This panel was the first time that I had seen a Presbyterian pastor, a Jewish rabbi, and a Muslim imam all advocating their common values of peace, love, justice, and hope. In this panel, Reverend Fahed Akel, the Moderator of the 214th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rabbi Clecher, and Imam Hendi from Georgetown all described the need for people to accept one another and look past the common prejudices and at the commonalities that exist between Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
While I can go on and on about the many amazing things said by the panelists, the one line that stuck out to me was by Imam Hendi when he said, “There is a reason why the three Abrahamic religions are called the ‘children of Abraham,’ because we are yet to grow up.” This line got me thinking a lot about my many experiences with different religions and the ways in which we are all yet to “grow up.”
This made me think both of my evolving perceptions of different religions and the ways in which I have engaged in dialogue with different religions. My first experiences of different religions were while I was in elementary school. While I recognized that there were people in my school who practiced different religions then I did, I had never really engaged in any sort of discussion based on our religious differences.
Then, when I was 9, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 seemed to push religion to the forefront of current events. Suddenly, Islam, this religion which I barely knew anything about beforehand seemed to be perceived as this sort of anti-American force with whom the perpetrators of the attacks were associated. And even though we know how foolish and childish it is to generalize a whole group of people based on the actions of a few, nonetheless it was a major lack of inter-religious dialogue and understanding which enabled these stereotypes to develop and spread.
Fast-forward just over 10 years and there I was attending a conference in which, for the first time in my life, I witnessed an imam, rabbi and Presbyterian pastor all espouse the same values of peace, love justice and hope. Now, not only am I more aware of and knowledgeable about different religions, but I am also actively participating and seeking out ways to participate in inter-religious dialogue. And while I am sure that I have grown up at least a little bit, I know that we are far from being the adults which Imam Hendi alluded to.
But there is hope, both in the Holy Land and all around the world. A lot has changed since I was in elementary school. If someone told me that in college I would meet this Imam who I would come to greatly admire, I would have laughed at the absurdity of it. However, a lot has changed and a lot more will change. Even though we may still be the closed minded children that Imam Hendi spoke of, I am confident that we are growing up, slowly but surely.