10/04/2012 01:13 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2012

The Power of Healing in Interfaith Relations

The Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace) said, "There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment" (Hadith).

Often when I reflect upon this Hadith I think of the role of brokenness/healing, not just of the human body but also the capacity of a believer to be an agent of change for healing in his/her community and for his or her speech, conduct and action as ways to spread goodness in the world.

Recently, when I was on the teaching team for a fellowship program on comparative theologies we discussed why someone might be attracted to do work to reconcile and build peace between communities. Many theories abounded: Some scholars pointed out that individuals may have seen a lack within their own tradition and sought out others. Some discussed the notion that one may be so full with love of their own tradition that this abundance allowed for a confidence and capacity to do interfaith work.

On the Vision of Brokenness

For me, a third option arose. I rested a bit upon this thought: That there are people who are endowed with a gift to see the brokenness of the human condition when we engage in violence either figurative or literal against one another. For those in this third category, their personal connection to their faith was not the impetus for interfaith engagement. Their capacity to see brokenness and their willingness to acknowledge it was a reason to reach out to others. Ultimately, some of us find within our faith paradigms deep connections to our unique paths that instigate a form of self healing and an imperative to work with others who are called to build peace. This common vision is not necessarily an agreement on how to achieve a joint peace, but a communal recognition that unless we do collaborate for peace, with each group accessing its separate, distinct and indigenous methods and reasons for doing so, we are doomed to remain in a state of brokenness for all humanity.

Common Bonds of Yearning

The affinity I felt with others within my community and across groups was the recognition of our interdependence upon each other for a yearning for wholeness in our dealings with one another. In the week with my colleagues in this interfaith gathering of professors, we saw the pain we might have caused one another in the past, we felt the present pain we might be causing and that we were in a space that was to build the infrastructure to interrupt these patterns of damaging actions against one another. We are in a conversation with each other over the course of more than a year, and I am interested to see whether our relations with one another continue to be honest in terms of the hurts we choose to talk about.

We had different languages, sometimes exclusive of one another in how we described this mandate for peacebuilding. We had separate communities, we may even have had separate realities. The river that ran through our stream of humanity in that moment and in moments where relationships transform was the obligation we felt for hoping that we might change our course of toxic interfaith relations. We learned the words that may have beautiful meanings to one group can have terrifying meanings to another. There was a constant form of translation that occurred when someone said something that was not understood. A pause, a moment to listen and a willingness to explain.

Beyond Hope

We dared to dream of another world rather than the one that existed before us. We pushed ourselves to find resources within our own interpretations of reality and our religions, that were already there, sometimes apparent, sometimes hidden from view to support our self healing. Collectively, we reconstituted a new reality in which life was valued in operationalizing mercy through human interactions. Of course, there are limitations to this micro-world we co-created for a week. However, the fact that a group of professors who are now teachers in many settings are carrying this message of healing forward makes me hopeful that it is a step in the road towards a long term strategy for peacebuilding.

Some questions still linger with me: Can our internal hurts obscure our individual abilities to have empathy for others? Can we develop a monopoly on ownerships of pain that exclude an individual from recognizing another's humanity? What is the way forward to honor our histories, past and present, in relationship with one another? How does one remind one's self that God is the ultimate healer and call upon Him for the guidance to perform the religious obligation of peacebuilding? What are the physical and psychological costs of deep empathy when recognizing brokenness in others? Can the spiritual aspect of one's life and faith expand (instead of contract) one's mandate and capacity for empathy?