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Monday, 07 November 2016 15:35

Building Abrahamic Partnerships

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Dan Heuer – Westchester Chapter

Recently I had a powerful interfaith experience at Hartford Seminary near Windsor, Connecticut. The intensive eight-day course entitled Building Abrahamic Partnerships was structured as an interfaith community of learning for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all of whom trace their origin to the patriarch Abraham. Our class of 10 Jews, 8 Muslims, 9 Protestants of various denominations, and 3 Catholics heard lectures by Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, Christian ministers, and seminary professors. 

The highlight for me was a small group experience led by a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim woman, and a United Church of Christ woman minister. We each shared a personal experience that we had of God/Allah, through which we were able to meet on a spiritual level above our differences.

A specific day was designated in the course for each tradition. In a “fishbowl’ exercise, the group of members of one tradition was surrounded by members of the other two traditions. Those in the inner group expressed concerns or issues that they had in trusting those in the other two traditions. Those in the outer group listened deeply without commenting. In a later session, we all shared our reactions and processed the “fishbowl” sessions.

The five pillars of Muslim: 

Accept that “There is no God but Allah and Muhammed is His prophet.” 

Pray at five designated times per day. 

Make monetary donations to charities. 

Fast during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan. 

Try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca.

Try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca.The course took place during Ramadan, when Muslims are required to fast. It was inspiring to know that they did not consume any food or liquid from sunrise to sunset (which occurred about 8:30PM). Ramadan means purification. It is a time of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with Allah and intense study of the Qur’an, which Muslims take very seriously. 

I learned much about the Qur’an, which Muslims consider to be the revealed word of Allah, and  about the Jewish Torah: it includes the Christian Old Testament plus a wider scope of teachings from their ancient sages.

The foundations of Judaism:

Torah – Jewish scripture; considered by some Jews to be the first five books of the Bible, by others to take in a wider more encompassing scope of Jewish teaching.

Talmud – written record of oral teaching by Jewish sages that applies the laws of Torah in intricate detail to the daily ritual, spiritual, civic, social, personal, and moral life of the Jew.

A primary focus of Judaism is to consider and discuss all points of view.We visited a Muslim mosque for Friday prayers. About 90 men of all ages, including boys, were present on one floor and about 50 women prayed on an upper floor connected to the prayer session below by way of a video screen. An imam led the prayers in Arabic as the men knelt in rows on the floor. When directed, they bowed down, placing their heads on the floor. Their devotion was impressive.

Saturday morning we attended a prayer service in Hebrew, with translations available, at a Synagogue. During the service, the Torah scrolls were ritually taken from behind a curtain. Much reverence was shown for the Torah, and the prayer recitation obviously had much meaning for the congregants.

Thoughts on Christianity:

Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew. Early Christian prayer services were Jewish in format.

Many Christians thought of themselves as the “true Israel,” leading to a long history of anti-Semitism. 

In the 1400s in Spain, both Jews and Muslims were forced to convert to Catholicism under threat of torture, in direct conflict with the message of Jesus, who taught that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

Visits to Protestant and Catholic churches were an opportunity for the Muslims and Jews who knew little about Christianity to discover the richness of our faith. I told them about the “treasure” of our Catholic social teaching.

Thus I grew in awareness that the three Abrahamic religions, along with their differences, have a great deal in common in terms of values. With so much in our media regarding the violence perpetrated by so-called “Muslims,” I was very impressed by the peacefulness of the Muslims I met during the course. And knowing that Jesus was a Jew, I appreciated learning much more about Judaism. 










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