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Interfaith Amigos Hope Upcoming Talk Will Inspire Conversation and Understanding

Interfaith Program Scheduled For Sept. 27 at Hartford's Asylum Hill Congregational Church

September 15, 2010

A Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a conversation, post 9/11. They are apprehensive, but committed to staying in dialogue.

They do not skirt tough issues. They talk about the troublesome, shadow scriptures from each of their Abrahamic faiths. They talk about Palestine and Israel. They even travel there, together, and then make plans to do it again.

And on Sept. 27, the Interfaith Amigos Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Sheikh Jamal Rahman - are coming to Hartford's Asylum Hill Congregational Church. The timing couldn't be better. Last week, the Hartford Court of Common Council rescinded an invitation to a Muslim imam to lead prayers before the group's September meetings after the announcement drew fire from throughout the country. There will be no Islamic convocations or prayers of any type through September. Instead, the council will observe a moment of silence.

Some of the outcry came out of concern that prayers from any faith group are offered at a public meeting, but the most vicious response came from bigots with keyboards. Here and elsewhere, the 9/11 anniversary was greeted by a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment that threatened to choke serious discussion.

So who better to rekindle the conversation than men who speak across the chasm on radio and television, and at events like Asylum Hill's.

"People find it hard to move past the we/they relationship, and move beyond the constraints of the ego," Mackenzie said. "That's the key, the contrast between listening, and trying to persuade somebody that his or her opinion is incorrect. We want to open up the possibility for an understanding that would be impossible in the standard form of argument."

Falcon said that when people reach a stalemate in conversation, they should ask, "Is there anything I could say to you that would change your opinion?'" He said, "Most people, when they think about it, would say 'No. There's nothing you could say that would change my opinion.' That's the same way it is with me. So now? Let's talk."

In their book, "Getting to the Heart of Interfaith: The Eye-Opening, Hope-Filled Friendship of a Pastor, a Rabbi, and a Sheikh," the men write about four awkward areas in their faith traditions, including the advocating of violence, inequality between men and women, homophobia, and each religion's claim on exclusivity.

In fact, they're expanding that chapter to another book, "Where Religion Went Astray," due out next spring.

"We're very fond of quoting a Quran verse that says that God has deliberately created diversity for one reason, so that you might get to know the other," said Rahman. "We like to say that interfaith is not about conversion, but it's about completion. When we are open to the beauty and wisdom of other traditions, it makes us go deeper into our own. I'm finding I'm becoming not only a better Muslim, but a better human being."

The Sept. 27 program starts at 7:30 at Asylum Hill Congregational Church. Clergy are invited to an informal afternoon conversation at 4:15 that day at Hartford Seminary. To RSVP for either program, contact Jim Friedman at jpf7332@comcast.net or call 860-236-0580. The event is sponsored by several interfaith agencies, including the Connecticut Council for Interreligious Understanding Inc.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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