Jews, Muslims, and Christians meet in Louisiana

Monday, September 10, 2007

So what happens when a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian get together in the South? It sounds like the beginning of a terrible joke, but it’s really happening in Central Louisiana. Tonight was the first night of the second series of Interfaith Dialogues hosted by Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim, The Islamic Society, and Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria, LA. The speakers were Rabbi Arnold Task, Imam Yaser al Khooly, and Dr. Lee Weems. The first meeting tonight was held at Emmanuel, and the topic was “Our Distinctive Holy Days.” The topic of the next meeting will be “What My Faith Means To Me (A Woman’s View)” held at the Jewish Synagogue, and the last meeting of the year will be “Sacred Scripture” held at the Islamic Center.

In the South ecumenism is a rarity, but when it does surface, it usually means that either a black church and white church came together for some occasion or a few Protestants got together with some Catholics for something. Although more known for being the second notch of the Bible Belt, Central Louisiana has had a very visible and very respected Jewish community for years and has a steadily growing Islamic community most notably among healthcare professionals and business owners. My friend and I really had hoped to attend the first series of Dialogues held in the Spring, but they weren’t very well publicized, plus we were off working all over the state. I’m glad that I was able to make it tonight and look forward to the rest of the conversation.

I appreciate the spirit in which the conversations took place. I would characterize it as one of respect and genuine interest. This afternoon while weighing what I had to do versus making the effort to attend tonight, I kept thinking about why this was so important, although seemingly insignificant. If more people around the world would take the time to get together and talk, there would be far less violence and animosity in the world. Having just recently watched CNN’s three-part series God’s Warriors also freshly impressed upon me the importance of working to overcome ignorance and barriers to peace. One of the greatest delusions is that the absence of conflict is the equivalent to the presence of peace. It may be a cease-fire kind of peace, but it is not a peace based on unity and understanding without effort.

I noticed a lot of similarities in the basic underlying tenets or objectives of each faith tradition, as well as many “distinctives.” I noticed most the focus of right relationship to our Creator and the imperatives of service to others. There were a few things that stuck out most to me from each speaker.

It stuck with me most that Rabbi Task summarized Judaism as a religion of “ethical monotheism.” While speaking about charity during Ramadan, Iman al Khooly quoted a prophet that said you cannot be a believer and go to sleep at night with a full belly while your neighbor’s is empty (paraphrase mine). I also appreciated how he described everything done between prayer times as acts of worship and the various signifigances of observing the month of Ramadan. Dr. Weems emphasized the importance of Advent and Lent leading up to Christmas and Easter, which in my opinion is almost never mentioned in most Protestant circles I’ve ran in most of my life. It made me think of why that is. I think Baptists have a knee-jerk reaction against Advent and Lent as “Catholic” observances, but I think Anglicans and other Protestants have placed a higher importance on the seasons as well as the holidays.

Anyway, that’s my take on the conversation. Rabbi Task and Iman al Khooly invited everyone to attend their services some time. I told a friend of mine he’ll have to go with me to the Islamic Center one day. I have much to learn.

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