Friendship Day Held to Promote Global Peace

Julia Herbst

This Friday marks Oberlin’s second annual Friendship Day, a festival developed through collaboration between the Religion department and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

“Basically, the idea of Friendship Day is to create a kind of ritual for looking at friendship,” said the Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and co-leader of the Friendship Initiative Reverend Greg McGonigle. “When we talk about friendship, we don’t really mean it in a sentimental way, or certainly not in a Facebook way, in which you friend all these different people but it really doesn’t mean anything. It’s really about thinking about being intentional about building friendships where there’s conflict, or across identities.”

The project called the Friendship Initiative — the sponsor of Friendship Day — was developed in large part by Oberlin’s Presidential Scholar of Islam Jafar Mahallati. Mahallati, who has a background as both a religious scholar and U.N. diplomat, came to believe that the philosophy of friendship could be used as a more effective tool to promote global peace than only tolerance or justice.

“Tolerance, and, at best, passive ‘pluralism’ have defined the outcome of the foundational concepts of these dialogues. These concepts produce short-term results,” said Mahallati in an e-mail to the Review. “In short, serious international conflicts and serious conceptual stalemate in dialogues and conflict resolutions remain on the ground. Only a new paradigm could break these deadlocks.”

Mahallati believes that a festival like Friendship Day provides the opportunity for friendship to transition from an abstract life philosophy to an applicable life approach.

“Friendship as a worldview that can positively transform human relations is one thing; its realization, however, is a whole different challenge,” said Mahallati. “Festivals in world cultures are powerful institutions that provide practical opportunities to learn by acting and interaction. The Persian word Mehregan was designated for an autumn festival since the fourth century B.C. in Zoroastrian Persia. It was later adopted by the Arabic language and used for any festival across Arabic speaking countries. Mehregan, or Mahrajan, as pronounced in contemporary Arabic, literally means celebration of friendship. Festivals around love and friendship have deep roots in ancient cultures.”

This year’s festival begins in the Root Room of the Carnegie Building from 4:30 to 6 p.m. with various presentations including storytelling, poetry reading, student art and music organized by Reverend McGonigle.

Following the event in Carnegie, the Committee on the Comparative Study of Muslim Cultures and Civilizations of Oberlin College will present a talk by renowned scholar of Islam, Professor at The George Washington University Sayyed Husain Nasr, who will speak about Friendship Among Civilizations. His talk will be followed by classical Persian music performances by Founder of the Center for Persian Classical Music Dr. Nader Majd and Dr. Ali Reza Analouei, founder of the Sama Ensemble.

Professor Mahallati hopes that this year’s festival will not only involve the Oberlin community, but also have more far-reaching effects.

“I firmly believe that friendship has its own karma and that Oberlin will sing friendship on the coming April 8,” said Mahallati. “It will also be a great opportunity to involve the Oberlin community and celebrate together with Oberlin College such an occasion that we hope will bring a paradigm shift in interpersonal, international and interfaith relations.”

All events on Friendship Day are free and open to the public.