Faith is typified as a concern only of the aged, even though our everyday lives are inevitably affected by our faith (or lack of it). It is not possible to talk about the experience of being ourselves without talking about the experience of our beliefs. And yet, in today’s world, it’s harder and harder to have an honest conversation about belief and personal experiences without backlash—in the form of hate speech and extremist viewpoints.
Challenging this growing sense of suppression is the recently launched 'Get Up Speak Up' initiative. Formed by a team of BRAC University students, 'Get Up Speak Up' aims to salvage that space for dialogue and to bring people together to it. Extremism evolves from a lack of empathy and increase in ignorance from people, about others’ experiences; from there grows a belief that those others are inherently different from one. The initiative aims to create a bridge through dialogue and interaction between people of different faiths and beliefs.
'Get Up Speak Up' is an online campaign, their mainstay being their Facebook page. But with their aim to engender active interaction and dialogue, they hosted their first live event, a workshop titled Matters of Faith, at the BRAC University campus on October 19. The workshop invited people of different faiths from BRAC University itself and elsewhere to get together and talk about their lived experiences on issues such as interfaith relationships, inequity and discrimination and even the celebration of the many different religious festivals and holidays of Bangladesh.
After an initial awkwardness, the remarkable engagement from everyone demonstrated how important–and welcomed–these kinds of spaces could be
The arrangement was made to be informal, seated simply in a circle, to create spatially an atmosphere of equality. Participants were first asked to discuss different aspects of being religious or irreligious, like the ease with which they can practice their beliefs, inequities they might have faced at work or at school and others. After an initial awkwardness, the remarkable engagement from everyone demonstrated how important–and welcomed–these kinds of spaces could be. Participants discussed the nature of and reasons for these differences in their experiences. Near the end, they were asked to ponder on possible solutions, which immediately sparked lively discussions and debate that continued well after the workshop officially came to a close.
Rifat Rahman Turjo, a BRAC University student and participant in the workshop said, “This is easily one of the best Thursdays I have spent at the university. I can’t believe we actually got to have the discussion we did today, with people from outside the university too.”
Sudeepto Bose, another participant said about the workshop, “The event looked at many controversial topics and raised interesting questions about religion. Got to see many different perspectives and ideas from people I would normally not come into contact with. All in all a solid experience, and I would love to attend other events like this.”
Participant Lawrence Costa said, “I came here because I dream of a world where people have transcended the religious barrier. Where no one is labelled a different person based on religion. I came here because I want things to be kept that simple and to help break the barrier that keeps us apart.”
Faith touches all of our lives and shapes our lived experiences, be it the youth or elderly. The success of the workshop Matters of Faith reveals how necessary and transformational interfaith dialogue could be, given how these issues touch the youth on a very personal level.