Last week, I returned from an 11-day journey through Turkey with 29 other Muslims, Christians, Jews, and a Buddhist. Many of our friends and relatives worried about our safety while traveling in that part of the world, in fact one potential pilgrim cancelled out of family fears. We experienced no threats or security issues whatsoever.
We travelled across central Turkey, from Kayseri to Cappadocia, Konya, Ephesus, and Izmir via motor coach, and then flew into Istanbul for the last four days. We toured Rumi’s sanctuaries, the first century Roman ruins, the secret underground churches and homes of early Christians, the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia Museum, the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaan Mosque, Neve Shalom Synagogue, and we cruised the Bosphorus Sea between Asia and Europe. We visited six different Turkish homes for dinners and conversations. It was a wonderful journey with extraordinary sights and hospitality. Yet, that was not our primary purpose or objective.
World Pilgrims is designed to facilitate the journey across the chasms of our faiths, cultures, and ethnic differences and diversities. We encourage cross faith dialogue and understanding by first enabling friendships.
Everyday, each of us enjoyed a different partner of another faith. Each time we changed hotels, we changed roommates. This causes the most anxiety for those who haven’t experienced a pilgrimage, but everyone agrees afterwards that sharing rooms was both a bonding and liberating highlight of the journey.
The real pilgrimage is to one another. In forging friendships, we break down barriers, clean-up biases, correct misinformation, and most importantly, we build trust and relationships across faith lines.
We introduce pilgrims to the best practices of interfaith exchange, such as: be a listener first, no proselytizing, no hidden agendas, be secure in one’s own faith identity and yet open enough to give thought to different paradigms and perspectives.
Interfaith is more than dialogue. It is encounter and engagement, while never leaving your beliefs, experiences, or differences behind. It is about building bridges, finding doors, and opening windows to allow the light, inspiration, and wisdom of the other to interact with our’s.
We work across faiths seeking to transform despair into hope, fear into trust, hate into compassion, falsehood into truth, and war into peace.
We believe the axiom that “you can know a good in common that you can’t know alone” is also applicable to our religions, especially as we engage the global and international challenges of our world. Religious diversity is a given today, but interfaith collaboration and cooperation are not; they are achievements requiring a conscious and concerted effort.
Thirty of us returned from Turkey convinced that Mark Twain was right when he penned “Travel is fatal to prejudice.” May each of you also travel towards “the other” for the benefit of your faith, your soul, and our world.
Submitted by Plemon T. El-Amin