By Shahid Athar, M.D.
Chairman, Interfaith Alliance of Indianapolis

Despite the fact that the world has become a global village, sometimes followers of faith traditions live in small huts of their own, never opening their doors to venture outside to see how other people live or believe. Thus, our apprehension of each other is sometimes a result of our not knowing one another.

Knowing each other is not only a social need but a divine injunction. Just because a person has a skin color different from mine, was born in a land different from where I was born, or prays to the same God but in a different manner or in a different language, he or she does not become less worthy of my love and respect for his life and views. We need to know and respect other's religious beliefs and their cultures.

However, there seems to be resistance and objection to the interfaith process from orthodox religious factions. This unnecessary fear of the other is the reason for the interfaith. Interfaith is not giving up one's faith or compromising one's beliefs but a process of self-education about others through interactions and exchange of views. It is coming together on a common ground as fellow human beings.

In a world full of hostility, we must instill love and achieve mutual trust and respect. We Americans must tell the rest of the world that we do not like to import centuries-old hatred into our fertile soil. It is not necessary for 85 different nationalities and 14 different religions which comprise the nation of the United States, to completely melt down and lose their ethnic and religious identity. Thus, the concept of "melting pot" must change to a "salad bowl," in which all the ingredients are encouraged to preserve and display their distinct individual tastes and flavors.

Through the interfaith process, we have matured somewhat via programs like Interfaith Seder, Ramadan, Thanksgiving, community service projects (such as refurbishing homes for the poor and giving new underwear to children in need), and through lectures affecting different issues in our community. In this way, we have brought together people from different faiths and ethnic backgrounds and have hopefully helped them to know each other better, in an attempt to please our common Creator and enjoy religious harmony, a hallmark of American life.