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Interfaith Dialogue in America

Julia Duin (who ably covered the Former Muslims United press conference in DC) has a major puff-piece on Inter-religious dialogue in the Washington Times - the first in a series we are told. Some excerpts:

It [interfaith dialogue] involves unlikely support, such as that offered by the Obama White House, which has identified interfaith work as a public policy goal. President Obama's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has an "interreligious dialogue and cooperation" task force that includes a female Hindu priest, an Orthodox Jewish layman, a female Muslim pollster, a nondenominational evangelical Christian pastor, a pastor and black civil rights leader, and a Muslim youth worker.

It benefits from some unlikely backing. Some of the biggest movers and shakers in the interfaith movement are governments in Muslim states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan.

Heads — or former heads — of state are likewise involved. Soon after British Prime Minister Tony Blair retired, he founded an interfaith foundation in London to "promote respect and understanding about the world's major religions and show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world."


A speech by Rabbi Serotta suggested that Islamic and Jewish conceptions of God were basically equal.

"We don't understand why God has chosen more than one path for humanity," he told the group. "God created different paths so you'd compete in goodness."

After Saif Qargha, a teacher from Afghanistan, gave a short instruction on the five pillars (basic tenets) of Islam, everyone lined up to pray. At the chant of the muezzin, Muslim and Jew alike dropped to their knees, then touched their heads to the floor in a form of prayer in mosques.


Daniel Spiro, one of the Jewish participants and a Department of Justice attorney, said such meetings are essential for world peace. He is a co-founder of the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington. "In an era where many people are turned off by God, Muslims are some of the most devout lovers of God I've found," he said. "It's like mining for diamonds, and you'll find diamonds in Islam."

Nerve centers

Wherever interfaith activity is happening, a synagogue is bound to be nearby. In Washington, it's the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. On one day, the temple may be hosting classes for gentile women to learn Jewish rituals. The next day, a Muslim iftar service is held to observe Ramadan.

One workshop last fall, staged by Yes We Can: Middle East Peace, brought together several hundred people to Sixth & I. Mazen Faraj, a Palestinian Muslim whose brother and father died at the hands of Israeli soldiers, sat next to Robi Damelin, a Jewish woman whose 28-year-old son was killed by Palestinian snipers.


"This is where the culture is going," said Ms. Jacobs. "This is where American religion is going."

In reply to a question by Jerry Gordon in his excellent interview of last month, Richard L. Rubenstein said:
With regard to interreligious dialogue with them [Muslims], I do not see the point. I've been involved in a number of Jewish/Muslim/Christian dialogues with noted British and American Imams and Sheiks. One of the Arabic words for dialogue with infidels, unbelievers, is takyyahTakyyah in Arabic means religiously sanctioned dissimulation. There is no real engagement with non-Muslim thought.
There is another element to this, the Muslim claim that the original will of God for all eternity is expressed in the Qur'an. The Qur'an wasn't simply what came into existence with Muhammad.  It was revealed to Muhammad in the 7th Century, but it was already there from the very beginning of creation. They believe that the Qur'an was revealed to Abraham, the first great Muslim prophet. So, how do they explain the Bible and the New Testament? They claim the Jews and Christians misrepresented and distorted the original message of God and that is why the texts appear so different. No Jew or Christian can accept that.
If you start with the idea that the Qur'an existed from all eternity and that the Bible and the New Testament are distortions of this original version, how do you get to historical study of the Bible? Jewish and Christian scholars can usually at least agree on the history of the Bible, not completely, but mostly, because they understand that there was an historical process. However, to admit that there was a historical process and that Islam came after the other two is to deny an absolutely fundamental belief of Islam. They won't do it, so there's no such agreement on the one thing that could allow for dialogue; historical examination and criticism. All they will do is tell you their truth.

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