Squeezing into the carpeted sanctuary, 179 girls shed their shoes to sit cross-legged on the floor of the Islamic sanctuary at the Tri-Faith Initiative American Muslim Institute. Some of the girls cover their hair with scarves out of respect for Muslim tradition. For many girls, this field trip is their first up-close encounter with the Islamic religion. Meeting with imam Jamal, a friendly and outgoing Islamic teacher and prayer leader, helped personalize the experience for many students. “The one comment that stuck with me,” senior Abbey Marooney said, “was when he [imam Jamal] said that if anyone asks you if you have a Muslim friend, you can say that I’m your friend.”
Standing at the front of the room, imam Jamal asks the students what connections exist between the Islamic faith and Catholicism. Armed with the knowledge they’ve gained in their world religions classes, the girls are eager to contribute. Imam Jamal is a teacher at the American Muslim Institute and has led the Marian senior class through their visit to the mosque for several years. “I think that Marian High School should bring their students here once a month,” imam Jamal said jokingly. Jokes aside, imam Jamal is serious about prioritizing getting to know and understand other faiths.
After visiting with imam Jamal in the mosque, the students spoke with a Brian Stoller, a Jewish rabbi, and several members of the Jewish synagogue, Temple Israel, housed at the Tri-Faith Initiative on 156th and Pacific Street. Stoller talked to the students about the Jewish faith and the way he feels learning about other religions can augment personal spirituality. “Coming together causes us to think about religion differently and our differences and our commonalities to enrich our religious lives,” Stoller said, “That was something that was exciting to me about coming to Temple Israel is to get to be part of that Tri-Faith Initiative.”
This sentiment is the focus of the field trip to the Tri-Faith Initiative and the first semester of senior year theology classes in general. The Tri-Faith Initiative embodies connectedness and community across religions. Their campus houses the American Muslim Institute, an Islamic mosque, Temple Israel—a Jewish synagogue and, soon, Countryside Community Church, a Chrisitan worship space. Their mission is to promote dialogue, transcend differences, foster acceptance, and build bridges of respect and trust amongst the three Abrahamic faiths. The field trip, which took place on Oct. 10, allowed all seniors to experience and learn about the Islamic and Judaic faiths from teachers in each religion in a peaceful and empathetic way that exemplifies the Tri-Faith Initiative’s mission.
Mr. Kory Delkamiller, one of the senior theology teachers who led the excursion, said he hopes students find “a sense of being connected” in the visit. He finds the field trip to be a humanizing experience for his students. “Instead of it [Judaism and Islam] being something distant or something that’s seen unfavorably by our culture or the labels that come with different groups and religions,” Delkamiller said, “[here we get] to see it [Judaism and Islam] for the individual person.” To truly appreciate the experience, Delkamiller suggests the only way to approach the trip is to “come with an open heart and be willing to just experience the people that we encounter.”
This statement rang true for many of the seniors on the field trip; being open to getting to know individuals involved in the religion made learning about it more personable and engaging. “He [imam Jamal] was really entertaining and funny and nice, and I think that’s what kept me wanting to listen and learn more and get to know the religion,” senior Nika Lisko said. “It just made it more interesting because he had such a [sense of] humor. It just makes It that much better.”
For seniors, this trip was a natural extension of the lessons they have been learning in their theology classrooms. It added a personalized, humanistic touch to the textbook teaching of Judaism and Islam and introduced girls to the Tri-Faith Initiative: a faith community built upon acceptance and trust right here in Omaha.