By: InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit –
Aleena Malik, 15, is a rising sophomore at Troy High School. In the seventh grade, she participated as a Religious Diversity Journeys (RDJ) Ambassador, a program of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Malik said RDJ opened her eyes and mind about different religions and hopes that more of her high school peers can find ways to learn to dispel myths and misinformation about religions that differ from their own.
Growing up in a Muslim family, she learned a little bit about Judaism and Christianity “because these religions are intertwined with Islam.” But being involved in RDJ also exposed her to learn about Hinduism and the Bahai faith, she said.
In her own faith practice, Malik has drawn much joy and teachings from Islam. All her life, she has been taught the values of honesty, modesty and giving to others along with the five pillars of Islam. She grew up listening to stories of the time her father went on Haj to Mecca. She loved hearing how every Muslim pilgrim dressed in white as they walk around the Kaaba so all are seen as equals regardless of their racial or socioeconomic background. Someday, she hopes to go on her own Haj.
One of the standout experiences for Malik during RDJ was when her group visited the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. There, a Holocaust survivor led the group through the museum and gave their own account of persecution, suffering, and survival.
“I was so blown away by this experience I brought my family back there for a visit,” said Malik. “By taking this trip with RDJ, I learned the importance of never remaining passive or silent during times that people are persecuted for their religion.”
Now that she is in high school, Malik’s RDJ experiences have got her thinking that her high school peers should also be more informed about religions that differ from their own.
“Many kids do not have a clue about different religions,” said Malik. “For example, there are not that many Jewish kids at my high school. While there are different religious clubs (like a Christian and Muslim Student associations), I would like to see an interfaith club where students can learn about different beliefs and traditions. Lots of times, kids carry religious stereotypes, and having an interfaith club would help clarify a lot of these stereotypes.”
Like all students, Malik hopes that she can return to high school in person, at least part of the time, in the fall. She loves to play sports such as tennis and volleyball and enjoys hiking and nature. This summer, she is keeping a journal as well as meeting up with friends and taking a few classes online.