Overcoming Bigotry Through Cultural Competency

Last year was a year filled with interfaith controversy and debate. With the coming elections and the continued conflicts between peoples of different faiths all over the world, 2016 has not come with much of a projection for change. Interfaith controversy has been at the forefront of American political debate, and a hot topic with the United Nations as Interfaith Harmony Week has just come to pass. Leaders, organizers and politicians everywhere are talking about the issue of how do we deal with the growing diversity of faiths in our communities.

We have heard many perspectives on this. Most ludicrous of them all is Donald Trump's painfully unoriginal idea of going back to the Cold War 1961 approach of building a wall surrounding America. Then, on the other side of the spectrum there are more cultural competency oriented approaches such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's efforts to educate himself and the Canadian people on the different faiths in our communities through interfaith activities such as community gatherings, interfaith dinners and entertainment showcases highlighting certain aspects of different cultures and faiths.

As a global citizen and as a conscientious member of my community, I personally prefer the latter as a more effective and humane approach to resolving the conflicts in our communities through civil dialogue and experiential learning. Not only does it serve as a long term initiative, it also aligns well with my personal commitment as an interfaith leader in my community to global leadership and cultivating an inclusive and diverse culture where difference is viewed as a source of enrichment rather than a source of fear.

Misconception is one of the most powerful sources of the conflict, fear and disagreement that plagues our communities. It is my belief that only through education can we fight and conquer misconception. Gaining knowledge of the different cultures and faiths that are very much so present in our ever growing communities is key. Through community gatherings and interfaith dialogues we can begin to break down the social barriers that hinder our ability as a community to overcome the negative connotations of superficial stereotypes and truly connect on a deeper and more meaningful level.

As a nation that has progressively moved towards secularism over the past few decades often anything that has anything to do with religion holds a negative stereotype in the eyes of the public. No one one wants to talk about religion. This fear stems from the misconception that interfaith dialogue is somehow an attempt to convert people. That is very much so inaccurate. Interfaith education is simply taking the initiative to learn about one another. By learning about different faiths you are not in anyway making a commitment to a faith or religion in general, rather you are simply expanding your knowledge base for the purpose of development of cultural competency skills.

By becoming more knowledgeable of faiths and faith traditions that may be foreign to us we tap into our potential to become more open-minded and accepting individuals and as such we become ambassadors for peace and collaboration in our communities. This ultimately sets us up to become more competent and effective leaders that are aware of the needs of the people in our communities. When we are aware of the needs and values of our communities only then can we work proactively to eliminate the violence and discrimination that is based mainly on religious bigotry and ignorance of other faiths.