After visiting the holy sites of all three Abrahamic religions around Jerusalem this semester, we were presented with a final question: “Is religion the source of all conflict in the world?” If you watch the news lately, you might be led to think that it is to blame. However, I think religion is just an easy target for the underlying source of conflict which is humans’ difference of opinion over how to live their lives. Religion provides people with a purpose, and I think without organized religion, there would still be conflict due to people’s disagreements over the “best way” to live. I’ve come to realize that by believing in God, be it Allah, Hashem, or The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we recognize a truth and communal set of values that we believe will help us live moral lives and achieve our goals. The texts that we read to teach us these values (ie. Tanach, Mishnah, Christian Bible, Qur’an, etc) are interpreted by people everywhere and we affect this truth. Life experiences impact how these texts are read and interpreted and therefore conflict emerges from those differences in perspective. These distinct outlooks would have manifested themselves in other ways even if we weren’t applying them to religious texts. Universal agreement would never exist since we all live such unique lives.
In our Jerusalem class we visited a Muslim community and spoke with a woman named Yasmine who moved from England to Jerusalem, converted to Islam, and married a Muslim man. She spoke to us and explained her reasoning for converting to Islam. All of her reasons were peaceful and beautiful, and she saw something in the religion that most people don’t see in this day and age. People practice religion and live their lives by putting different spins on our shared texts. I believe that it is those human flaws and reflections of their own feelings and attitudes that either lead to conflict or to coexistence. These sacred texts can be compared to drugs in that their use or misuse depends on the hands of those who pursue them. One with corrupted ideals, such as religious extremists, will use them to their own advantage and will use beauty to justify evil. However, religion can provide an impressive framework for life that allows us to achieve the most we can and do good.
Furthermore, this class has helped me to understand all of the complex ties that people of many faiths have to this city and the sensitivity which that carries. This one small place has consistently played a huge role throughout history and can affect people in so many ways. I was interested to learn about Jerusalem Syndrome that people can get when they come to Jerusalem where they become delusional by the magnitude of the city. Overall, I really appreciated how we read passages from the holy books of all 3 faiths and learned the stories and central tenants of each religion. From text studies and visits to holy sites, I enjoyed experiencing Jerusalem where this mixture of experience and interpretation are on display.