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Aamir Hussain (Georgetown) on Being Optimistic about Interfaith Cooperation

Georgetown University, 3 July 2012 (Berkley Center) - As part of the Millennial generation, I take great pride in the fact that our generation is the most diverse in history. In my own extended family, I am part of the first generation to be born on American soil, and for this reason, I identify with the American value of E Pluribus Unum. Recognizing our generation’s diversity as a strength reflects the sense that our commonalities as Americans are much greater than our differences. I am particularly interested in interfaith cooperation because I believe that it is an exemplary reflection of both my core American and Muslim values. In this era of division, examples of interfaith cooperation can be a powerful way to heal our nation. For this reason, I was particularly interested in viewing the interfaith movement and the Millennial generation through different perspectives.

I recently had the privilege of attending the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) Interfaith Leadership Institute in Chicago from June 18-June 21, 2012. Although this was my fourth time attending an Institute, it was a great opportunity for me to compare the experience with the amazing Millennial Values Symposium (MVS) just a few months ago.

In March, I had written that a culture of pessimism is our nation’s greatest challenge. After attending both of these conferences, I can easily say that Millennials are constantly providing a much-needed dose of optimism. For example, the IFYC is staffed almost entirely by members of the Millennial generation; their mission is to make “interfaith cooperation a social norm,” and regardless of the amount of hatred existing in America, they continue growing young interfaith leaders into a sustained social movement. Similarly, all of my fellow participants at the MVS seemed to treat the Millennial Values Survey as a call to action, rather than accepting it as the status quo. For example, when we learned that overall, Millennials tended to have slightly negative feelings Muslims, Mormons, and atheists, many of us began discussing possible interfaith dialogue events to hold on our campuses.

In both conferences, I was also struck by the pervading sense that dialogue wasn’t enough. Since too many of our nation’s leaders do nothing but pay lip service to the challenges facing our country, I am enthusiastic that Millennials seem to be looking for actual, practical solutions. At the MVS my friend Abigail Clauhs, while writing about rediscovering civil dialogue in America, constantly traded ideas with me about the best ways to integrate dialogue with community service. Indeed, the entire symposium was cast as a first step in the conversation about values; our goals as participants were to spread the discussion about our generation’s values to a wider audience on our campuses and mobilize support for the issues that were most salient to us. Likewise, at the IFYC Leadership Institute, dialogue was also only the first step; the IFYC Better Together campaign emphasized the importance of honestly voicing one’s opinions or values (whether or not they are guided by religion), and building connections with others based on these commonalities. The final component of this campaign was to “Act” on a social issue relevant to one’s campus.

I am incredibly optimistic about the future of interfaith action. This July, the White House will officially kick off the second year of President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, a call for American universities and colleges to engage in interfaith community service. This Challenge provides us, as Millennials, with an unprecedented opportunity for leadership on the national stage. Secondly, social media continually give us the tools to translate our generation’s enthusiasm for actual change by mobilizing our campuses around relevant social issues. If we take the time to reflect on our own personal values and articulate them in terms of social action, I am optimistic that there is nothing we can’t achieve.