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