What Does Interfaith Engagement Mean to Religious Millennials? Response from Hamdi Abdi

The perspective of seasoned Atlanta community and faith leaders within the discussion of interfaith engagement is invaluable. But it is equally important to shine a light on new, fresh voices in this conversation. To this end, we are excited to introduce a four-part blog series sharing the thoughts of three young interfaith leaders in AtlantaBrittani Magee, Amanda Wolkin, and Hamdi Abdi met during a dialogue dinner at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology last spring and come from varying religious backgrounds. They will each be tapping into their unique perspectives as religious young adults to discuss what interfaith engagement means to them within today’s social, political, and societal context. Be sure to stay tuned for the fourth, final post in this series detailing their collaborative call to action for the Atlanta interfaith community.


RESPONSE FROM HAMDI ABDI

Describing what “interfaith” is in explicit terms is a fairly difficult task. It’s tough to envision a scenario where you can neatly package everything that makes up the belief system that is Islam or Judaism or Christianity and meaningfully enmesh it with another similarly complicated belief. However, I’m still a huge believer in interfaith work and engagement because of the direct impact it has had on my life and my understanding of myself and others.

My undergrad at Trinity College was a dark time for me. By my sophomore year, I was engulfed in feelings of isolation that made even leaving my dorm a trying task, and I had a habit of dropping out of my friends’ lives for weeks when I felt overwhelmed that did not help matters. I told myself it was just how I coped with the stress, but I actually had no idea what was going on with me. It took no shortage of individuals to pull me up to where I could stand once again, but the person that helped me make the best sense of it was the college chaplain. At Trinity we had an Interfaith House (formally the Charleston House of Interfaith Cooperation) where we held monthly dinner discussions about the common threads that ran through the participants’ faith traditions regarding themes such as love, justice, liberation, etc. The conversations were insightful, the food we catered was delicious, and a fun time was had by all. To be honest, I’ve forgotten most of what was said, but what was lasting was the sense of community I felt in that time and the relationships I made. I met Chaplain Allison Read through the House, who talked me through a crisis I had never experienced in my bubble of a home in Georgia. There was nothing missing between us or impeding her from reaching through to me. And there was no pressure or competition to grapple our faiths against each other. It was just us communicating.

It’s easy for people to commune over having similar identities, including religious identity. It’s much more difficult to do that in terms of knowledge. At the House, we all made a commitment to come together and learn from each other and at least my life has been richer for it. I ultimately hope to continue developing the same sort of compassion and understanding for others that these people had for me because this interfaith experience changed my life.


Hamdi Abdi is a graduate of Madina Institute Seminary and Trinity College, in which both she found a home in great ideas and even greater people. She credits her undergrad for introducing her to interfaith as a concerted practice through three years at the Charleston House of Interfaith Cooperation and black women for everything else. She believes an empathetic understanding of people is necessary for meaningful progress towards a more just world, which is more work than she bargained for. But she’s willing to make it work.

What Does Interfaith Engagement Mean to Religious Millennials? Response from Amanda Wolkin

The perspective of seasoned Atlanta community and faith leaders within the discussion of interfaith engagement is invaluable. But it is equally important to shine a light on new, fresh voices in this conversation. To this end, we are excited to introduce a four-part blog series sharing the thoughts of three young interfaith leaders in AtlantaBrittani Magee, Amanda Wolkin, and Hamdi Abdi met during a dialogue dinner at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology last spring and come from varying religious backgrounds. They will each be tapping into their unique perspectives as religious young adults to discuss what interfaith engagement means to them within today’s social, political, and societal context. Be sure to stay tuned for the fourth, final post in this series detailing their collaborative call to action for the Atlanta interfaith community.


RESPONSE FROM AMANDA WOLKIN

Two years ago, with only a bag, a passport, and a blind sense of adventure, I boarded a 27-hour flight to Malaysia. At the time, I didn’t know where I’d be living, who I’d be teaching, or how I’d fare over the next 10 months as a Fulbright grantee. Would I like the food? Would I get along with my school community? And – as the lingering voice of fear in my head reminded me – would I feel safe as a Jew in a Muslim community?

