Can inter faith work on Facebook?


This report was commissioned by the SERIC-Europe group who have observed some of the exchanges taking place on the Christian Muslim Forum Facebook group.

Observations about inter faith on Facebook:

  1. it is not easy and is challenging (true of the real world also)
  2. as we are all equal when exchanging plain text (and sometimes hypertext) with each other we may be less aware of our human differences/inequality
  3. immediacy without actual knowledge can be risky
  4. ideally those in positions of religious, inter faith or other leadership will see the importance of engaging pastorally, not antagonistically, and take on a role of being shepherds
  5. the importance of speaking up for one's own community and also the other's
  6. patience is essential, as is not giving in to ego
  7. asking ourselves what kind of exchange we are having/intending/seeking is very important and we need to be aware of each other and 'the group', especially the large silent majority
  8. it is possible, as an admin, to be too strict and too lenient at the same time!
  9. it is easy to forget what is at the core of our religion and that we should be a good advert for it, while that, sometimes, seems to be stood on its head
  10. dialogue groups can be perceived as an open invitation to engage in da'wah/evangelism or rubbishing the other religion and being very provocative
  11. the more difficult exchanges generate the most 'life', as well as heat, and even when negative enable the group to grow in their relationships with each other and affirm each other in a context of conflict

An appreciation of inter faith on Facebook

‘I have recently joined an Interfaith group in town (Faith in Lancaster) and find it much easier to talk in that kind of setting, but I am also glad for this Facebook group and the opportunities it presents for interfaith dialogue.’

Though it has its limitations:

‘I'm encouraged that you're asking these questions. For me, inter-faith dialogue works at its most transformative face-to-face, where we have time to share our life stories, our experiences, and so on. If I’m honest I don't think facebook offers the same space to be able to share these particular experiences, which require a lot of trust, friendship, and mutual respect etc. However, I think facebook is an extremely important resource for mobilising people. … So, I’d say there is certainly a role of facebook facilitating inter-faith dialogue, but we should be sensitive to the way it can easily breed misunderstanding (particularly over intention) if we’re unable to account for who we truly are, where we are coming from etc. But we shouldn’t necessarily let that stop us from attempting to dialogue through facebook. On the whole I’m impressed with the Christian Muslim Forum facebook site, and even if interfaith dialogue proves quite a challenge, it is also a good way to keep “in the loop” with what’s occuring.’

Some tips:

For the best dialogue we need to slow down, admit our own ignorance, go and find out (FB gives us that possibility, unlike sitting in a dialogue meeting) and be aware that our dialogue partners may not know either. We also need to know, ideally, where the other person is coming from and take the trouble to find out, we may need to wait a while [for a response], they could be in a different time zone.

On being pastoral (looking out for others):

'I think as soon as you put a relational context into dialogue, and try and guide it by the widely understood and practised guidelines for conducting relationships, all you have said is a given. Sad thing is we have so lost it that what you said is actually good and quite novel!! Thus your point here - being pastoral in our discussion - is anathema to modern philosophical debate.  Its as true for Muslims or anyone else as us "western Christians" as modernity has set the standards for proper scholarly debate throughout the world.'

Those who host and facilitate dialogue have a particular (pastoral, and occasionally policing) role in looking out for all the participants. Having seen some discussions, debates or worse, 'dialogue' situations can be an opportunity to show the best of our religion and also the worst of it. I have seen both, needless to say (mixing metaphors), some of it is not pretty and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

'I guess its partly about the paradox between being humble and being bold, open hearted and committed, righteous and merciful. In the way we deal with each other and handle difference I think we should be mindful of that paradox and model it.'

The challenges of being a group admin:

'With responsibility comes . . . . . the various ethical headaches you describe! It's a hard job; but someone's gotta' do it! I have found over the years that there is no one single answer to your question. You will have to take each case on its merits (or lack of same!), and decide on a case by case basis. I would say that if all someone does is to post links to this or that site, and has very little (if any!) interaction, then they are obviously not here to dialogue and learn, but just to push their own brand of religion and right or wrong. I would personally call them on their actions, and if they want to have a PM session with someone who can then make a fully informed decision as to the intent of the poster; lets go for it. If, however there is no reply at all from the poster after a specified length of time; then delete them and their posts forthwith! Also; a list of words and phrases for the admins to look out for might go a long way to reducing the number of abusive posters, i.e. if a certain phrase is used, the post is pending until such time as it has been directly checked by an admin, which may necessitate a PM or two to clarify intent. If intent is abusive or overly forceful, delete, if intent has been misunderstood and badly phrased, help can be given to re-write maybe?'

The spiritual side of online inter faith:

'What goes on here on FB is merely one aspect of how we all interact with life more broadly - it's not disconnected from it. Although we are all limited human beings, and thus can only refract a certain amount and frequency of light, the task before us all, as Muslims and Christians, is to manifest the 'core of our religions' in all that we do, including how we interact/dialogue on FB. For me, it means listening to others, beyond superficial lip service, but striving to understand them, as themselves. It also means speaking as myself, being authentically honest. And all the while understanding that our dialogue exists within the overarching Merciful Hand of God.'

'a meeting of the heart, not of texts, an appreciation of each other and each other's beliefs, religion, scripture, even though, and especially when, we disagree, some degree of equal levels of interest in the other.’

Read the whole report here.

Julian Bond
Director, Christian Muslim Forum

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