Ten years ago I got to know three intelligent, kind and well-spoken middle-aged women, through the numerous human rights and peace activities in which I was active. They were there, wherever I went, and appeared to be close friends. Nothing unusual about any of that! But, what was somewhat unusual was that each of them practiced a different religion. And since I did not, I needed to talk to them about what brought them together. The Jewish lady was professor of social work, the Christian had a nursing background, while the Muslim was professor of engineering. I happened to run a weekly radio show in Ottawa, and invited them to tell my audience how a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim see each other.
J, who was active in Temple Israel, told us about the three branches of Judaism: Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative. She was impressed with the values she saw in the other two: ethics, humility, truth, justice, and charity. She saw far more in common with her two friends than she saw differences. C, active in her church, also talked about the values which she shared with her two friends, such as the Ten Commandments, also shared by the different divisions of Christianity. When challenged, she admitted that there were some in her faith, a minority, who look for differences, rather than similarities. M, a devout Muslim, urged us to start by recognizing the similarities. She pointed out that it is precisely because the similarities are so huge, that people can spot the differences more easily. After all, we have the same God, and pointed out that in her Quran, God addresses people with, ”Oh human kind” not with “Oh Muslims.” She also pointed out that Buddhism and Hinduism have some similarities.
“How did dialogue groups help you understand each other?” I asked J. “It was by how they conducted themselves that I learnt about Islam and Christianity. That is the image I have retained about my two friends. As a child and teenager, I was involved in inter-faith dialogue between Christians and Jews through the National Council of Christians and Jews Brotherhood of New York. I also got to know Muslims, dated a Muslim man, and almost got married to one, and studied the Koran. How I got to know Muslims in Ottawa is through the group which you created, namely Potlucks 4 Peace! As a result, M came to my synagogue for an information session, which one might call ‘Islam primer for Jews’ and it was so powerful to see parallel after parallel of shared values.”
C answered my same question this way: “The way I learnt about the other two religions, about which I knew very little, is when J & M took me by the hand, leading me on a path of discovery about being devout. But they did it through example, by how they live their lives and how they treat people. It was a great source of enlightenment to someone who grew up not knowing a single Muslim, and only a few Jewish families, part of the Canadian experience, where there is some interaction within the Judeo-Christian community. But it is time to extend this to the Judeo-Christian-Muslim community. All have much in common. I hope others would take on these challenges.”
M described her experience of talking at the Synagogue: “I was terrified about even entering the place. But later the experience was delightful. Some people from my Muslim community scolded me by saying ‘How can you do this? These people hate us.’ And I said ‘No, they don’t.’” As radio host, I challenged them: “You don’t need a religion in order to be kind to others. All you need is to believe in human rights. You could be an atheist too and respect and love others!” J replied: “The issue of HR grows out of religion. You are creating a false division. To be a good Jew is based on what you do, not on what you believe.” C added: “But religion gives you a spring board. It helps, but is not necessary.”
By: Dr Qais Ghanem, (firstname.lastname@example.org), Author, radio host. In 2009, his radio show won the Radio Award of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA).