"All Abraham's Children"

Our latest and penultimate Muslim Journeys event, an interfaith panel discussion, went even better than I had hoped. Everyone, including the panelists, had a great time. Rabbi Eliana Jacobowitz of Temple B'nai Brith, Rev. Jeff Mansfield of the First Church of Somerville, UCC, and Dr. Ghiath Reda of the Islamic Center talked about what their religions have in common, how they differ, and other people's misconceptions about their faiths and its members.* Alexis Jordan Gewertz of Harvard Divinity school did an excellent job moderating the discussion, asking penetrating questions and guiding the discussion towards the more interesting issues raised by the panelists' responses. I learned a great deal. I did not know, for example, that the Virgin Mary is a prominent figure in Islam as well as Catholicism, or that wearing a hijab is not commanded or even mentioned in Islamic scripture. One of the conclusions common to all the panelists was that many of the difficulties or problems associated with particular religions arise not from the religion itself, but from the failure of its adherents to live up to its teachings.  Referring to Islamist violence in the Middle East, Dr. Reda pointed out the Q'uran strictly prohibits murder, violence for religious motives and aggressive warfare: "whoso kills a soul...it shall be as if he had killed all mankind" (5:53) and "God loveth not aggressors" (2:190). This part of the evening reminded me of a passage on ecumenicism in Mohandas Gandhi's early writings: "we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian." Thanks to our participants and audience.   *Rev. Mansfield's stories about housemate interviews when he first moved to Somerville are a hoot. It seems that if you really want to freak out potential roommates, don't tell them you use illegal drugs or that you've got mental health issues, tell them you're a minister.

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