1. Check your heart. Ask yourself why you wish to engage in dialogue with people of other faiths. If your intent is not to convert them to your faith but to build mutually respectful and harmonious relationships with them, then your heart is in the right place.
2. Disarm, and make room within. Be aware of your prejudices, fears and apprehensions about relating with those who do not share your faith. Disarm yourself by making an effort to understand and accept those prejudices and fears, while also reaching out beyond your comfort zone to overcome them. Learn about the beliefs and practices of those whom you wish to engage in dialogue with, and find something in them that is good and admirable.
3. Prepare a common ground. Reflect on hopes, dreams and aspirations that you might have in common with those of other faiths whom you wish to engage in dialogue. Listen to your common humanity; underneath your unique identities, personalities, interests, and values, there are basic human needs that you share. Prepare to meet each other there.
4. Respect diversity, honor differences. Diversity is in the divine scheme of things. It is evident in nature all around us. There are trees that grow tall, shrubs that remain low, birds that fly and snakes that slitter, mountains that are high and low-lying meadows. Diversity is evident among people, too. They come from different backgrounds, races, cultures, beliefs, etc. Respect and honor those differences. They are what make our lives challenging and meaningful, our relationships enriching, and our world wonderful.
5. Invite and be gracious. Reach out beyond your comfort zone to people of other faiths and invite them to dialogue. Graciously and humbly share with them your hopes, dreams and aspirations for a better community, a better world. Invite and encourage them to share theirs with you, too.
6. Create safe spaces and build trust. Provide a “safe space” where people can feel assured that you accept them for who they are, and not for what you wish them to be.
- Prepare a neutral place to meet where no symbols or articles of your faith might be perceived as imposing or threatening.
- Sit everyone in a circle, leaving an open space at the middle. The circle enables everyone to see and relate with each other better with no hierarchy of status or rank getting in the way between you and them
- Be modestly garbed and respectful that your ways of being and your manner of speaking are sensitive to the culture and ways of your dialogue partners (e.g. their ways of worship and prayer, of relating with women and with each other, their manner of greeting, the food that they eat or do not eat, etc.)
- If possible, provide separate serving tables for the different dietary preferences (e.g. vegetarian, halal food, etc) during meals
- When engaging in dialogue with Muslims, it would be good if you remember to provide them with a place for ablution and a separate area for their prayers.
7. Listen deeply. Make time to be fully present and hear “the other” speak. Be in the moment, and hold no fears from the past or anxieties about the future. Be here-now. Focus your attention away from yourself and fully on “the other” by silencing your mind and engaging your entire being in deep listening. Be sensitive to the “other,” not only to the words that are being said, but also to the silences beneath those words. Humility, patience, and loving kindness are essential to dialogue. Though these attitudes of heart do not come naturally to some of us, these can be developed in time when one maintains the practice of listening deeply.
8. Speak humbly. Respond without haste from the silence of your mind and the listening of your heart. The heart is a place beyond words where oneness with the “other” can awaken us to love truly without fear, where compassion for our shared human condition can be experienced, and where deep respect and appreciation for the beauty and uniqueness of God’s creation can be beheld in each other with awe and reverence.
9. Appreciate uniqueness. There is beauty, divinity, and a sense of excitement and adventure in our human existence. Each relationship is unique just as each person in the relationship is unique. Building relationships with people who are different from our selves brings with it the challenge of inner growth and self-transformation. Learning to accept and appreciate our differences is a difficult process of “dying unto ourselves” so that “the other can be”. But to persevere in the endeavor strengthens organs of the soul that enable us to bear the gift of friendship and love for “the other” who may be different from our selves but with whom we share a common origin and destiny in God.
10. Inspire co-creative action. Interfaith dialogue is about relationship-building. Good and steadfast relationships are built on the foundation of trust. When we trust that we can be ourselves and not be expected to be like the other, when we can accept our differences and be mutually respectful and appreciative of each other’s uniqueness, then our journey together will lead us to places in our hearts where we can be one. We can unite in our efforts to find co-creative ways of bringing about a peaceful, harmonious and better world for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.