By Jay Conley
How does your faith help you change the world? That question was addressed Wednesday evening at the 12th annual Interfaith Dinner at GW’s Marvin Center. The dinner’s theme this year was “Faith and Freedom: A discussion about religion and social justice.”
Students representing GW’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Jewish Student Association, Muslim Student Association, Sikh Student Association, GW Catholics at the Newman Center, the Secular Society and Satyam, a student organization that focuses on Hinduism awareness, were on hand to shed light on the efforts that their organizations are taking to spread and preserve social justice and improve the world within GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus and beyond.
The annual dinner highlights GW’s diverse religious communities and tradition of tolerance, respect, open dialogue and cooperation. The tradition of hosting an interfaith dinner began shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, the Muslim Student Association and the Jewish Student Association have become the fundamental organizations that come together each year to share a meal and embrace their diversity. A growing number of student groups representing different faiths and traditions have joined the event each year, noted George Washington President Steven Knapp in his remarks at Wednesday’s dinner.
“Just as George Washington was a person of faith and a champion of freedom,” said Dr. Knapp, “the process of building a community at GW is one that continually goes on.”
Timothy Kane, associate director for inclusion initiatives at GW’s Multicultural Student Services Center, set the stage for the evening’s discussion.
“The theme of tonight’s gathering raises many important questions,” he said. “How does our faith call us to embrace our freedom? How does our freedom call us to work for social justice for all people? Are faith, freedom and social justice at times incompatible?”
Referring to the March on Washington during the civil rights movement 50 years ago, Mr. Kane said, “the themes of faith, freedom and social justice joined in a peaceful and poignant interfaith display right here in the heart of our nation’s capital. And yet, our struggle to understand, to celebrate and to empower each other continues.”
This year’s dinner also included a social media component to encourage a dialogue among the guests. During the dinner portion, audience members were encouraged to tweet an answer to “How does your faith help you change the world?” using the hash tag “#gwinterfaith.”
One student speaker, senior Aabid M. Mohiuddin, president of the Muslim Student Association, said that waves of social reform spread from individual acts.
“Social justice in Islam is to first do right by God and then yourself,” he said. “Social justice in Islam here at GW means that if you call for an end to world hunger, you start by feeding that homeless man outside of Whole Foods.”
“Immediate change occurs at the individual level,” he added. “And it is upon this first commitment to justice that God gives his blessing, and causes entire communities, entire nations to redirect themselves toward the just cause, toward justice.”
Building on that theme, junior Joey Saban, development chair for the Jewish Student Association, said he learned in high school to live by the motto: Write your own story. “The concept behind it is based on the idea that as we go through our lives, the moments that grow to define us as individuals will by and large shape the stories that we will grow to tell to those who will one day take our place. Every moment in our lives will always be what we make of it. The lives which we live tomorrow will be determined by the actions we take today.”