Enlightenment Week provides students the opportunity to come together in religious understanding. Through active discussion and the sharing of different religious perspectives, Enlightenment Week creator Reeza Rosnan encouraged us students to support one another regardless of our ideological differences.
TU prides itself on its international focus. One of the first facts incoming freshmen learn about TU is that our campus is home to a high number of international students. Last semester, over one-quarter of our student body came from beyond the border.
What this means for our campus is not just an increase in ethnic, racial and otherwise skin-deep diversity, but an expansion of beliefs, values and attitudes that are born out of different students’ life experiences and cultural backgrounds. TU, at least administratively, is a symbol for diversity and acceptance of cultural differences.
Enlightenment Week was student Reeza Rosnan and the Malaysian Student Association’s attempt to embrace our school’s diversity mission by gathering our different religious perspectives together in order to bring us closer towards understanding one another. Through an interactive Interfaith Dinner replete with student-led performances, prayers and discussions, and a week-long open house including the various on-campus ministries, Enlightenment Week captured and mobilized TU’s diversity mission by providing a shared space and fostering a shared learning experience amongst our religiously diverse student body.
“My goal is to encourage students to be aware of issues that affect their fellow friends from different faiths,” said Rosnan. “I hope to instill a little bit of love and understanding so that if our fellow brothers and sisters from different faiths are hurt, we will feel the same and want to protect them.”
The key word here really is understanding. Understanding a religion that’s different from our own requires action. We have to listen intently, process the information that’s given, ask questions and, above all, be willing to do each of these things. Enlightenment Week is a unique opportunity to really challenge our beliefs and understand each others’ religious differences through willful, active engagement.
The point that Rosnan makes about protecting our “fellow brothers and sisters” is probably the most powerful aspect of Enlightenment Week. What makes it different from many other religious gatherings is that the emphasis is less on religion and more on gathering together. What’s important is that we come together, not with the intention to proselytize, but with the intention to understand, ultimately, that we all are people who hurt and that we are all capable of love that transcends religious differences.
One of Rosnan’s motivations for doing Enlightenment Week was the love that the students of the University of Alberta showed to their fellow Sikh students (of the religion Sikhism, founded in India).
Last September, the students there discovered posters on campus that showed a picture of a Sikh man wearing a turban with the caption, “Fuck your turban.” Another caption said “Go the fuck back to where you came from!” Outraged, the students came together in solidarity to support the University’s Sikh community by wearing colorful turbans around campus.
Regardless of each student’s individual religious background or lack thereof, they all felt the same hurt that their Sikh friends felt. It was a hurt not of any religious nature, but of a personal one.
“[The students] did not just sweep the issue under the rug and pretend like nothing happened,” said Rosnan. “This behavior…is nurtured and is becoming a culture at their university.”
With current political configurations in America, we may be entering an era in which our religion overtakes our culture. The threats directed towards Muslims, for example, from our newly incumbent president is an early indication of this. The fear that Islam is an inherently violent religion, grounded in jihadism which, in turn, promotes terrorism, is based in a very dubious understanding of the cultural implications of Islam. Nevertheless, it has already been and will continue to be used as a political argument for the “dangers” Islam poses to our American culture. (Maybe if Mr. Trump participates in the next Enlightenment Week he’ll stop this hurtful line of rhetoric, but it’s probably wishful thinking.)
Enlightenment Week acts as a reminder that even though political tensions are high at the moment, there are still people out there who are willing to learn about different people and their beliefs and are even willing to take action towards treating them as equal human beings (which they are). The importance of events like Enlightenment Week and the inclusive behaviors they empower us to engage in cannot be overstated, especially in times like now.