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The Muslim-Christian-Jewish Relations The “Tipping Point”!

dialogue@temple.edu

Perhaps in the end the dastardly deed of burning a Koran on September 11, 2010 (which at the last minute was cancelled), by a Nobody Protestant Pastor in Florida will prove to be more of a bridge-builder than a barrier-builder between Christians and Muslims – because of the shock waves it sent through the conservative American Christian community. Publicly, General Petraeus urged that it be cancelled, as did also Defense Minster Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and even President Obama!

Perhaps bringing the Islamophobia that really exists in the hearts of many Americans out into the open will provide precisely the sort of antiseptic needed to start to cure it!

That hatred, however, called forth a response of love rather than further hatred by a Muslim Egyptian student, Sarah Shiha (a recent alumna of a U.S. State Department sponsored Study Trip on “Religious Pluralism in America” conducted by the Dialogue Institute at Temple University in the Birthplace of Modern Freedom and Democracy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. U.S.A.) who created a Facebook site (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Muslims-loving-Jesus-day/) for “A Muslims Loving Jesus Day”!

The Florida “Non-Event” of Islamophobia needs to be set along side of the extraordinary entrance of Muslim leaders into serious dialogue with Jews and Christians.

The embrace of the “Global Interreligious Dialogue” by Islam came first from 138 Muslim scholars and religious leaders from around the world on October 13, 2007, when they issued the amazing public letter “A Common Word Between Us,” inviting Christians leaders and scholars to join with them in Dialogue (see: www.acommonword.com).[2]

Then, onto the stage of world Interreligious Dialogue strode King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – the very heartland of Islam! Having met with Pope Benedict XVI on November 6, 2007,  (www.saudi-us-relations.org/articles/2007/ioi/071106-abdullah-benedict.html), King Abdullah launched a World Conference on Dialogue with all the religions of the world in Spain, the land of the medieval “Golden Age” of interreligious dialogue – Convivencia (!) on July 16-18, 2008 (www.saudi-us-relations.org/articles/2008/ioi/080719-madrid-declaration.html).

Further, King Abdullah supported, and even lent his name, to the establishment of the King Abdullah Center for the Study of Contemporary Islam and the Dialogue of Civilizations within Imam University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The very name communicates a profound commitment. It sends a loud and clear message, that if you wish to be serious Muslim in the contemporary world, you need to be involved in Dialogue with the other civilizations of the world! As an initial down payment on that pledge, the King Abullah Center sent in 2009 fourteen professors of Islamics from Imam University to study dialogue and democracy with the Dialogue Institute at Temple University, Philadelphia, U.S.A.

Despite, or perhaps even partly because of, the residual religious prejudice in some Americans and some Arabs, the relations among the three Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) has – starting (in 2008) eight years after the shocking 9/11 attack on the US by Muslim extremists – has reached a“tipping point” in favor of Islam joining the global interreligious dialogue in a massive way. This volte-face is analogous to the full-force entry of the Catholic Church into interreligious dialogue at Vatican Council II (1962-65). Positive events are suddenly beginning to erupt exponentially!

I have worked in the area of ecumenical, interreligious dialogue for over half a century (starting when my wife Arlene and I went to Germany in 1957 to study the Una Sancta Movement, the dialogue between Protestants and Catholics started after WW I). Shortly after we returned to the U.S., we started in 1963 the first scholarly periodical devoted to ecumenical, interreligious dialogue, the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Soon thereafter, in 1966, I joined the new Temple University Department of Religion (TUDOR), one of the first public universities to have a religion department. There was one Catholic graduate student in 1966, and in two years there were fifty! (Vatican Council II ended 1965), and when I was Graduate Religion Studies Director (1991-93) TUDOR had 165 doctoral students, with dozens each of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others. In 1978 I launched the Dialogue Institute (DI)with the International Scholars Abrahamic Trialogue (ISAT) as its first project.

With the financial support of Philadelphian Harry Halloran’s Enlightened World Foundation, fulltime staff and supported Interns suddenly became a reality, starting in 2006 – at precisely the providential moment. Within a year the increasing cascade of projects listed below poured forth:

1. October 2007, the DI trained in interreligious dialogue for 3 days 9Fulbright Scholars (several Muslim) from around the world who were involved interreligious dialogue.

2. June 2008, the DI held in conjunction with Prince Hassan’s Jordan’s Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies the 8th ISAT conference in Amman, Jordan, on “Business and Religion Working Together to Eliminate Poverty.”

3. September 2008, the DI trained in interreligious dialogue for 3 weeks 10Fulbright Scholars (several Muslim) from around the world who are involved interreligious dialogue.

4. July 2009, for 10 days the DI trained 10 women faculty (Muslim and Jewish) from Al-Qasemi College in Israel in “Religion and Women’s Leadership.”

5. September 2009, for 8 days the DI trained 14 professors from Center for the Study of Contemporary Islam and the Dialogue of Civilizations, Imam University – CID, Imam University, Riyadh, in interreligious dialogue.

6. In June 2010, Leonard Swidler lectured on “Interreligious Dialogue” to 40 professors (male and female) in Imam University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

7. July/August 2010, the DI trained for the U.S. State Department for 5 weeks 17students from Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt in “American Religious Pluralism” (5 more such programs are planned).

8. In 2011 the DI will train 26 women professors from Princess Noura University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (60,000 women students!) in “Religion and Women’s Leadership.”

9. In 2011, the DI will train in interreligious dialogue 15 women faculty of Imam University sponsored by the King Abdullah Center for the Study of Contemporary Islam and the Dialogue of Civilizations, Imam University,KAC.

10. In 2011, the DI will train in interreligious dialogue 15men faculty of Imam University, sponsored by KAC.

11. In 2011, the DI will train in interreligious dialogue 20 graduate students of Imam University, sponsored by KAC.

12. In 2011, the DI will train in interreligious dialogue 20 undergraduate students of Imam University, sponsored by KAC.

13. In 2012, the DI and KAC will organize an international conference in Philadelphia on “Democracy, Human Rights, and the Abrahamic Religions.”

Perhaps soon we will look back and see this time of tumult of Muslim hatred of the West and Western Islamophobia as the “Tipping Point” cascading away from the “Clash of Civilizations” toward the “Dialogue of Civilizations,” and even beyond that to the “Cooperation of Civilizations”!


[1]Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University since 1966, is with his wife Arlene Anderson Swidler the founder (1964) of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies and the founder of theDialogue Institute (1978), and the author, editor or translator of over 70 books and 200 articles.

[2] This was quickly followed up by a major scholarly conference at Yale University, which also deliberately included Jewish scholars: “The ‘Common Word’ letter was drafted by Muslim leaders and addressed specifically to leaders of ‘Christian churches everywhere’ in order to address concrete issues and problems between Christians and Muslims…. Given the extent, however, to which Jewish concerns are intertwined with those of Christians and Muslims, and given the historic Christian and Muslim tendency inappropriately to exclude the Jewish community, we are deeply committed to seeking out Jewish leaders and scholars to play a central role in the ongoing Common Word dialogue.” Andrew Saperstein, Rick Love, and Joseph Cumming, “Answers to Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Yale Response to ‘A Common Word Between Us and You,” Miroslav Wolf, Ghazi bin Muhammad, and Melissa Yarrington, eds., A Common Word (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), pp. 179f.