Mormon-Muslim Lunch at Harvard Business School

I recently attended a lunch that was designed as kind of an interfaith sharing/Q&A type of event.  Basically, the Mormon and the Muslims clubs on campus have a history of working together, and we wanted to take a rare opportunity to sit down and ask questions to people whom we have come to admire and would like to understand better.  About thirty people showed up.

On the surface, the thing that first brought the Mormons and the Muslims together was probably drinking… or should I say the lack thereof.  The social scene at HBS can revolve a lot around drinking, so it’s no surprise that as both of our religions teach abstinence from alcohol, finding other non-drinkers would be a natural point of bonding. We teetotalers have to stick together after all. But when we started looking deeper, we found that drinking was actually one of the more minor points of commonality.

During our lunch, I was really struck with a deep sense of respect for my Muslim friends.  It was apparent that they loved God, were striving to live the best lives possible, cared for each other, and held a deep commitment to their faith. The mutual respect that was felt during that lunch was almost tangible.  Each group took turns asking the other questions and sincerely listening to the answers. What struck me was how rare it is in our society to sit down and talk deeply about another person’s faith with the intent to learn from it and not argue about it. There is very little that is as personal to someone as their faith, and making an effort to really understand someone’s faith really helps you connect to them on a level that we don’t often get to with our classmates or coworkers. I loved it. Apparently, so did everyone else because the Q&A continued for about 45 minutes after the lunch was scheduled to end.

Having a chance to connect with people in such a deep way reminded me of how wonderful people of all faiths really are.  I wonder what would happen if we took the time to listen and understand our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates on that level more often.  My guess is that the world would be a much better place.

Gordon B. Hinckley, one of our prophets, has said that we should cultivate “a spirit of affirmative gratitude” for those of differing religious, political, and philosophical persuasions, adding that “we do not in any way have to compromise our theology” in the process. He gave this counsel: “Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.”

When have you had similar experiences? What have you found that has been helpful in connecting with people of other faiths? I’d love to hear.

6 thoughts on “Mormon-Muslim Lunch at Harvard Business School

  1. Natalie

    “… how rare it is in our society to sit down and talk deeply about another person’s faith with the intent to learn from it and not argue about it.”

    Boy isn’t that the truth? I had an awesome experience last week talking to my coworker for several hours about his beliefs. To be honest, I had ZERO idea he was even religious. So often I think people of faith keep that part of their life quiet. Why? Exactly for the reasons you outline above. (For me, it’s fear of argument, confrontation, judgment, etc.)

    As we really talked, however, with completely open minds (and hearts!) we shared much more in common than either of us probably realized! People of faith all share a similar bond — that beyond logical reason, we have faith while living in a secular world. It’s a bond that connects all people of faith and something that provides a foundation for discussion.

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  2. Nisha

    Jacob – thank you for posting this! Your thoughts are well articulated and those of us attending from the Islamic Society were very impressed and humbled by the faith of those in attendance. It really was a rare chance to bond with a group that has many more similarities than any of us expected and I have to admit that I feel a sense of camaraderie with the LDS students on campus. We are really looking forward to hosting more collaborative teetotaler friendly events next year and more importantly, forming a stronger bond with your group.

    -Nisha
    President of The Harvard Business School Islamic Society

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    1. Jacob

      Nisha- thanks for commenting.

      I’m glad you are planning on keeping the relationship alive and thriving. I think there is a lot of value for ‘people of faith’ to learn from and support each other. As I said in the post, I really appreciated the chance we had to do it the other week. I’m sure many people will be blessed from participating in the more wholesome activities that you plan for next year.

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  3. Jacob

    I just got a comment from someone that I decided to delete as I felt a small part of it was not respectful to another commenter on this post. I sensed that there were some sincere questions involved in the comment and if this is the case I’d invite you to repost sans the specific comment and I’ll gladly let the comment stand and do my best to give an honest reply.

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  4. Barbara

    Great post, Jacob. I often wonder how God cares for all his children, how’s it’s physically possible. It’s also really hard to understand the different cultures, and their interpretation of God. Discussion like this only brings out the uniting factor within humanity, and really shows how deity is in all of us. Go team!

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  5. Barbara O.

    What an amazing experience! Thanks for posting it, Jacob :o) It gives me hope that one day I’ll be able to have that kind of conversation with someone from a different faith, too. I always seem to run into the people that are antagonistic and argumentative and want to shake my faith in what I believe in, even in my family. I have much respect for those of other faiths who believe in their religion as strongly as I do; it makes them a better person as much as my faith does for me. “Recognize their virtues.” That’s what I try to do with other faiths, and it’s what I hope the people I encounter will be able to do after I’ve had a conversation with them about religion (even if it starts off on the wrong foot).

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