Rabbi Dow Marmur on the limits of interfaith dialogue

 — May 13, 201313 mai 2013

by Dow Marmur, from the Toronto Star

Interfaith relations still reflect noble aspirations more than epoch-making achievements.

Interfaith is going global. For a long time it had been primarily about Christian-Jewish relations in western countries with occasional attempts to include Muslims and local representatives of other religions.

Eighty per cent of all Christians once lived in Europe and North America. Today, two-thirds live in Latin America, Africa and Asia where they only rarely encounter Jews but interact with many other faiths. And some 600 million Muslims live nowadays in non-Muslim countries.

This demographic transformation — complicated by pockets of Muslim militancy on the one hand and, especially after Sept. 11, western Islamophobia on the other — has shifted the focus of interreligious dialogue. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also become a factor.

I was made acutely aware of it last month when I attended an international interfaith conference in Doha, hosted by the government of Qatar. It was the 10th gathering of its kind there. Though the some 500 participants included Christians from many countries and more than a dozen Jews from Europe and the Americas — but not from Israel — the gathering was naturally dominated by exponents of Islam.

That’s probably why the emphasis was more on the interpretation of scripture, particularly the Qur’an, and less on theology, which often provides the content of Jewish-Christian encounters. Many speakers quoted chapter and verse to show how their tradition stresses tolerance and respect for all genuine paths to God.

But limits weren’t always spelled out. Thus, for example, even in relatively liberal Muslim Qatar where there are several churches for its many Christian foreign workers, non-Muslim religious symbols such as the cross cannot be displayed in public.

Laudably, the conference tried to stress affinities rather than differences. We were repeatedly reminded that we’re all equal members of the same human family with God as our parent and Adam and Eve as our sole progenitors. According to this understanding, to live in peace and harmony isn’t an option but a divine command.

In light of these assertions, psychological insights might have helped us to better understand why, despite common origins, siblings are so often in conflict — in the Bible no less than in the modern family, as well as between sister religions. Instead, priority was given to practical co-operation. Four areas of best practices were particularly explored: research and teaching; economic justice; conflict resolution and peace, and the media. The reports came from different countries and were very impressive.

To encourage further progress, the conference has launched a $100,000 annual prize. Of this year’s 140 applications, seven were shortlisted, including one from Canada. The winner came from Lebanon.

Not only religious but also political leaders in the Muslim world, especially in Qatar, seem to believe that interfaith work is vitally important and that its absence would make relations between peoples, cultures and religions even more perilous.

Veteran participants told me that the annual Doha conferences have come a long way since their inception, and that the prospects of future progress are considerable. But due to the apparent absence of self-criticism by presenters, much of what was said had the character of apologetics and defensive self-promotion, which made many sessions less penetrating than they deserved to be.

Looking ahead, it seems reasonable to hope that more representatives of the monotheistic (Abrahamic) faiths will find the courage to share with others what troubles them in their own communities and thus further deepen the encounters by demonstrating that we have a lot to learn from each other.

However, such openness requires levels of mutual trust that even seasoned activists in the field don’t seem to have mustered yet. That’s perhaps why interfaith relations still reflect noble aspirations more than epoch-making achievements.

Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple. His column appears every other week.

Posted: May 13, 2013 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=6496
Categories: OpinionIn this article: Christian, Christianity, dialogue, interfaith, Islam, Judaism
Transmis : 13 mai 2013 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=6496
Catégorie : OpinionDans cet article : Christian, Christianity, dialogue, interfaith, Islam, Judaism

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