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Three men, three faiths and a dialogue that seeks to bridge the divide

In the spirit of President Barack Obama's June 4 Cairo speech in which he reached out to the Muslim world, a Reunion event sought to bridge the gulf that often divides Christians, Jews and Muslims.

"An Abrahamic Dialogue," on June 5 in Kennedy Hall, brought together an Episcopal bishop, a rabbi and a Muslim scholar, all associated with a "movement" that seeks to encourage people of different faiths to talk and listen to each other.

The panelists -- Bishop John Chane of Washington, D.C., Rabbi Bruce Lustig of the Washington Hebrew Congregation and Professor Faizan Haq of the State University of New York at Buffalo -- represented the three faith traditions deriving from the biblical Abraham narrative. The three recalled how they first talked to one another in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and subsequently formed close friendships and a public discussion group.

"As a Jew growing up in Nashville, Tenn., I learned to do interfaith dialogue all my life," Lustig said. "After 9/11, what resonated with me was the reality [of] … dealing with a community that was being absorbed by fear. My mother told me when I was very young to stay away from strangers … I realized that if I stayed away from people that were strangers, we would never bridge what was the tragedy that was 9/11."

Lustig continued, "If we, like Abraham, had the courage to walk alone and forge a path for others to follow, we each have the potential to become a leader in our own life, family and community … in 2002 I called on my congregation to engage in a dialogue face-to-face, to meet others -- as Martin Buber demanded -- in a relationship, and we would only find God in [such a] relationship."

"We have to find a way to get into the trenches" of real cross-cultural communication and escape the ease of middle-class life, Haq said. "The battlefield is every street, in every house and actually in every heart. The trench where this conflict lives is in our hearts."

Chane lamented that many interreligious dialogues never get "down any deeper than the conversation around the table, we never somehow seem to get to that place that is the core of our heart …" He continued: "So this opportunity that came to us was an opportunity to really get involved in what I call relational dialogue … You can do the same thing. You have the ability to engage not only your communities but the world in dialogue that goes a lot deeper at a time when we need to go very deeply in our relationships here in this country and throughout the world."

Added Lustig: "Akbar (Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University, a founder of the group), John and I are simply three men who work on the same street, in the same neighborhood, who hang out together. I believe that there is a great hope, and a great opportunity, that we have to seize at this particular time, of embracing one another in a new and great fashion."

Also participating on the panel: Amy Pearlman, former Cornell Hillel president; Emily Smith, president of the Cornell Interreligious Council; and moderator Ross Brann, professor of Near Eastern Studies.

Media Contact

Simeon Moss