A Scintillating Interfaith Dialogue in Kansas
By Hussain Haideri
President
Crescent Society in Kansas

Professor Akbar Ahmed and Dr Judea Pearl

Newton’ s law states: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
During one of my many web surfing experiences, I came across, purely by chance, Newton’s law, stated above. I always argue against taking things out of context, but for once, I broke my own rule, albeit for the right reasons.
I thought, how amazing it would be to apply this scientific principle, into social, cultural and perhaps most importantly, in religious conflicts. Let me elaborate: When confronted with the challenge to defend a potential threat, insult or injustice directed at your religion, try and resist the temptation of a knee jerk response, and not retaliate, measure for measure. Rather, adopt the above principle. Reach out to the aggressor, or more saner elements in their congregation, and simply present an equally opposite response. The idea should be to relay your perspective, but not with aggression or cynicism, but rather with an attitude that displays disappointment, eagerness to learn more about the opposing point of view and then, counter it by something that usually makes great drawing room talk, but fares poorly when you search for real life examples, that is dialogue. Unless, of course you are Judea Pearl and Akbar Ahmed.
What I and around a 1000 fortunate Greater Kansas City residents experienced on Tuesday, November 13, at the Jewish-Muslim dialogue, at the Village Presbyterian Church, in Mission, Kansas, as part of the Festival of Faiths, was nothing less than scintillating. A practical display of what is simply preached all around. The audience had a generous mix of Muslims, Jews and Christians, from various walks of life. They were eager to hear these renowned scholars, perhaps also to get a chance to clarify some misconceptions in their own minds.
There was an honest attempt to do some soul searching, and scratching beneath the surface of complicated, aggravating and sensitive issues that transcend religious, political and social borders. The two “grand fathers” representing their individual faiths explored the root causes of hatred that fans extremist actions on both sides of the equation, and simply perpetuates the mistrust that pre-exists between the two major Abrahamic faiths, that have more in common than they realize. What makes this situation so important is that repercussions of this debate directly affects that largest religion in the world, Christianity. Therefore, what could be more appropriate than sitting face to face in God’s house, as Professor Ahmed pointed out and sifting through the causes that plague this dilemma.
Professor Pearl, father of slain Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl, and a professor of Computer Science at UCLA, laid out utopist views of Jewish and Palestinian states, adjacent, living in harmony. Akbar, Professor of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington, DC, agreed, but pointed out that mistrust in the hearts of people from both sides is high, and work needs to be done to bring down temperatures. Identify people with a passion for tolerance, mutual respect and acceptability, and then work with them. The role of the media, to project harmony and promote peace was alluded to, something that cannot be over-emphasized. They reflected on the positives within their own faiths, and that of each other. Judea called Islam “a universal religion” and Akbar appreciated the “value of learning” in the Jewish faith. Interestingly, just these two factors may be a great start to initiate bridge building. Islam is well spread out, and understanding the faith, and the people who represent it, would be half the battle. What better initiators, than a faith, whose followers have been described as “ avid learners”, by a scholar on the other side of the aisle.
There were some tense moments with Professor Ahmed being put on the spot for questions pertaining to the 9/11 attacks, the violence in the Islamic world at large and the recurrent issue of the paucity of the moderate Muslim voice.
Akbar Ahmed was eloquent in his description of the three major conceptual forces in Islam, Sufism, the moderates and the literal interpreters more commonly known as the Wahabis. He cautioned that the balance is shifting towards the latter faction, simply because certain policies of the West towards Islam in the face of 9/11 have stemmed from a lack of total understanding of the religion. He reminded the audience of the dynamic role that the United States has played in the past in the fields of science, economy, peace and human rights presenting to the world stalwarts of the likes of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Mohammad Ali. Professor Pearl, who was clearly more forceful of the two in his approach, made it clear that the Palestine-Israel conflict will not cease unless Israel’s right to exist is accepted.
The audience had stimulating questions that simply underlined the fact that there is some serious desire on the part of the conscientious elements of the society to play their role in achieving peace. They came out, majority of them non-Muslims, with a more moderate balanced and practical view of Islam in their minds. Their curiosity for this faith had been further stimulated, witnessed by the fact that the book-signing event saw an overwhelming response to Professor Ahmed’s latest book “A Journey into Islam”.
That a local church, with such huge following, had taken the initiative to host the event could only sweeten the deal. I am simply waiting, with baited breath, for the excitement to spill over to the masses locally, and then snowballing into an effort that spreads across the nation and hopefully, someday, across the globe, restoring the true image of America as the leader of all states.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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