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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Building Bridges: An Interfaith Dialogue

I was invited to attend an online conference that dealt with interfaith dialogue, the specific topic being " the role of friendship in interreligious dialogue from an Islamic perspective". It was all about building bridges from one faith to another and creating a pathway towards peace.

The speaker of the conference was Imam Yahya Hendi of Georgetown University. He is the university’s full time Muslim chaplain. He is also the president of Clergy Beyond Borders, a nonprofit organization focused on educating and training clergy in peace building and conflict resolution. He warmly accepted questions from those listening in and answered all of them. I'd like to introduce the main points of his lecture and also let you in on some of the questions that were posed afterwards as well as his answers and concluding thoughts.

Imam Hendi started off the conference with a lecture he has broad casted on this topic on youtube. He expressed the need that for interreligious dialogue to be successful those engaging in it need to go about it as they would pursuing any real friendship. Five factors are essential in laying the foundation to ensuring it’s prolonged success and effectiveness. These factors are the following:
1. Unconditional love

2. The cultivation of understanding for one another: learning about what other faiths believe by intimate contact of members from that faith. By developing real friendships from others of differing faiths we learn their perspectives and beliefs from the inside rather than outside looking in. When that happens we realize that we share more similarities than we do differences.

3. Listening. When we are trying to understand the other’s viewpoint to stop talking and truly listen, giving them our full attentiveness.

4. Forgiveness. We can’t talk about what we’ve done to each other in the past..the past is past, we can learn from the past to move forward, we must not let the bitterness of yesterday  paralyze the possibilities of the future.”
5. Trust. Complete trust, the kind you would give to a friend.

Imam Hendi stressed the importance that we need to celebrate our differences and acknowledge them as well as go about pursuing genuine and honest relationships with those of other faiths with no expectation of converting them. With only the expectation one would expect from a friendship of mutual respect, love and understanding.

Those participating in the conference were encouraged to ask questions via a moderator. When the moderator posted the questions Imam Hendi would respond. Here are what I feel the best questions posed, and Imam Hendi’s answers to them as well as some commentary from attendees.

Q: What can I do as an individual every day to help make connections between Muslims and Jews?

A: 1. Basic visit to peoples home. 2. Try to visit a local mosque and Temple. 3. Send a greeting card during religious holidays. Q:  We have had two questions relating to how we should expect to convince people to leave the past behind. How would you suggest this?

A: 1. by focusing on positive stories on the past. 2. By creating good stories on the ground. 3. By putting on the human face of the other. 4. By remembering that before we judge others, we need to judge ourselves Attendee: Imam Hendi, you spoke of the commonality between the "3 religions" - Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. I as a Buddhist, also think that we as human beings have so much in common beyond textual references. Such as the longing for love, compassion, peace, tolerance, et cetera. 

... Indeed, I fully agree that there are so many common grounds between so many religions such as the desire for peace, the passion for compassion, the longing for justice, and the interest in the human being.We can always find ways to come together, all of us, Jews, Christians, Muslims , Buddhist, Hindus, BahaĆ¢is, Sikh and others. Some of those common enemies we have to fight are: Poverty, religious extremism, Militarism, global warming, trafficking of women, slavery.

Q: Do you think it would help if religious leaders condemned the violent actions of the few that ascribe to their religion that act out in terrorist ways..whether it be christian ministers condemning ku klux klan or white power groups or Muslim leader condemning the actions of the taliban?

A: I think it would be very helpful we religious leaders could speak up against the fanatics in their own religions.. ALL OF US HAVE TO DO THIS.

Q: Sometimes i feel each community puts up walls for fear of proselytizing, how do we reduce that fear ?

A: You see, WE fear that which we do not know if we find it within ourselves to learn about others from within, we can help build more bridges and put down walls.

...For me to build true friendship between all of us we need to: 1. Learn about each other. 2. Sponsor activities and projects together. 3. Engage clergy on all sides with learning. 4. Bring the youth together from different sides to learn about each other 5. So, women, clergy, youth and projects.

Q:  What are the biggest obstacles confronting interfaith dialogue today?

