The One Thing That Can Break Down Religious Barriers For Good





"Is there hair under [your hijab]?"
"Are there black Buddhists?"
"[People suggested] I couldn't have a concept of right or wrong without a perception of God in my life."
These are just a few of the strange questions and comments about religion and spirituality that Americans hear from their fellow Americans.
In a video for Know Your Neighbor, an interfaith advocacy coalition, eight people talk about the stereotypes they've been hit with. The conversation ranges from absurd accusations ("You can't be Egyptians ... Egyptians are extinct") to reflections on why such ideas persist ("The misconceptions stem from the not knowing, not understanding").
Know Your Neighbor's goal is to get people to re-evaluate their misconceptions and start celebrating religious diversity, according to Gurwin Ahuja, co-founder of theNational Sikh Campaign, which is spearheading the Know Your Neighbor coalition.
The initiative asks people to take a pledge to engage in interfaith dialogue with their neighbors. The coalition launched with the video in December and plans a social media campaign, beginning Jan. 28, to encourage the sharing of stories about positive interfaith encounters and relationships.
"If you just take the time to understand your neighbors, you'll find that you'll become more tolerant of their beliefs," Ahuja told The Huffington Post. 
Research suggests that Ahuja is right. 
Social scientists Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell have found that people who have a personal relationship with someone from a different faith group aremore likely to have positive attitudes toward that group. The Pew Research Center saw this principle in action in a 2007 survey. Fifty-six percent of those who said they knew someone who was Muslim had a favorable impression of Muslims overall. Just 32 percent of those who didn't personally know Muslims had a favorable impression of the group.
The challenge, Ahuja said, is reaching the kinds of people who don't ordinarily engage in interfaith activism.
One way that Know Your Neighbor is tackling this is by gathering together organizations that don't often sit at the same table. The campaign is supported by groups that range from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative public interest law firm, to Shoulder to Shoulder, an interfaith organization dedicated to ending Islamophobia.
"We hope that we're able to get people that normally don't communicate with each other to build understanding," Ahuja said.
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