How might we create more interfaith
empathy? The discussion is about how to build
more empathy among the different religious groups. Our panelists are
Christians, Muslims and an Atheist who are located in Iraq and the USA.
Some Themes from Our Panel: How Might We Create More
Sheima Salam Sumer
Here is a summary of some of the main points of the great dialogue we
had together! The four sections of this summary are:
The benefits of empathy,
Empathy is taught by all religions,
Some barriers to interfaith empathy
Ideas to foster more interfaith empathy
1. The benefits of empathy:
a. Empathy can be the connecting energy no matter who
we are. It’s about connecting with people, hearing each other and
seeing our common humanity. Empathy is the gateway for people of
different faiths to understand each other.
b. Empathy helps us to learn more about ourselves. We
learn about ourselves by being “heard” by others.
c. Empathy prevents injustice and “evil” and some
experts believe that evil is actually the absence of empathy.
d. Empathy prevents the dehumanization of others.
e. “Once we hear each other it’s impossible to think
of the other as idiotic or brainwashed”.
f. Dialogue leads to learning / education and we see
how similar we really are.
2. Empathy is taught by all religions:
a. Empathy is an attribute of God and is from God.
Empathy is why God is Merciful and Forgiving. We are asked to display
empathy in order to mirror our Creator’s empathy.
b. Mercy and compassion are part of God consciousness
and we need to treat the “other” with these.
c. Our religions ask us to care for those who don’t
typically receive empathy, i.e. the marginalized. We all want to help
the marginalized and make the world a better place and we can work
together to achieve this goal.
d. The concepts of good and evil are related to
empathy. Empathy comes from a higher level. One must know oneself
first and transcend from the human realm to the divine realm in order
to be truly empathetic.
3. Some barriers to interfaith empathy:
a. The news is the outer combative face of Islam and
not the inner true Islam that people live; people don’t understand
b. We need to recognize evil so that we don’t fight
with each other.
c. Scapegoating: we blame others to give us a
temporary rest from our real issues.
d. Proselytizers may be sympathizing with you but not
empathizing and sympathy actually blocks empathy.
e. Envy, as well as ignoring our vulnerabilities, are
blocks to empathy. Satan did not embrace his "vulnerability" of being
envious of the Prophet Adam, and this caused his downfall.
4. Ideas to Foster More Interfaith Empathy
a. We must always respect each other. We are all human
beings in the end.
b. Be willing to listen and hear each other even
though we don’t agree with each other (acknowledge and accept one
c. Schwartz’s international value research determined
that all cultures do have the same values but what differs is the
hierarchy (i.e. the way they rank these values). Recognizing this
prevents us from implicitly dehumanizing others.
d. Our identity is determined by the “out group”, who
help us to make sense of our world and to gain cognitive clarity.
There is a motivation also for self esteem. One solution: have
superordinate goals that both sides need each other’s help to achieve.
e. Islam says that every community had a prophet so
perhaps Islam is less “under threat” by other faiths than
Christianity. Christianity can accept other faiths on the basis of the
universal compassion principles of Christianity.
f. Muslims do believe in grace and the “law” is put in
the context of grace, in the context of the bismillah.
g. Mutual inclusivism: embrace humanity as it is and
leave the decision to God.
h. Practice the rituals of other religions to get a
“feel” for them.
i. As religions let’s come together to make our
community a better place
j. Our shared project can be empathy/empathy circles.
Salam Sumer possesses a Master’s degree in Counselor Education and
is the author of two books, one is, “How to Be a Happy
Muslim Insha’Allah: Rise Above Your Problems and Choose Inner
Peace. Sheima has written articles about the role of empathy
Empathy: A Trait that Can Transform Your Life
"Empathy is a transformative character trait that positively
enhances all areas of your life, including your personal
well-being, family life and work relationships. Not many people
know the power of empathy in enhancing their own personal
well-being, as well as in changing the way they interact and feel
about the world around them.
In this article, we will discuss what empathy is, how it is
encouraged in Islam and how you can use it to bring transformative
change to your life."
"An amazing way to promote your happiness is to develop the skill
of “empathy.” Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and
share the feelings of another.” One reason that empathy is so
important is that the act of empathy brings healing to our world
and to ourselves."
Amal Darwiche Damaj's
academic background is in agriculture and watershed management/dry
land forestry. She is not a scholar, but a student of Islam and
loves to reflect on The Quran, discovering connections between
some of its verses and modern research findings in different areas
of science and sociology. She has lived in many countries, but has
made her home in Virginia for the last 23 years. She currently
works as a medical interpreter and volunteers as a tutor for city
Adam Ericksen blogs at the
Raven Foundation and
Teaching Nonviolent Atonement where he explores mimetic
theory to provide social commentary on religion, pop culture,
politics, and family life. He is also a hospital chaplain. You can
like his Facebook page here and follow him on Twitter
TOP 10 WAYS MIMETIC THEORY CAN HELP CREATE INTERFAITH EMPATHY – A PANEL
Article: April 09, 2015 by Adam Ericksen
"I brought René Girard and mimetic theory into the discussion. Although
not always explicit, I soon discovered that the principles of mimetic
theory were permeating our discussion. So, from the conversation, I
decided to make a top 10 list of the ways that that mimetic theory can
help foster empathy across our religious and atheist traditions:
Girard’s mimetic theory, and the recent discovery of mirror neurons,
help us better understand empathy as a natural process, but that there
are positive and negative aspects to it. For example, in the same way we
can imitate a smile, we can imitate a scowl."