A: Many: 1. ignorance about other religions. 2. Religious fundamentalist and extremists. 3. Politicization of religion. 4. Ignorant clergy make it difficult. 5. The Arab Israeli conflict. 6. The war in Iraq. 7. Religious fanatics in some Arab couriers. 8. TV show with sensational media.

Imam Hendi left us with these words:

We are and and must be united in the face of those voices that want to separate between us 2. Dialogue is a must to protect our world. 3. Reach out to others you meet on the street or in the bus station . A smile could make a difference.

His statement "A smile could make a difference" reminded me of something Mother Teresa once said,            "Peace begins with a smile". I think we can all agree that no matter what one's faith is we all want peace. Peace for the here and now and peace for our children's future.

Any thoughts on what Imam Hendi had to say or any of the questions that were posed to him? Please feel free to share them :)


  1. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing the highlights of the conference. I enjoyed reading them.

  2. I love it. I think the closer we get to accepting one another's beliefs as viable ways to gain enlightenment and touch God, the happier and more capable of helping the world we will be. Could you imagine if Muslims and Christians joined together to end hunger, and really went with it?

  3. Forums such as these are great. I think that knowledge of different religions and cultures is the great equalizer.

  4. Interesting invitation, give your best shots..:)
    I believe the Interfaith Dialogue could result in useful conclusion where everyone could take charge. :)

  5. I think God is telling us to smile at everyone. How we underestimate the power of a simple smile!

  6. It is very important to have this kind of activities...Interfaith Dialogue is needed to understand each other and to stop discrimination,etc... and even Inter-fellowship is needed between different Christian denominations so that there will be no division but unity in the Body of Christ...

  7. Cause there is no religion in heaven. We will all bow down to the King. God will not ask us there where we came from or what denomination we belong.

    I love reading and following your blog...

    God bless...


  8. The only difference is color and this should be a factor of keeping people from different countries apart. This sort of dialogue is wonderful. Quite a huge step and hopefully it will continue. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Beautiful, very enlightening and true. If only there could be world peace can you imagine the kind of world we would have??? Amen!

  10. Well done Jessica. Though now I have nothing to argue you with. hehe It is a wonderful undertaking, I hope it actually can be put to more use within each country of different denominations. I see only one word that should be adhered to and that is "LOVE."

    Sorry I haven't been around cheers A

  11. 'Smile' is a universal language and can be the beginning of any great exchange of conversation. 'Love' as well is universal. Everyone has the capacity to love if they so choose to.
    If everyone could just put the two together with their faith, this world would be a better place. There is too much energy spent on negativity. People need to learn how to redirect their energy on making the world a more peaceful place:)

  12. Thanks everyone for your great reponses and insights!

    Justin...I agree...when we stop trying to convert others but simply have mutual respect and compassion for eachother we can get a lot done...I love the quesiton you posed

    " Could you imagine if Muslims and Christians joined together to end hunger, and really went with it?"

    That was something that was brought up in discussion...how all faiths can unite under the banner of love and compassion and together get lots done...focusing on issues that all faiths have been concerned with ...like hunger, domestic violence, poverty, etc.

    Thanks for your thoughts :)

  13. Debra...I agree....I think smiles can really lower people's defenses and aid in communication, which is essential in interfaith dialogue. Beautiful thoughts :)

  14. Ardith, so glad you enjoyed it! :)

    Sweepy, I agree, and think that there would be a great benefit in more forums like these...even offline, at people's church's , synagogues, mosques..we should all come together to learn from eachother's viewpoints so that we can recognize our many similarities and band together toward acheiving worthy goals...like some peace :) We could all use that!

  15. Isabelle, thanks for your thoughts. You bring up a good point! :)

  16. drawnear.... great reflections!...I agree. When people of differing faiths actually get together to talk the stereotypes that one has, false illusions of the other's religions, begin to lift away and we can see things with more clarity. Too often we rely on a third party, or one of our own faith to describe the practices and faiths of another without going directly to the source.

