Members of Interfaith Youth Connection: Back row: Sam Farber, Noah Farber, Alex Hymanson; front row: Amal Muse, Rachel Farber, Lujain Al-Khawi. Photograph courtesy of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul.
"By connecting youth, you are improving what the next generation will do with the world." - Sarah Mason
by Kathy Magnuson
"In the midst of what is going on today, this is something we need. I believe the youth are our future and it is about having hope in that future."
That is how Fardosa Hassan, program coordinator for the Interfaith Youth Connection, describes the coalition's work. It is a way, she says, to give youth "a voice of their own in their own faith. It is a way to be proud of who they are in whatever faith background they believe in, while reducing prejudice and misconception."
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul was formed to bring people and resources of a diverse faith community together for a more just, safe and livable east metro area.
Their program, Interfaith Youth Connection, brings together high school youth to meet a couple of times a month in dialogue. They visit a variety of worship spaces and build friendships across different faith traditions. They plan an annual Youth Day of Service on Presidents Day in February and host an annual fall leadership retreat.
Rachel Farber, who attended a private Jewish school and is now a public high school student, is active in her own Jewish community. She finds that religion is not talked about at school. For her, the Connection has been a great way to discuss things that are important to her.
"There are such issues in our world today - the Paris attacks and people saying we can't let Muslims into our country. But, we do live in America, which is a melting pot," Farber says. "It is important to learn about all of the people who are in it. I think one of the most important things is exposure to other religions to see what they are actually like."
After attending a Jewish summer program, Sarah Mason who practices the Baha'i faith, was motivated to get involved with interfaith work and found the Connection online. When she recommends the group to her friends, she talks about the level of leadership and responsibility the participants have and the opportunity to learn about many faith traditions - and meet people who practice them.
Last year Mason organized a bookshelf and classrooms for a local mosque as part of the Youth Day of Service. "I got to [learn about] the Muslim community of Minnesota. It is not a new community. It is a big community, but people just don't know much about it. To be invited in [and be a part of] friendly, productive conversations was really worthwhile." Another valued experience for her was attending a community interfaith Ramadan meal and breaking the fast.
Mason thinks the best way to help solve issues is to get youth to connect and understand each other. "By connecting youth, you are improving what the next generation will do with the world," she says. "We are young now, but I think we will grow up and take these experiences [to heart] and our minds will be a little more open. It will make a lasting impact in the way we see
the world and each other and the way we handle conflict."