Before I got off the plane, I made the decision to keep my religious identity a secret. I told myself it was a matter of safety when, in reality, it was a matter of dialogue. Over the next year, as I lived and worked in a Muslim community, I learned extensively about the Islamic faith. I dressed in traditional baju kurung, accompanied my students to their family Iftars, and began asking questions about the Qur’an. Before long, I realized one simple truth: although our faiths were different, our values were not. These kind people had become my family, no matter our belief systems.

Before I left, I sat down with my closest friend, a Muslim co-teacher, and told her I was Jewish. She sat, stared, and then wrapped me in a hug. I was the first Jew she had ever met. Coming back to America, I was determined to continue engaging in this interfaith dialogue. After all, in a political climate when so much is misunderstood or overgeneralized, it’s essential to truly engage in these conversations. Behind the labels, we are all people: people to listen to, learn from, and understand together.


Amanda Wolkin is passionate about education and writing: two fields that have led her quite literally around the world. While an Atlanta native, Amanda studied Creative Writing and Urban Education at the University of Pennsylvania before embarking on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Malaysia. In the small town of Kuching, Sarawak, Amanda taught creative writing to middle school students and eventually launched the first English-language writing competition sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. Since moving back to Atlanta, Amanda has worked extensively in both the non-profit and marketing sector. She now combines these skillsets as a content strategist at Jackson Spalding, where she advises on social strategy and non-profit/corporate social responsibility marketing.

Interfaith Leadership for the 21st Century: Two events with Imam Abdullah Antepli at Candler School of Theology

What is the future of interfaith engagement in an increasingly diverse and politically polarized American society? What challenges will religious and civic leaders face as the 21st century progresses? What steps should young people in Atlanta take to develop enduring and meaningful multifaith relations?  

Candler School of Theology at Emory University and the Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation will host two events on November 1, 2017, to explore the challenges and opportunities for interfaith initiatives in Atlanta and across the United States. Students, young professionals, clergy, and members of the Atlanta community are invited to a lunchtime lecture and an evening dinner workshop with Imam Abdullah Antepli, Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs at Duke University.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

11:00 AM-12:45 PM – Lunch Lecture

“Between Fear and Hope: The Future of Interfaith Engagement”

Candler School of Theology, Room 252

6:30-8:30 PM – Dinner Workshop

“Dismantling Bias and Hate: Steps for Building Meaningful Multifaith Relations”

Candler School of Theology, Room 102

Both events will be held at Candler School of Theology (Rita Anne Rollins Building, 1531 Dickey Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322) and are free and open to the public, with registration required. Kosher and halal meal options will be available.

Register online by noon on October 25 at http://tinyurl.com/Antepli-Events.

Abdullah Antepli is the Chief Representative of Muslim Affairs at Duke University, where he previously served as first Muslim chaplain from July 2008 to 2014. Imam Antepli completed his basic training and education in his native Turkey. From 1996-2003 he worked on a variety of faith-based humanitarian and relief projects in Myanmar (Burma) and Malaysia with the Association of Social and Economic Solidarity with Pacific Countries. He is the founder and an executive board member of the Association of College Muslim Chaplains (ACMC) and a board member of the Association for College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA). From 2003 to 2005 he served as the first Muslim chaplain at Wesleyan University. He then moved to Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, where he was the associate director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program & Interfaith Relations, as well as an adjunct faculty member. In his current work at Duke, Antepli engages students, faculty, and staff across and beyond campus through seminars, panels, and other avenues to provide a Muslim voice and perspective to the discussions of faith, spirituality, social justice, and more. Imam Antepli also serves as a faculty member in the Duke Divinity School, teaching a variety of courses on Islam and Muslim cultures.

What Does Interfaith Engagement Mean to Religious Millennials? Response from Brittani Magee

The perspective of seasoned Atlanta community and faith leaders within the discussion of interfaith engagement is invaluable. But it is equally important to shine a light on new, fresh voices in this conversation. To this end, we are excited to introduce a four-part blog series sharing the thoughts of three young interfaith leaders in AtlantaBrittani Magee, Amanda Wolkin, and Hamdi Abdi met during a dialogue dinner at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology last spring and come from varying religious backgrounds. They will each be tapping into their unique perspectives as religious young adults to discuss what interfaith engagement means to them within today’s social, political, and societal context. Be sure to stay tuned for the fourth, final post in this series detailing their collaborative call to action for the Atlanta interfaith community.

