Monday, August 21, 2006

Teen campers united by religious differences

With all the bad news inundating us daily, it was refreshing and uplifting to read about something wonderful. It is an article in today's Boston Globe about Camp IF.

Camp Interfaith - or IF - was founded four years ago by the Anti-Defamation League of New England, a Jewish organisation that tries to eradicate anti-Semitism. It is a camp for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teen-agers, most of them from Massachusetts, and it is dedicated to providing a more personal understanding of religious differences. Campers play together and talk openly about their beliefs. Five times daily, starting at 4:45 am, Muslim campers pray together. Jews hold prayer services three times a day, and Christians gather for one or two services. The services are open to all.

Thursday was Judaism Day, when in-between relay races and dips in the pond, Jewish campers unrolled the scrolls of the Torah and taught the basics of their faith. Yesterday during their campfire gathering, Christian teens explained the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the notion of salvation through Christ. Islam Day sparked a debate about the war in Iraq, the recent fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, and the breakup of the alleged British bomb plot.

"In the dining hall, on the tennis court, by the pond, the campers asked: What is jihad? Is the United States making things worse in Iraq? Does Islam condone suicide bombings?"

"With a glittering pond behind him and sunlit pines overhead, Murat Bulur, 15, spread a fringed carpet by a campfire pit made of stones and prepared to pray. Eighty teenagers -- Jews, Christians, and other Muslims -- watched, transfixed, as he knelt and faced Mecca.

Then Usamah Suhrawardy, 15, dressed in a white robe and white cap, passed around song sheets and led the campers in song. ``Allah, there is only one God," the campers sang, quietly at first and then more boldly, as they learned the tune and lyrics. ``And Mohammed is his messenger.
This was Islam Day at Camp IF, a chance for the Muslim campers to explain a religion that some of the Jewish and Christian campers knew only through televised images of war, terrorism, and strife in the Middle East."

The dining hall at Camp IF serves kosher food for Jews and halal for Muslims.

"In the dining hall, on the tennis court, by the pond, the campers asked: What is jihad? Is the United States making things worse in Iraq? Does Islam condone suicide bombings?"

Rather than let such questions tear them apart, the campers said that being allowed to ask them and wrestling with the answers brought them closer together.

``Coming to the camp, all I knew about Islam was what's portrayed in the media," said Vincent Maniscalco, 16, a Catholic camper from Danvers. ``So coming here was just a mind-blowing experience. And learning about Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, learning all about these different religions helped strengthen my faith, brought me closer to who I call God, and brought me closer to people of other faiths."

For the teens attending Camp IF in Wilmot, New Hampshire, this unusual camp is a life lesson: they will carry the values learned there for the rest of their life. Instead of letting differences keep them apart, they are learning to celebrate the similarities that unite them. These are valuable lessons indeed.

If these teens can carry their message back to their parents and families, many more will learn and benefit from their experience. Perhaps in time, suspicion, bigotry and mistrust of those with different religious beliefs will be eradicated.

Our world needs many more Camp IF's. The youth are our future. Imagine if more of them attended such wonderful camps! How much better our world would be.

...Read full article here.

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