By Sana Rahim, MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellow
As a student at Northwestern University, I spent four years deeply exploring the idea of social justice and understanding the complexities of international development. Through organisations like The Global Engagement Summit and my research experiences in Turkey, I met countless social entrepreneurs and development practitioners who had envisioned a more just and equitable world and had dedicated their lives to making those visions a reality.
It is surprising to note that it was not until my training in London a couple of months ago as a part of the Faiths Act Fellowship that I encountered faith as a major component of doing and understanding development work. It was in those four weeks that I became acutely aware of the role that faiths and faith communities play in realising solutions to global problems like malaria.
It was astounding to learn that a significant majority of development work is done by and through faith channels. The primary point of access to any community is through its respective faith leaders and institutions. On a basic level, it is estimated that 70-80% of the world is of faith. Almost immediately, it seemed clear that understanding faith was inextricably tied to development work.
However, faith is a complicated item in the 21st century. Although globalisation has produced a sharp increase in the availability of information about world religions and faith traditions, there are still vast problems with religious literacy and interfaith understanding.
While religion is vitally important to most of the world, it is extremely misunderstood.
As a Muslim American who gained consciousness in a post 9/11 world, it is no secret to me that religion is often manipulated to create conflict, rather than good in the world. As a practising Muslim committed to social justice, it seems like there is no better time to bring faith communities together to demonstrate common action for global problems.
The Faiths Act Fellowship is both a professional and personal opportunity for me to merge my faith as a Muslim, and my passion for social change in my work at MedShare. However, I don’t see myself as a part of a movement of just 34 fellows. During our training, we met with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, who is attempting to grant every single person free access to the sum of human knowledge. Tony Blair spoke to us about the importance of grassroots movements sparking change in the rhetoric used to discuss religion in the political sphere. Dr Maryam Oyekan shared her experience working with faith leaders in Nigeria to educate them on malaria prevention and treatment.
I see the other Faiths Act Fellows and myself working alongside a diverse range of like minded individuals that will ultimately forge a new reality in the world. While I know that my year in Atlanta will not necessarily erase all misconceptions and stereotypes of religion, I do know that it is a small microcosm of a global movement that is rooted in people of all faiths around the world.
To read other Tony Blair Faiths Act Fellows blog posts, visit their website here.