Exploring Global Beliefs First-Hand
Bronx Expeditionary Learning High School (BELHS) teacher
Steve Gilman led his Global History class in studying world
religions and philosophies this spring.
Following extensive classroom work, students explored the three
monotheisms—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—in one day of
Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner, director of the Center for Multi-Faith
Education at Auburn Theological Seminary, led the students in a
workshop on religious diversity and tolerance. The rabbi also
described the "Face to Face—Faith to Faith" program which initiates
dialogues between young people in conflict areas like Israel-
Palestine. This held special interest for BELHS students, who had
designed compelling Israeli-Palestinian peace plans while studying
the Middle East conflict.
Josh Borkin of the Auburn team escorted the students to the
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where they focused on how religious
beliefs are expressed through ritual, memorials and church
architecture. The class shared ideas on faith practices that create
community within and among beliefs, asked questions of the priests
and lit a few candles as they explored the massive stone Cathedral.
Poems they had written about religious diversity and tolerance will be
added to the Cathedral’s Poets Corner.
Then the students joined some 1,000 Muslims for Jumma
prayers at the Islamic Center on East 96th Street. The girls, who had
covered their heads en route to the mosque, sat in the balcony, separated
from the boys who lined up with the men downstairs. Those
who felt comfortable doing so joined in the prayers, kneeling on the
carpet, before the imam, Sheikh Omar Saleem Abu-Namous
(pictured left), delivered his sermon.
After the service, the imam led students in a discussion of Islam
and answered a number of tough questions about faith, justice, and
gender roles in Islam. Many dealt with the diversity of the faith community
in Jerusalem, a central theme in the students’ examination of
monotheisms. During the discussion, a young couple approached
the imam and asked him to marry them. He obliged, and with students
surrounding them on the carpet, the couple nervously took
their vows as the imam explained their marital obligations according
to the Koran—an unforgettable cap to this extraordinary day.
Back in class, students debriefed their intense experience, discussing
gender and social justice issues, tolerance and other topics
that arose during the fieldwork. "Students came to some eye-opening
conclusions about their beliefs, and how they believe others practice
their beliefs," Steve said.