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Index: Panel# 027: How Might We Create More Interfaith Empathy?
Date:  2015-04-02
Short Link:

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.

How might we create more interfaith Empathy? 


Some Themes from Our Panel: How Might We Create More Interfaith Empathy
by 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:

  1. The benefits of empathy,

  2. Empathy is taught by all religions,

  3. Some barriers to interfaith empathy

  4. 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 Islam.

  • 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 another).

  • 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.



  Sheima Salam Sumer - Iraq
    Sheima 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 in Islam.

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."

  Abdulmonaim Merkt - Iraq
    Abdulmonaim is a Sufi Muslim. He has a master’s degree in religion and a degree in philosophy and is presently in Iraq.  
  AbdulMoneim's wife - Iraq
  Amal Damaj - Richmond, Virginia, USA
    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 school children. 

Adam Ericksen - USA


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 here.

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."

  Edwin Rutsch - El Cerrito, USA
    Convener:  Edwin Rutsch is founding director of the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy. See his full Bio here.