Religions Come Together for Discussion at Northside’s ARISE Event
by S. Aleksander Black
At the Awareness for Religions and Islamophobia via Speaking and Educating event (ARISE), students and adults discussed common religious misconceptions in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, with the hopes of overcoming differences.
The event was organized by Ibraheem Khan, Adv 810, and took place on May 4, from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM. Intended to shed light on Islamophobia and promote interreligious peace, Northside’s community was invited to attend and listen to several cultural displays, along with a discussion panel and food.
The event began with a short film titled “Empty Pockets,” which won first place in the 2014 Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST) short films competition in Toronto. The movie entails the life of a young man who receives money in the mail. He becomes successful using the money, but then must come to terms with his actions when he interacts with a homeless man, and he remembers a core teaching of Islam: to give to those in need. The film reflects on the actions people take and what Islam values as a religion.
Northside's Deena Al-Ali, Adv. 001, performed a spoken piece which described the struggles of minority groups, especially in the context of the justice system. “A fair trial and jury for (a Palestinian boy) is a fantasy--the jurors look at him with disdain and apathy because the colors of their skin show no commonalities,” said Al-Ali. The poem aimed to raise awareness about the discrimination in the justice system and the innocent lives that are hurt because of it.
A traditional nasheed--a form of song that is iconic in Islam--was performed by Ozmar Khan. The song was inspired by the prophet Muhammad, and describes his beauty. Afterwards, the hosts transitioned into the discussion panel.
The discussion, which occupied the majority of the evening, had three participants: Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, Pastor Joel Settecase, and Mr. Michael Simon. Dr. Ahmed is the Director of GainPeace and President of Islamic Circle of North American (ICNA) Chicago. Pastor Settecase is the Pastor of Park Community Church and the author of “New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones.” Mr. Simon is the executive director of Northwestern University Hillel. The three of them introduced themselves and were then asked several questions about their religions, beliefs, and goals. They were all very polite to each other and had a complex discussion about the common misconceptions in each religion, the commonalities between the religions, and how people can work to overcome certain stigmas. “People have genuine fear about people of other faiths, races, cultures, and nationalities,” said Dr. Ahmed. “ Only through meeting face-to-face can many of these barriers drop.” Interfaith conversation is important because it helps develop truth, opens up connections to other people, and provides a fun way to interact with other people who one may not otherwise be familiar with. Engelica Santillan, Adv. 907, said that the discussion impacted her, because she now has “more of an urgency to learn about other faiths and how we can better this world.” It is important to focus on the similarities, not the differences.
The event wrapped up after a brief question-and-answer session with the speakers and the audience members. Everyone was invited to enjoy food afterwards, which ranged from samosas to small cookies. Most of the items had cultural ties to regions in the Middle East, India, and other nearby areas.
“Before ARISE, I really did not know what to expect,” said Santillan. “It invited me to be more curious about other religions and made me feel free to ask more questions about religion in general.” The general reception of the audience seemed positive, according to the organizers. “I personally thought it went really well, especially since many people told us they really enjoyed it,” said Khan. “I think there's always room for improvement. One of the critiques was a need for more diversity of genders on the panel. Although we reached out to female panelists, most weren't able to come. I definitely do think it'd be a great thing to prioritize this for the event's successors.”
The event had many sponsors, including: Subway, Serena Restaurant, Mughal Bakery, Bismillah Restaurant, Ghareeb Nawaz, and Khan B.B.Q. When reflecting on what inspired him to start planning the event back in September, Khan said, “Through the Bezos Scholars Program, we traveled to Colorado for the Aspen Ideas Festival. I saw a bunch of really cool and inspiring speakers and talks, but perhaps the most captivating was Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University. His talk ranged from tackling how faith can help unite us in a time where we are so sociopolitically divided, to a discussion on mending Jewish-Muslim relations. Speaking to him personally, I saw that he did more than just talk about the faith--he embodied Islam. And I think that is the best way to combat Islamophobia in this day and age. This imbued in me a desire to learn more about the faith and helped me learn that fostering a dialogue with others is one of the best ways to learn not just about my own religion, but about others as well.” The event’s focus on discussion proved extremely relevant in an age when people are prepared to fight over the smallest of disagreements. “I think in a time where misconceptions are rampant and barriers are being erected between faiths (and within them too), speaking with one another is a necessity,” Khan concluded.