Peddling Polarization in the K Building
As I sat in the student lobby of the Liberal Arts building waiting for my first class on the first day of class this semester, I watched a young man moving from one group of students to another, as well as to individual students who were all waiting for their classes like I was. The young man may or may not have been a student, but it was clear, however, that he was peddling something.
Depending on the response he got from the people he was approaching, he would either pull out a flyer and hand it to them or he would sit down and engage in further conversation. As he moved closer to the side of the room where I sat, and I could clearly hear what he was saying to the people he approached, I realized that he was a Christian evangelist. With a huge smile on his face and a confident gait, he was walking up to complete strangers, introducing himself asking: “Do you know anything about the Bible?”
Admiring his conviction, I observed him with interest as he approached a group of teenage boys a few seats away from me. The young evangelist did not seem the least bit perturbed by the fact that the teenagers were obnoxiously loud and had been engaged in expletive punctuated batter since they walked in. He boldly introduced himself and asked them if they knew anything about the Bible. The loudest one of the teenagers responded, "Yes, I've read it from cover to cover."
One of the other boys snickered and playfully smacked the boy who had claimed to have read the Bible on the back of his head. "Wallahi! I have read both the Bible and the Quran from cover to cover," said the boy who had claimed to have read the Bible.
The young evangelist beamed with delight as he invited himself to a seat and engaged the teenagers in further conversation.
Finding it interesting that the young evangelist and the teenagers, who were clearly of different faiths were engaged in religious conversation and were seemingly willing to accommodate one another’s views, I continued to observe and listen.
The exchange between the evangelist and the boys centered around what the Bible says about Jesus and what the Quran says about him. My initial interest turned to concern. Particularly so when the evangelist asserted that upon Jesus's return, the world will end and all those who do not believe in him to be the son of God will die and go to Hell.
Judging from the fact that at the evangelist’s assertion, a good number of the boys in the group disengaged from the discussion and went back to exchanging expletive loaded banter. I imagined that the boys may have taken offense the evangelist. To Muslims, Jesus is a prophet and not the son of God, and here was this evangelist telling them that if they did not believe he was the son of God, they would end up in Hell.
In his quest to evangelize and win over souls, was the young evangelist straddling the thin line between conviction and compulsion or was my imagination getting the best of me?
In a society often polarized along religious lines, healthy discourse on matters of religion amongst people of different faiths, can be a powerful tool for fostering peaceful co-existence, especially so in a diverse and inclusive environment like the Henry Ford College campus, where the free flow of ideas between peers is encouraged, and tolerance, understanding and acceptance is nurtured.
One thing to keep in mind with such discourse however is that it should not serve to further polarize an already polarized society. If the intention is to aggressively compel others to abandon their own beliefs which are often rooted in their cultural heritage, their daily lives, and their sense of identity, there can be more harm done than good.