Coming Together – Interfaith Shabbat Dinner
By Alex Hamilton ’16 and Mudassar Zaidi ’17
Alex Hamilton is a senior in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Jewish Studies and Middle-Eastern Studies. He is also the Rutgers Hillel Student Board President.
Mudassar Zaidi is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program majoring in Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Computer Science, and Quantitative Economics. He is also the President of the Ahlul-Bayt Student Association.
Frequently on television and in newspapers people see religion as a dangerous, brainwashing, and superstitious institution, but on Friday, April 1, Rutgers Hillel and Ahlul-Bayt Muslim Student Association, along with the Rutgers Sikh Student Association, Catholic Student Association, Shalom/Salaam, Baha’i Campus Association hosted an interfaith discussion Shabbat Dinner in the Rutgers Student Center. Over 75 students came from different backgrounds!
At the beginning of the dinner, each student organization spoke briefly about the role their club plays on campus. They also spoke about their faith’s relationship and practices around the dinner table. It was enlightening for the two of us to see the similarities and differences between the various theologies. All of us spoke about the importance of showing compassion, respect, and love to one another, which perhaps is the entire point of religion.
After we got our food, Mudassar brought up the question of conversion to the various faiths at the table. Coincidentally, it turned out there were only Catholics, Muslims and Jews at our dinner table. It was fascinating to hear how one could enter our three faiths. Mudassar told us what it means to be a Muslim in a concise manner including devout practice to the five pillars of Islam and saying something called the Shahada, which declares there is no G-d but Allah and the acceptance of Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, as G-d’s prophet. Alex spoke about the longer path to Judaism, which starts with many hours of study and culminates in an interview with a three judge panel called a Beit Din, circumcision and ritual immersion. The Catholic students spoke about the Baptism ritual and the vast amount of time spent learning and working with local clergy.
We discovered that all three faiths stressed the importance of modesty when it comes to dress. Catholicism has its clergy wear specific vestments, including habits and the collar of the priests. Though we discovered that in practice there is a little leniency. One of the girls described one of her teachers as a nun in a bright red power suit, which we all thought was hilarious because it broke from our preconceived notions of what a nun would wear. Judaism has a kippah (skullcap), and many observant Jews will also wear modest clothes, such as long skirts and long pants. Islam similarly emphasizes covering both the male and female bodies. What makes Islam unique is the hijab, meaning to cover. In today’s world, it is known as the headscarf that women wear.
As we were talking about the similarities and differences in our faiths, we gradually shifted into student life. We complained about coursework, exams, finals, mean professors, and the like. We heard quite a few interesting roommate stories. We all realized that though we come from different religious backgrounds, we are all just students trying to do our best in school. This dinner was an amazing opportunity to build bridges and create new, lasting relationships between not only the organizations, but also the students themselves.
This interfaith Friday night dinner was sponsored by Rutgers Hillel, Ahlul-Bayt Student Association, Catholic Student Association at Rutgers, Shalom/Salaam at Rutgers University, Bahá’í Campus Association and Rutgers Sikh Student Association.
Program made possible with generous funding from the Avi Schaefer Fund and from Rutgers Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships.