|From the UUMA Intern|
My pluralist journey expanded in 2009, when I was hired as the Director of Youth Programs at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington in Virginia even though I was and still am a Muslim. Except, now I’m a Unitarian Universalist Muslim aka UU Muslim. I dove head first into work and learning about UUism mostly from middle and high-schoolers. At the same time, I remember visiting my Pakistani Muslim parents in that first month I was hired and witnessing a complete parental freak out. Why? Because my younger brother had googled UU’s only to stumble upon websites declaring it was a cult. Unknown to me he had convinced my parents I had been hired by a cult. To some degree I don’t even think my brother cared if I had joined a cult, he just enjoyed watching my parents freak out on me. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I was finally able to sit with my family and talk to them about why I really liked working in a church community, and four years later seeing their surprise at the fact I was serious about it.
As a person of color and a UU Muslim, I have grappled with formulating a 30 second elevator speech introducing what I believe in and what Unitarian Universalism means to me. Right now, being a UU Muslim is an experience and all about feeling for me - and that’s a pretty good place to be. It’s not about one religion lacking something compared to the other that makes me want to be multi-religious…it’s about the fact that both traditions challenge me to be compassionate, affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and to be fearless when confronted by discomfort as exemplified by my ancestors.
Perhaps Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, a UU Hindu minister explains it better as he writes about sharing his journey,
“As a minister, I share my own religious journey, not because it is more important than anyone else’s, but because it is part of building and sustaining relationships. I consider myself a UU-Hindu; flavored by the Islamic heritage of my father, Buddhist spiritual practice, and the study and exploration of other world religious traditions. My Unitarian Universalism helps me be a better Hindu, a better human being. It celebrates my identity as a religious hybrid and a theological crossbreed.”
Being multi-religious or a “religious hybrid” as Rev. Jananmanchi puts it, isn’t a new thing. While being multi-religious is a rising trend in the USA according to a 2009 Pew Research Center report; it’s something that has existed historically in many South Asian countries, including Pakistan for much longer.
To reflect back on Rev. Janamanchi’s words calling us to focus on “building and sustaining relationships,” it leaves me questioning as a UU Muslim-: How do we build and sustain relationships with multi-religious UU’s in our communities? How do we minister and support them in their journeys? Ministering to people with multi-religious identities isn’t just an issue of being more welcoming, this is an issue of pastoral care for me.
While UU’s are eager to build community outside of their UU congregations with multi-faith partners, people holding hybrid or multi-religious identities within Unitarian Universalism such as UU Muslims, UU Hindus, UU Jews, UU Buddhists, UU Pagans, UU Atheists/Humanists, and UU Christians can be overlooked. How could engaging the interfaith center that exists within Unitarian Universalism, especially with the rise in UU Muslim identities, help Unitarian Universalists to engage in interfaith organizing?
I’m excited to be an intern working with the UUMA to be able to explore these questions, build community and grow together. It is pertinent for us to start thinking of how to create and sustain welcoming spaces for the multi-religious or those seeking pluralism, because more people will be coming to our community in the next four years searching for answers or refuge. Imagine how our spaces and communities could look in the future as we expand to welcome the multi-religious such as UU Muslims and interfaith families. Some churches could have a set of Muslim prayer rugs for those who would like to pray in a chapel. Another way to expand would be to have a small group exploring the Quran together like Bible study. Or study both the Quran and the Bible together.
As we begin to use our imagination to think about what it means for us to be welcoming congregations in the upcoming years, I leave you with a question to contemplate: how do you imagine expanding the vision we UU’s seek to have of ourselves as pluralist communities welcoming the multi-religious and interfaith families?