Interfaith dialogue for religious understandings

By Aziz Junejo | Feb 29, 2012

In the 1970s I experienced my very first interfaith dialogue when I invited Camp Brotherhood, an interfaith retreat center near Mount Vernon. It had a tremendous effect on my life.

Today, interfaith dialogue has become widespread, and I commend interfaith leaders who continue to strive to connect and make friends with Muslims and Islam, the country’s fastest-growing religion.

Despite all this amazing work there is still a general lack of understanding about Islam. We have responded by opening up our Mosques as places for dialogue.

We host open houses and annual barbeques and unrestricted public tours, provide free literature, as well as making Muslim speakers available for public schools and civic organizations.

At the end of the day I still believe the most effective way to foster understanding of our religion is through interfaith dialogue. We’ve learned that if we do not define our religion, others will do it for us, and not necessarily in a correct way.

Longtime residents from the area may remember the founders of Camp Brotherhood, Rabbi Raphael Levine and Father William Treacy, as panelists on KOMO-TV’s “Challenge” show from 1960 to 1974. The two men developed quite a camaraderie over the years.

In one famous exchange, Father Treacy asks Rabbi Levine, “When are you going to enjoy a good ham and cheese sandwich?” The Rabbi replies “At your wedding Father.”

Rabbi Levine’s distinctive looks reminded me of Colonel Sanders. Both he and Father Treacy were gracious, humble and welcoming men of faith, treating camp participants like family members of the family of God.

My first evening visiting Camp Brotherhood, I was one of 30 guests, representing many faiths, invited for a dinner dialogue. Seated at my table were a Hindu priest, a few Christians, a Christian Scientist, a Jew, a Buddhist and a few others.

Each of us took a turn speaking about our faith to the group, and the conversation that resonated with me most was with the Christian Scientist.

I learned names for God in Islam and in Christian Science were often the same. Both faiths believed in one powerful God. We each saw God as all knowing, all-seeing, all-acting, and loving like a mother.

When it was my turn to speak, I began and ended with how Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were ALL monotheistic faiths, and that turned out to be a great common denominator that opened further discussions later on.

It is clear to me that interfaith dialogue is essential in a free and open society. We must continue to foster better understanding of each other and work for harmony among our religious faiths, our families and individuals.

Establishing sisterhood and brotherhood among all God’s children means we must even reach beyond the monotheistic three, Muslims, Jews and Christians. We have to be willing to invite all others to explain their faiths and attend their religious events in the hope of true understanding.

Looking back today, Camp Brotherhood’s forest-like setting and friendly hosts promoted trust and coexistence that culminated into a wonderful experience for everybody that evening.

Interfaith events can encourage an open and ongoing communication, mutual respect, and careful understanding of all faiths.

Let us work to cultivate an interfaith event at our place of worship, so ALL beliefs can be understood and respected.

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