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, Bahaâis, 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 :)