RESPONSE FROM BRITTANI MAGEE

In a world that is more interconnected than any other time in human history, I have observed that many people continue to perceive “the other” in stereotypical or uninformed ways. Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it best in her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” where she notes that the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. While this observation can be applicable in many contexts, it is particularly accurate in the context of faith. As a Christian seminary student, I have experienced my share stereotypes, harsh critiques and uncomfortable conversations. On many instances when I tell someone that I am a theology student, somehow in their mind I transform from being an average person to embodying every wrong thing that the church has ever done. I must also be an expert on the most minute details of scripture and be prepared to provide definitive insight into the most polarizing of topics.

So often in these moments I wish that the person would be willing to pause and hear what my faith means to me. From their perspective, faith and belief systems are corrupt and divisive. On the contrary, I have found that faith has brought me a joy, freedom and compassion for others that I would not have thought possible. In place of the bitterness and self-loathing that shrouded my mind as an adolescent, when I felt God’s presence for the first time, it was like breathing air after drowning for so long. What humbled me was not just that God saw me and understood me when no one else did, but that God loved me enough not to leave me where I was. What has followed since then has been a journey filled with highs and lows, victories and defeats, joys and sorrows. Yet unlike before, I am not journeying by myself; God is with me in my moments where I am soaring among mountain tops but also when I have reached the deepest pit of despair. That is what my faith means to me.

Consequently, I find that it is imperative that I engage in interfaith dialogue with others. Not as a means of arguing or coming to a specific conclusion, but to allow a space where the voices and experiences of individuals in other faiths can be shared. By simply allowing our perceptions of the “other” to be gleaned from the media, we reflexively will come to simplistic conclusions that perpetuate stereotypes, fear and mistrust. Faith has a way of not only shaping our perceptions of the self but also how we perceive and interact with the world. While we may not agree with each other, I believe that having respect and compassion for others should be the lens from which we interact with our fellow humans. As Sojourner Truth so aptly stated, “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.”


Brittani Glynn Magee is a third year Masters of Divinity student at Emory University. Magee attended Agnes Scott College as an undergraduate majoring in International Relations, where she developed an interest in studying how women contributions to peace negotiations impact reconciliation in post conflict societies. Both her classroom and study abroad experiences have helped her identify various patterns and connections between women empowerment and communal reconciliation. Her master’s program has enabled her to pursue a theological study of justice and peacebuilding while also actively addressing the needs of marginalized communities, such as refugees and women. One such way she hopes to achieve this is through the power of storytelling as a method to bridge the cultural and religious gaps within divided communities. In addition to her interests in post-conflict reconciliation and women empowerment, Magee enjoys painting canvases and playing with her Yorkie puppy, Koda.

Atlanta Spirituality Conference with Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor focuses on Living with Religious Difference

The Cathedral of St. Philip will be hosting a Spirituality Conference featuring the Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor on October 28 entitled, Holy Envy: Learning to Live with Religious Difference.

This one day conference will explore how religious pluralism challenges and deepens Christian identity in a world of many (and no) faiths. More about this event:

“Fifty years ago, only international explorers, foreign missionaries, or soldiers deployed overseas encountered people of vastly different faiths. Now anyone with a computer can go on a virtual Hajj to Mecca or learn meditation from a Zen master online. Spirituality has become as global as trade, raising all sorts of questions for people who never had cause to think about how many ways there are to approach the divine. What is a Christian to do? Barbara Brown Taylor has some ideas, based on teaching world religions to college students over the past twenty years. Join us for an introduction to “holy envy” and a few other rules of religious understanding.

Barbara Brown Taylor is a New York Times best-selling author, college professor, and Episcopal priest. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, won a 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Her last book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, was featured on the cover of TIME magazine. She has served on the faculty of Piedmont College since 1998 as the Butman Professor of Religion and has been a guest speaker at Emory, Duke, Princeton, and Yale, as well as a guest on SuperSoul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey. Taylor and her husband Ed live on a farm in the foothills of the Appalachians, sharing space with wild turkeys, red foxes, white-tailed deer, and far too many chickens.”

Find more information and purchase tickets here.