A Window to a whole new World
Despite the problems and world changing events that Covid-19 has brought upon us, the mass acceptance of digital meetings has allowed a vast array of people to meet and interact with one another. I attended a Zoom meeting that was set up and jointly led by the Rose Castle Foundation and Al Amana Centre and occurred this past wednesday at 3 PM GMT. Both are centers for expanding dialogue and understanding between different faith traditions.
Meeting was attended by participants from five continents and a multitude of countries. The faith backgrounds of the participants were also varied and included all three Abrahamic religions, the Baha’i tradition as well as pagans, atheists, and agnostics. What brought these people together was not for the purposes of conversion or proclaiming their own faith, but instead the desire to understand other faith communities and the similarities as well as differences of these varied communities.
The focus of this event was an introduction to Scriptural Reasoning through both explanation and action. This process involves bringing together different religious texts from a variety of faith traditions to find commonality along with differences and foster connection.
Connection through difference
I went into the event assuming that the goal was to find commonality, but was very impressed at the focus on difference. This difference that Scriptural Reasoning looks for is not a decisive difference that shuts down discussion, rather it seeks to find out the nature of religion and religious action by fostering connection through difference.
In my group, an Islamic judge and Imam in Lebanon was vigorously discussing the nature of our texts with a man obtaining his PhD in Rabbinic literature. Between these two men was a deep sense of respect, and with that respect there was an ability to ask questions, not for the purposes of denigrating, but rather to understand the background of each other’s faith and the implications of these ideas more deeply.
The difficulty of this discussion is the required openness and vulnerability. We were asked to simultaneously be host and guest within our small groups. The desire to ask the ability to trust and ask meaningful questions about the various texts.
What particularly struck me was the relationship between the readings from the Torah and the Qur’an as they told the same story, but had their own personal and religious discussion and direction based on the overarching beliefs of the writers as well as the readers. In particular the discussion of angels and the relationship of them with food, hospitality, and Abraham’s immediate response to them I found fascinating. This connection and understanding of practical theology and culture is extremely difficult to understand from a book. However, with willing and understanding participants, it becomes a window to a whole new world of both conversation as well as knowledge.
Personal perspective to Scriptures
What this discussion and reflection allowed me was a window into other faiths, not from an academic or theological level, but instead the practical understanding of works and life from the perspective of a person of faith.
The purposes of the texts chosen are not for the purposes of dissecting a text theologically and undertaking a discussion of hermeneutics. Instead, the question is asked what jumps out at you? This is designed as an arching point for broad discussion with people from the faith background of that text explaining their own take on the scripture. This lends itself also to understanding the text’s broad implications towards their own views of the topic.
My personal reflections on this meeting was an overwhelming sense of hope and peace. While those involved in this discussion clearly wanted to talk, the use of discussion to broaden faith understanding can only help. While we clearly are all very different human beings, the ability to understand each other and negotiate our differences in a thoughtful and open way exemplifies the idea of living as a part of a greater community.
Al Amana Volunteer
Hello all, my name is Robbie Bendelius and I hail from the U.S. and specifically the state of New York. I am a senior at Fordham University majoring in History and Theology with minors in Arabic and Orthodox Christian Studies. The Al Amana Centre is something I’ve known about for a while and I am extremely happy to be working with them this summer and hopefully longer to foster the growth of the centre as well as my own personal growth. As a new volunteer for Al Amana, while I have been interested in interfaith work for several years, I have not seen it in action, particularly on such an international scale. I hope to eventually pursue a career in the field of interfaith relations and this is a wonderful place for me to do meaningful deep work that directly benefits people.