My first encounter with interfaith dialogue occurred many years ago at an event I created and coordinated. I remember listening a Muslim woman, same age as me, a mother and professional teacher, sharing about her faith and values in front of an audience of mostly Lutheran Christians and other citizens of the town she was not familiar with, in a room inside a public library. For many of the participants, that event was their first face to face encounter with a person of other faith living in Finland, and that room at a public Library a safe space for them to increase their knowledge.
Reflecting to this event now, I know I could not repeat it similarly again today. The needs of people, and the whole society, the context we live in Finland, has changed. The methodologies, aims and levels of engagement used in an interfaith dialogue have changed, too.
These past 3 months as FELM Volunteer I have seen the impact Al Amana Centre has for people participating in its programs. I have read testimonies where participants have shared their learning and findings. I have seen the results from emphasizing face to face encounters, the practical and personal levels of engagement and encouraging sharing and learning from each other´s own lived religion. I have come to respect Al Amana Centre for methodologies used in interfaith dialogue, the aims and goals set for the encounters, the levels of engagement offered for participants, and that safe space created for everyone who visits.
But the need for interfaith dialogue is increasing everywhere. The need to create new interfaith dialogue methodologies is immediate. In today´s world, people are more likely to walk away from each other than towards each other. They are more likely to dismiss or only tolerate than have a genuine interest about the person of other faith.
Events designed only to increasing knowledge about the other, like the one I once initiated, are no longer enough. We need to increase exchange in fields of academic and theological studies, and develop influential projects in the communities people of faith share and care for, together.
I will be following up on Al Amana Centre this starting season, and the coming years. It will be interesting to see how their contributions, continues efforts and new innovations, will build new bridges between people who have lost their trust with one another, and new ways to help reconcile conflicts and differences. – How Al Amana Centre will continue to build trust and peace in this world.
Virpi Paulanto, M.Th
FELM Volunteer May-July 2021