This article was written by Rachael Heffernan, writer and researcher for The Drawing Board.

In an age of diversity and, unfortunately, hideous bigotry, it’s understandable that most of us are concerned with making sure the people around us are safe people. Are they racist? Homophobic? Sexist? Islamophobic? Judeophobic? Ageist? Sizeist? There are a lot of forms of discrimination to look out for.

Sadly, in many cases in our efforts to make sure we aren’t subject to stereotypes and generalizations we lump people into categories. Religious people aren’t safe for queer folk. Queer folk aren’t safe for religious people. White people aren’t safe for people of colour. Jews aren’t safe for Muslims, skinny minnies aren’t safe for the fat-bulous – the list goes on and on.

These are obviously problematic, and I don’t think it needs saying that stereotypes of all kinds are violent. They are pervasive though, and recently I’ve noticed a trend in some of my communities to simultaneously want to bring an end to bigotry while absolutely abhorring belief in God.

Of all the things to abhor in this world, that seems like a strange one. It’s like abhorring yoga, or a passion for decorating, or cooking with coconut oil – except it’s actually worse than those because abhorring belief in God leads to the alienation of religious (and non-religious, believe it or not) people the world over. Any kind of alienation causes more trauma than it prevents and it’s ultimately hugely problematic for anyone who believes in the beauty of diversity and wants peace. How can a person say ‘Ramadan Mubarak,’ and then unsubscribe to someone’s feed because they talk about God too much? That’s like going out to celebrate Chinese New Year and then getting angry that everyone keeps speaking Chinese.

So what’s the problem? What stereotype is causing that discomfort? Is it the idea that religious belief leads to violence and discrimination? Proselytization? Judgement? Ignorance?

Obviously each of these is problematic. Each is based on bigoted stereotypes.

Every day, every one of us has choices. The choices I make may not be the right choices for you, but that doesn’t mean they’re not the right choices for me. It is our duty to be nonviolent people, and that includes abstaining from discrimination in all its forms. In addressing violence, it is important that we do not become violent ourselves.

Eid Mubarak, everyone.

During the 2015 Canadian federal election, the niqab came into central focus as a key election issue with Canadians dividing themselves among the camps of supporters and condemners. The issue reached such a ridiculous fervour that, on the advice of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, I opted to write an opinion-editorial on the issue about how it was dividing the country and we must stand together to move forward. After this article’s publication, I received an email from the Rabbanit (wife of the Rabbi), Dorit, at Beth Shalom Synagogue. She proposed that we start a Muslim-Jewish women’s dialogue circle to talk about some of the issues that plague both of our religious groups and would allow us to create a safe environment for women from both groups to ask questions, offer insights and generally get pushed out of their comfort zones in the interests of learning.

Our first meeting in January at the Synagogue was small but intimate. The few women from both sides shared their life stories and, by virtue of the fact that the meeting was taking place in the Synagogue, answered many questions about their brand of Judaism, Jewish dynamics in the city and their perspectives on some political aspects of both faiths. Some amazing connections were made, especially between myself, Nakita, and Michelle from the Jewish community. A philosopher, feminist, life coach and convert, Michelle is a tour de force who has gone on to launch Edmonton’s first women’s film festival in honour of International Women’s Day. Nakita was lucky enough to help in a small way with this effort with The Drawing Board being privileged enough to build the website and help with some public relations aspects.

Such relationships are not the only beautiful thing to come out of the group so far. In our second meeting at the MAC Rahma Mosque in February, the turnout was much higher and the Muslim and Jewish women were lucky enough to get a tour of the mosque from the brand new Imam, Dr. El Sayed Amin. The Imam is exceptionally gifted in public speaking, interreligious dialogue and intellectual pursuits so to have his full attention was a true honour for all of us. Additionally, most of the Muslim women had never had a tour of their own mosque before so it was an amazing learning opportunity for us as well. The mosque was unbelievably hospitable to us, offering us the space on a continuous basis (bi-monthly as we change on and off with the Synagogue) and having the Imam around to answer any of our more in-depth questions and read us excerpts of the Qur’an.

The second meeting’s conversation revolved around the subject of veiling and modesty in both the Muslim and Jewish traditions and the dialogue was amazing. For many participants, it was the first time for them to encounter a person of the other faith, let alone sit across from them, sharing food and life stories. Perhaps my favourite part of all was when the Jewish women joined the Muslim women in the Musalla for ‘Asr prayer, with some Jewish women actually participating in the prayer, shoulder-to-shoulder with their Muslim sisters. It was so beautiful, it actually brought a tear to my eye.

In the coming months, we will be discussing such important and controversial issues as conversion, terrorism, Palestine-Israel and much, much more. As our group grows and solidifies, we hope to have more public events aimed at creating a better understanding of both of our often misunderstood communities. And if we can do this together with mutual respect and kindness, we have already won the day.

This blog is an op-ed piece written by Rachael Heffernan, writer and researcher for The Drawing Board.

Recently, I’ve noticed an influx of articles discussing the phenomenon whereby people tend to portray their lives through rose-coloured filters when they are posting on their social media platform. Failures are covered up and bad days don’t exist in the ideal life presented before the world in the form of Facebook statuses and Instagram photos.

130423202813-obeidallah-muslim-peace-sign-story-top

There are people that see this phenomenon as frustrating or dangerous. They understand it as perpetuating an unrealistic standard of living, or consider it representative of the inauthenticity of interactions online.

To tackle the latter problem first: it is important to realize that you will never get, nor are you ever owed, unadulterated, complete, and utter honesty from each and every person you interact with. To have that expectation is frankly insane. People hang their best pictures on the wall, people choose stories to tell depending on their audience, and half the time people don’t know what the “truth” is, anyways. Whether online or in person, you will only ever get a partial picture.

And that’s okay.

Dancing Image 645 x 350

You are allowed to choose what you tell people. You are allowed to focus on the positives and refrain from posting about your hardships. I have absolutely no problem with seeing the ideal versions of people’s lives. Why?

Because I like seeing joy. I like when people are posting funny videos and beautiful photos and uplifting statuses. I don’t like looking at other people’s happiness and success and feeling bitter, resentful, jealous, or judged. I like feeling happy for them. I like feeling inspired. I have had many a bad day where looking at pictures on Facebook made me feel better. I have posted things specifically to make myself focus on the good in my life during rough patches. Social media can be a place where happiness is shared and shared and shared and shared. And to feel joy at another person’s fortune is a choice you can make – and a choice you should make.

beautiful-dress-field-girl-peaceful

If you don’t find Facebook representative enough of reality, go spend some time in reality. Let people post their filtered photos and snapshots of their best selves, because ultimately a stage of 1000 “friends” is not an appropriate place for everyone to post their gruesome, unedited vulnerability.

tumblr_lhm72fNuP71qe6uhf

The hope is that we all have enough close friendships, enough face-to-face conversations, enough intimacy and wisdom in our lives to realize that everyone has hard times, bad days, rough spots, and bumps in the road. We should be able to recognize that our social media profiles are not meant to be our biographies – they are parts of our public selves, and as such, are representative of the things we want to project into the world.

tumblr_static_tumblr_m9kztbmcna1qajmbto1_500