  17. Savira, glad you enjoyed the dialogue, thanks for your thoughts, so true :) blessings!

    Angeleyes...world peace, a beautiful vision! Perhaps if more people of varying faiths could get together, willing to forgive eachother for the past and work together for the sake of our children's future, perhaps such a thing would be possible! I pray for peace...it's something I think we all want regardless of our religious affiliations :)

  18. A...well spoken! God is love...and it should always be about love! I personally feel if that the means and ends should always be love...with that forumula, we can't go wrong :)

    Mary, loved your reflections, thank you :) I think there's so much energy spilling out all over the place from individuals and groups, your right...that energy needs to be directed in more positive places. I pray God directs us to do just that :)

  19. Thanks Jessica,

    I think that Christians should work together with anyone they can to tackle global issues. However, we must remember that salvation is only found in Jesus! The most loving thing to do, therefore is to introduce those we know to Him through our lives and words. Imagine the sadness of a friend from another faith if when they died you had never told them of Jesus and therefore they hadn't accepted Him and they were lost forever. To love people is to care about their eternal destiny, as well as to work for their wellbeing now.

    Let me know your thoughts,

    Thanks Mike

  20. Mike,

    You bring up a quandary that the christian is surely to find himself or herself in while engaging in interfaith activities. Is it no less a quandary than the muslim participant? I mean...I'm not that familiar with Islam but I'm pretty sure from what I've read they view Jesus as a prophet, but I think it might even be considered heresy stating that he is God, like we believe...

    I think there's a risk in not acheiving anything when we feel like we have to convert, and that's really what we are doing when we bring up Jesus being the only way...I'm not sure how to get past that, honestly. Other than, perhaps it's beneficial sometimes to just agree to disagree...to state our love for our Savior and our belief, but to go any further, when specifically engaging others outside our faith to work towards a common goal, would perhaps be detrimental, towards the reaching of that goal. If this makes sense! I hear what you are saying...I think perhaps the best one can do, while trying to remain neutral, is going about in the most christ-like manner His grace allows, letting others know of our faith..and then let the Spirit do His work. For it's the Spirit that awakens the soul to faith in the first place, not us.

    Does that make sense? Not sure if I'm coming across the way I'm wanting to...Let me know :)


  21. Thanks for your reply Jessica, I agree that often the best way forward is to witness in deeds and lifestyle, though we must always be willing to speak for God. As long as we are clear in our own minds that there is only one way to God, through Jesus and that therefore other faiths don't lead to salvation. We should spend time working for causes, which includes working with those of different faiths, just like we do in our secular workplace. As you say God converts and we must leave it to Him, whilst being willing to play any part He calls us too. Does this make sense?



  22. In the Great Commission, Jesus said, "As you go make disciples, baptize them and teach them." That means we should be Christ-like all the time. Jesus met people where they were, never looking down, but always looking into their heart. The Holy Spirit indwells, giving us a confidence that non-believers do not have. We have the Fruit of the Spirit which non-believers do not have. If we are Christ-like, then we exhibit peace, joy, love, faith, kindness, gentleness, self-control in everything, both the good times and the bad times and THIS is what the unbelieving will see and covet.

    Of course we should talk about how to receive this specialness, but only after the unbeliever says, "I want what you have." How can anyone want something they do not see exhibited? How can anyone say that to a person they do not trust?

    Good, thought provoking post Jessica! Thank you.

  23. Thanks for the golden thoughts shared for the better future of the our next generation and, world requires such kind and true heart felt things which can mould many hard one, in our own ranks.in short we Muslim do believes all the prophets mentioned in bible (including OT)even much part of bible you can find in our Quran,as we call it last testament, I call Christian my cousin in faith,Muslim faith is not completed with out believing in Jesus Christ as spirit of God a mighty sign born out from the womb of virgin Mary,was healer of lepers and made the dead alive, and made blind whole.even Muslim believe that he was taken to heaven alive and will come here in this world again, as many Christian believes too.wearing rob of orange colour,on the wings of two angels and live his life upholding the word of God, I look forward for help to enrich my own knowledge any one who can offer a piece of it. I am grateful of Jessica like persons who are born with such bright mind. God bless her health amen