Interfaith students unite at Christ Church

Shoshana Singer reflects on a recent Oxford University Abrahamic Interfaith Formal.|

Students were invited to arrive early and experience an evensong that took place in their Cathedral. Participants of all faiths attended, taking in the sounds and sights and noting the similarities of the Bible readings and blessings for peace and harmony. The chaplain took special care to offer an interfaith prayer, making us feel particularly welcome in this space.

Our evening continued with drinks in the Ante Hall and a dinner in Christ Church Hall. Faith-based questions were placed on the table and served as icebreakers to guide intentional and meaningful conversation. A mixture of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu students mingled seamlessly with conversation ranging from coursework and college life, to faith-based conversations such as ritual practices, religious names, gender roles, and religious accommodation.

All dietary requirements were handled with ease and subsidized by the Archdeacon of Oxford, the Ven. Martin Gorick, making it possible for many religious students to engage in an otherwise impossible experience. After satisfying both our physical and spiritual needs, we transitioned to our second part of the evening through taking group photos on the famous Harry Potter stairs. Small table groups broke off to take their own “selfies” and photos as if to set in stone their new, budding friendships.

In the lecture room, was heard from Rabbi Michael Rosenfeld-Schueler, a Jewish chaplain from Oxford Brookes, the Revd Clare Hayns of Christ Church, and Hassaan Shawawy, a Rhodes Scholar reading Islamic Studies. Each shared their spiritual journey and talked a bit about their current projects. It was particularly moving to hear how each of them became more observant and how different stages of their lives continue to impact their religiosity.

Shoshana Singer

As the evening progressed, the time for evening prayer was drawing near. Individually, Muslim students mentioned that they would need to step out for their evening prayer. Unfortunately, we had not sorted this out ahead of time, and in the future we certainly will. However, the lack of preparation ended up leading to a beautiful and spontaneous event. On a whim, we took an intermission from the speakers and progressed to pray. Separated by a line of tables, two faiths prayed their evening prayers, Muslim students prayed maghrib and Jewish students prayed maariv.

The sounds reverberated throughout the room, as students prayed to their God in their respective languages. Post prayer, we resumed with a panel and an opportunity for questions and answers. Students asked a variety of questions, with the final question regarding how to engage in serious interfaith relations in the future.

Each leader provided us with a different answer. One suggested we discuss our similarities and another challenged us to engage with “the elephant in the room”, the Israel/Palestine conflict. Students walked away feeling up for the challenges and excited for the work we can do together in bridging our communities.
I feel remarkably blessed to have worked with Amna Ali of New College and other members of the Oxford University Islamic Society board. We are grateful to have had a hand in such a project and cannot wait to see what our multi-faith future holds.

Shoshanah Singer is the interfaith representative of the Oxford University Jewish Society.