Attend Each Other's Religious Celebrations

Activity: Structure and Needs

The needs and structures for this promising practices depend on the religious celebration that is being shared among people of different faiths. Participants in such a promising practice need to be brief in advance in two different ways.  First, they need to be told, in brief, what to expect to see during the visit. This way, they get mentally prepared. Second, they need to be explained what is the appropriate behavior for them, as outsiders to the visited religious community. This second point also needs to include to what extent it is appropriate (or not) to participate in certain religious rituals: some rituals allow for ‘outsiders’ to join in, while other rituals may be only for the ‘insiders’.  This way, they can prepare in advance, especially if certain pieces of clothing are necessary. In both cases, it will help alleviate misperceptions and potential fears they may have, so as to consolidate their decision to participate in such a visit.  

This shared experience might also require a short introduction into the nature and structure and meaning of the particular holiday. Following the shared celebration, it is recommended to encourage those involved to ask questions about their experiences and exchange perceptions, if possible while still in that religious communities for the first part of this exchange, as well as afterwards outside of that space for an informal dialogical ‘debriefing’ where all participants return to an equal footing. In case of repetitive events, this post-discussion group can be dedicated to a specific topic. In order to create additional impact, pictures and short accounts of the activity can be shared via communication channels of the respective communities as well as more generally through social media.

Depending on the nature of the shared celebration, several approaches are possible:

A tour of the place of worship is strongly recommended from the beginning, before any religious celebration (if possible, if not, afterwards).

On an institutional level, representatives of the religious community may offer open invitations for others to participate in the religious ceremony inside the respective places of worship. Particularly in these cases, an introduction to the spiritual experience, its structure, and history, may be appropriate.   

As an individual, a shared experience can also be organized at home or even in a public place. An invitation may include neighbors and friends in order to share how a moment of the personal religious life is celebrated.

In case the practice is not connected to a specific holiday or celebration, sharing common prayers or meditating together offers an opportunity to engage in religious practices on an interreligious level. This may (or not) be conducted at a place of worship, at home, in nature or in another neutral room.

Objectives: Impact and Focus

This promising practice creates links between different religious communities and individuals. Connecting intellectually (through learning more about each other’s religious practices and places of workship) as well as potentially spiritually allows for a deeper dialogue between individuals. Prejudices are greatly reduced through such a promising practice, when dialogically prepared and conducted. Moreover, through common observation and (when appropriate) experience of each other’s religious celebrations, the understanding of each other’s holy texts and religious practices and communities as a whole increases. This in effect also creates social links in neighborhoods which would trigger a chain of friendship and solidarity and new invitations for visiting others homes and places of worship not necessarily included in the first activity.  In some cities, there is now an annual ‘open day’ for all religious communities in order to promote a truly inclusive and interreligious experience for the public at large. When such a day is encouraged by city officials, it becomes a powerful way to increase social cohesion in any diverse community.


Field Data: Examples and Sources (Activity – Organisation – Location)

1.) Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship –– The Pure Life Society –– Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Pure Life Society encourages its members to participate in each other’s religious ceremonies and celebrations. This brings more understanding and respect inside the Malaysian society within different religions. The initiative is part of what many members of the United Religion Initiatives (URI) movement do. URI  is an umbrella organization that promotes interfaith dialogue worldwide.

2.) #Voisins Unis –– Coexister –– Paris, France

After the terrorist attacks of November 13 2015 in Paris, the initiatives Coexister encouraged people of different faiths to conduct religious or spiritual activities together as a sign of unity and mutual support.  Jews have invited their neighbors to share the Shabbat dinner, and Muslims and Christians, among others, have invited their neighbors to share prayers toward the victims and against the fear in each other’s places of worship or elsewhere. The organization launched the hashtag  #VoisinsUnis (#UnitedNeighbors) to create social links between people of different faiths and allow them to coordinate and communicate their efforts.

3.) Interfaith Jewish and Christian Service – InterFaith Families Project–– Rockville, Maryland, USA

The Interfaith Families Project is directed to families with a Jewish and a Christian parent to provide spiritual guidance on an interfaith level. A female rabbi and a female priest hold an interfaith service every week that is widely attended. The service is followed by a discussion circle between parents and Sunday school for children of both faiths.

4.) Interfaith Yoga Festival – The Wash Alliance–– Rishikesh, India

The Wash Alliance organizes the biggest yoga festival in the world every year. It gathers millions of believers and spiritual leaders of all faiths and convictions in an interfaith ashram for one week of workshops, classes and events around meditation.

5.) Shabbat for all – Abraham Fraternity – Jerusalem

As one specific example, Emile Moatti, the representative of the Abraham Fraternity in Jerusalem, has been hosting Shabbat celebrations for about ten years. He receives non-Jews for Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of the week. He also receives guests at other important Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). For him, this gesture of welcoming non-Jewish people is a way to promote peace, particularly in Israel.

6.) Ramadan Tent – University of London and Muslim World League – London, UK (and others)

This initiative provides iftar, the breaking of the fast after each day of fasting during Ramadan, for people from all different backgrounds and communities in Trafalgar Square. Other locations where it takes place in the UK are Manchester and Plymouth, but the practice has also been done in Istanbul, Turkey,and Ndola, Zambia, among many other places worldwide. In this case, it has been organized by the student association of the University of London and financed by international Muslim organizations such as the Muslim World League.

7.) Interfaith Shoah Commemoration – The Jewish Institute of Bogota – Bogota, Colombia

The Jewish Institute of Bogota commemorates the Shoah every year in various places, but always in one that is symbolic for a different faith: e.g. the Vatican embassy or a Methodist church. This practice is inscribed in wider interfaith politics, with various interactions and get-togethers between the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities, where they also act together to counter drug addiction and poverty problems.