Former Student Group Leader, Walking the Walk Youth Initiative
Remarks from the 2015 Dare to Understand Awards Benefit
"My name is Hanna Elmongy, and I am a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. Starting in 2008, I was a Muslim participant from the Villanova mosque in Walking the Walk, the Interfaith Center’s dialogue and community service program for teenagers. As a graduating senior about to start the next stage of my life I have been reflecting a lot, and I have found that Walking the Walk and interfaith in general have shaped the woman I am becoming in a way that makes me proud. I was a participant in Walking the Walk as a sophomore in high school, a student group leader my junior year, on the green team my senior year, and also an intern at the Interfaith Center for a month during my senior year. Walking the Walk helped me to find my voice and self-confidence as a teenager, but it also helped me to develop my vision of myself as I moved into adulthood.
"I recently realized how unique Walking the Walk is as a youth program. I’m actually taking an Interfaith in Action class this semester. I’ve been participating in interfaith dialogues for 6 or 7 years now, but for some people in the class, this is their first time. For one of our service projects we were volunteering at a church, and someone asked me if I, as a Muslim, had ever been inside a church. I immediately answered “yes, of course” before realizing that this was not a typical answer. That was the moment that solidified how unique my experiences in high school were. Walking the Walk allowed us not only to enter different religious spaces and observe religious practices, but we got to interact with peers of different faiths on a personal level. We became friends and through those relationships were able to share deeper parts of ourselves that were not often shared with those outside of our religious tradition.
"Walking the Walk provided me with a foundation to build upon once I got to college where religious experience became a priority for me. I’ve participated in a variety of interfaith discussions and activities at Penn, and Walking the Walk has helped me to extract more meaning from these interactions as well as to inject a unique perspective from my experiences. I’ve seen some of my peers struggle to maintain a productive dialogue. I have hope that through more exposure to interfaith dialogue they will be able to learn as much as they share. But this made me realize that the exposure that Walking the Walk provides at a fairly young age prepares us to get more out of these conversations and be all around more thoughtful individuals.
"I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature and purpose of interfaith recently. I think I originally became engaged in interfaith to dispel misconceptions about Islam in a post-911 world, but I quickly learned the uplifting value of discussing our shared beliefs and learning from each other. I realized how intersectional our struggles and goals are and the need to build bridges that we can rely on in times of stress. My freshman year of college the Associated Press reported that the New York Police Department was monitoring Muslim Students Associations across the East Coast, including Penn’s. There was a lot of fear in the Muslim community at Penn, but one of the beautiful things that came out of this incident was a stronger relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities. The President of Hillel (the Jewish organization on campus) reached out to the president of the Muslim Students Association to express that they stood in solidarity with us against the profiling of a minority religious group. This incident embodies what I have come to see as an important purpose of interfaith: allyship. An ally is someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own, working through differences to achieve mutual goals. Although college has opened my eyes to the struggles that require us to dare to understand one another and support each other as allies, I already began to do so during my time in Walking the Walk. I know that whatever I do in my life I will always be connected to religious communities, and a goal I have set for myself is to always dare to step across the line, to always build bridges rather than let them be burnt, and to let the love overpower the hate.
"I am pleased to introduce you to the Philadelphia Boys Choir. Its members are representative of the amazing diversity of the greater Philadelphia area.
Their music brings the young people together across lines of difference, creating life-long friendships. Enjoy."