Reflection on MYG Interfaith Young Leaders Initiative
By: Marwa Abdelghani
It’s amazing how some young adults don’t mind waking up at 6 a.m. early in the morning ontheir first days of summer. It’s amazing how there are still some teenagers that feel the need toand want to wake up early just to attend an Interfaith workshop. It’s beautiful how our futureleaders want to grow and learn about their peers’ faiths and religions. What would I call this?Dedication. Courage. Knowledge. Diversity. A blessing. I call it an Aaya from the Qur’an: “Ohmankind! Lo! We have created you male and female from Adam and Eve, and have made younations and tribes so that you may know one another” (49:13). On June 25th, 26th, and 27th, theInterfaith Youth Leadership Initiative linked arms with New Vision Partners to hold a three-day seminar at the University of Southern California’s Religious Center. The program aimedfor young adults in high school and in college to come together and represent the diversebackgrounds and faiths that they come from. Providing us with breakfast in the morning toenergize the students and lunch in the afternoon, the organizers of this event gave up their time togive our youth the opportunity to interact and share their religious experiences. As a participantin the program, I really enjoyed meeting new individuals that made me realize how similar weare and how much we defy society’s common thought of differentiating all of our belief systems.Many of our youth discovered that we all have similar struggles growing up and share the manymisconceptions that others have of us and of our faiths.
On the first day of this program, students strolled into the plaza at around 9 a.m., signed in,attached their name tags, grabbed a bite to eat, and were ready to roll. Director Steve Wiebeintroduced himself and the rest of the program to the kids and stepped right into it by givingus the chance to partner up and meet new people. This awesome icebreaker continued everymorning for the three days where we interviewed each other on different questions that tookus all to a very personal level. This was a chance to break the barriers that we all felt separatedus from one another and allowed us to connect right away. The rest of the day was spentsocializing, grouping together to discuss our different faiths and beliefs, eating, and last but notleast, we visited a Buddhist Temple not too far away. There, we all sat down in the pews andwere presented with a Buddhist preacher who openly discussed with us what the Buddhist faithreally means.
On the second day of the camp, guest speaker Valerie Kaur spoke about her journey into findingher faith as a Sikh. Her way of delivering this moving experience was through storytelling whichcaptivated the audience and even made a few tear up. Later in the day, we visited my secondhome, the Islamic Center of Southern California. My youth coordinator, Soha Yassine, who alsoworked with the IYLI Committee in helping to put this program together, took the students ona tour through the mosque. She first introduced the basics of Islam, as well as sharing her ownpersonal story about how she grew up finding herself as a Muslim woman. After the visit tothe Islamic Center, the students were on their way to another exciting part of the program. TheSanta Monica Pier! As soon as we arrived, we were given a scavenger hunt that really let thekids learn about the pier’s history and the different shops that occupy it. We were then givenunlimited passes on the rides and food cards that filled us up and satisfied our need for those epic adrenaline rushes!
On the third and final day of this program, we were visited by a delegate from an interfaithcoalition project working for labor equality in Los Angeles spoke to the youth about her workwith improving employment conditions across the city. We then walked over to St. John’sCathedral and enjoyed the beautiful architecture and art that the church had inside of it. Wereturned for lunch and later created canvases of art that represent how our faiths can positivelyaffect society through mercy and justice. This fun activity allowed us to work together toproduce pieces of art that reflect our thoughts on religion. We ended the day with a mini-graduation ceremony in which each student was awarded $100 for their effort and participationin this successful program. This opportunity that we were given truly was a blessing from God, Alhamdulilah. To be able to work with people of other faiths peacefully and warm-heartedlymade me thank Allah for all that he has provided us with. I look forward to working more withthe IYLI and partnering them with our own Muslim Youth Group to do more interfaith work inthe future.