out ahead of time, and in the future we certainly will. However, the lack of preparedness ended up leading to a beautiful and spontaneous event. On a whim, we took an intermission from the speakers and progressed to pray. Separated by a line of tables, two faiths prayed their evening prayers, Muslim students prayed maghrib and Jewish students prayed maariv. The sounds of prayer reverberated throughout the room, as students prayed to their God in their respective languages. Post prayer, we resumed with a panel and an opportunity for Q&A. Students asked a variety of questions, with the final question regarding how to engage in serious interfaith relations in the future. Each leader provided us with a different answer, one suggested we discuss our similarities and another challenged us to engage with “the elephant in the room” the Israel/Palestine conflict. Students walked away feeling up for the challenges and excited for the work we can do together in bridging our communities. I feel remarkably blessed to have worked with Amna Ali of New College and other members of the Oxford University Islamic Society board. We are grateful to have had a hand in such a project and cannot wait to see what our multi-faith future holds!