Boise faiths reach for common ground through a summer camp for children

interfaith-singing-1Rachael Metzgar, a teenager who attends Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, didn’t know that Muslims removed their shoes before entering the mosque to worship.

Omar Abdelnaby, 13, who worships at the Islamic Center of Boise, didn’t know about the observance of Lent, when Christians remember the story of Jesus wandering the desert for 40 days.

Lexi Forbes, 12, who goes to First Congregational United Church of Christ in Boise, learned that at the Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel they have “this big scroll … and they read from it.”

All three learned that and more about the faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity at an August summer camp that brought together about 20 young people — ages 8 to 14 — to spend a week learning about each others’ faiths.

Abdelnaby summed up what he learned this way: “Everybody is the same, and religions don’t really change the fact that we are people,” he said. “Some people shouldn’t really decide what the whole religion is just because of a couple of people.”

Abdelnaby’s response was just what the Rev. Kim Mislin Cran, at First Congregation Church, was hoping for. She worked with Beth Harbison, co-director of education and a teen adviser at the synagogue; Kiki Lyus, from the Islamic Center of Boise; and other adults to fashion an experience for children in which all three faiths were equal partners.

“We all wanted the same thing,” Cran said.

Across the country, amped-up rhetoric about keeping Muslims or refugees out of the country is creating tensions for faiths that are seen by many as different and threatening the dominant Christian culture. On a world stage, and even in the United States, religious groups are swept into unfolding tragedies such as the shootings in San Bernadino or in Paris.

In the face of hatred and killing, these Boise women looked for an avenue that was more inclusive, Cran said. “Maybe if we start with children,” she said.


Islam’s ability to empower is a magnet to black British youths

Muslims pray at the Central London mosqueA seminar was hosted last month by Christians Together in England to consider ways to “stem the flight of black British youths to Islam and radicalisation”. In an unprecedented move, Muslims were invited to attend – and they did. Together, both faith groups discussed the reasons why a growing number of young black people are choosing Islam in preference to Christianity. According to this morning’s BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, one in nine black Christian men are converting to Islam.

Following in my father’s footsteps, I was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Sunday mass regularly as a child. I also attended a Roman Catholic secondary school – initially a cultural shock as I found myself the only black student among a predominantly white class. The religious focus of the school was, however, a refreshing contrast to my urban, street background. Teachers and students were more serious about God than at my previous schools. A student was not considered “nerdy” or “odd” due to their religiosity. I was therefore able to excel in religious studies and was successful in my final O-level exam.

During these lessons, the more we learned about religion, the more we questioned and challenged particular concepts, particularly relating to Christianity. Questions about the concept of the trinity – the Godhead being three in one – caused many debates as some of us; myself and others did not find this logical or feasible. Our religious studies teacher became exasperated by persistent questions on this topic, and arranged for the local priest to attend and address the question. His explanations did little to remove our doubts in this very fundamental and important area of faith.