Two of the activities that I use in workshops are formatted as games and center around Bible verses and the Quran and some central beliefs in Christianity and Islam. In the first activity the students have to guess whether a given statement is from the Bible or from the Quran. Some campers have a good grasp of the Bible or the Quran and found the activity relatively easy. Others, however struggled. I intentionally chose verses and ayahs that sounded similar, especially when they discussed violence. also pointed out to verses in the Quran that talk about peace and caring for others.
In the media we often hear about how violent Islam and the Quran are. The public discourse surrounding Islam and the Quran seems to imply that Islam created terrorism and violence. Violence in Christian or Jewish texts are often ignored. Or in the case of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) Christians dismiss that section of the Bible as if it were irrelevant. Or some say, “of course the Old Testament is violent…” ignoring books like Revelation in the New Testament. Or, some Christians state, “well you need to take violent Bible verses in their context,” while not extending the same curtesy to the Quran.
In this activity, by contrasting and comparing the Bible and Quran I hope to open campers eyes to the ways in which violence and peace are described in both texts. This often jumpstarts a discussion on islamophobia in the United States and how violence and terrorism are not limited to Islam or to non-state actors. My favorite part of the activity is watching the surprised look on campers face when a verse they thought was in the Quran turns out to be from the Bible or vice versa. I am also inspired by how willing the campers are to engage in tough discussions about violence in a text they consider to be sacred.
My second activity is similar to the first one, except that it asks students to decide whether a belief is Islamic, Christian or both. For example, I might say, “Belief: Jesus is awesome” and the campers have to decide whether that is something that only Muslims believe, that only Christians believe or if it is something shared by both faiths. I of course mention that Christianity and Islam are both complicated and diverse religions and that in this game I have to simplify that complexity. But it has been fascinating to see how campers react to certain beliefs. For example, many are amazed at some of the similarities between Christianity and Islam. Such as the belief that Jesus is a prophet, a belief in one God etc. But they are also intrigued by some differences. The Quran for instances denies Jesus’ crucifixion and death. The discussion after the activity often leads to questions surrounding how Christians should treat Muslims in light of the similarity and differences amongst the two religions. In the two camps I have been to so far, many of the campers I have met have not had sustained interactions with Muslims, yet it is extremely heartening to hear them say that they reject the common narrative that Islam is inherently violent or that terrorism is simply a Muslim problem. Many are willing to examine and critique the violence done in the name of their own religion by Nation-states, individuals, and small groups.
Peace is complicated. Peace is a long, drawn out process. But I believe that one step in creating a more just and peaceful world requires a rejection of villainizing those who look, believe, or act differently than us. I am thrilled to see how many high schoolers could teach us adults a thing or two about acceptance.