How to do interfaith dialogue


Dr. Eboo Patel tells the following story in one of the podcasts from the Progressive Religious Voices series:

I was in Australia six or eight months ago at an interfaith conference, and they had lined up this very angry Christian preacher and this very imposing looking Muslim imam in this kind of typical duke-it-out kind of thing that drives me berserk. And the Christian started off, and he just said slanderous, horrible, prejudicial things about Islam. About how the prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, you know, was a murderer and all, things that are very very difficult to hear. How the Koran is a book of death, and how Muslims have done nothing but pillaged and raped throughout their whole history. And, you know, I run an interfaith organization, and I found myself, like whispering underneath my breath, to the Muslim imam, you know, as I was sitting in the audience, "Tell about all the violence that Christianity has done!" And the Muslim imam listens to all of this very calmly. And when the man is done, this Christian turns to the imam, the imam says, "I love Jesus. And I love the Bible. And do not expect me to say negative things about your religion only because you have said negative things about mine. Because there is too much love and mercy in my heart to do that."

And I though to myself, not only is that as beautiful a thing as I've ever seen in my life, but it's such a smart strategy. Why am I going to respond to your bigoted remarks by bigoted remarks of my own? My hope is to articulate what I love about your tradition and to teach you what you might love about mine, and to point to a space where we might work together to serve others.


Philip said...

Of course. That is exactly what Jesus, Buddha, and others have advocated --- do not respond to evil with more evil but with good. We all need more of this, don't you think?

Mystical Seeker said...

I agree, Philip.

Gary said...

I can see one problem with the interfaith perspective. Islam has a rigid fundamentalism that proclaims the Koran as the literal word of God, and there is no room to see it otherwise. Moderate figures such as the Imam in question may exist, but they in no way represent a reform of the faith, which contains an inherent colonial ideology. Even the Pope demonstrated his commitment to this ideology recently when renewing the call of the Roman Catholic church to evangelizing the world. Whether by force or peaceful coercion, this colonizing spirit has no place in the modern world, and interfaith dialogues seem only to contribute to it through the 'virtue' of tolerance.

Mystical Seeker said...


Eboo Patel, the individual I quoted from, who runs an interfaith center, is himself a Muslim. Reza Aslan, who wrote the book "No God But God" (which is a history of Islam), is also a Muslim and provides another example of a Muslim with a reforming spirit.

I think that the great religious traditions have within themselves the capability of reform, regardless of what the fundamentalists within those faiths may claim. I think that this is possible within Islam, which in any case has more within its body of traditions and history that is positive than both its Christian detractors and its fundamentalist representatives indicate. I would suggest that all the Abrahamic faiths have within themselves complex histories of both tolerance and intolerance. There is always room for interpretation and reform. The reforming spirit looks to the tolerance and progressive elements and emphasizes them. This is something that Eboo Patel, Reza Aslan, and others like them understand about their own Muslim faith.

Gary said...

Given that I'm reading The End of Faith right now, which is biased towards being anti-religious, this is a timely post. I did not know that those perspectives existed in Islam, so I will definitely look into those resources.

I would love to think that you are right about reform being within the faith, even when from all appearances it doesn't look that way.

Mystical Seeker said...

Well, Gary, I am saying that reform is possible. I am not necessarily making any predictions about how or when or if it will take hold on a broad basis. :) I do think that there are different outlooks with the Muslim faith, but I don't know enough about that faith to make any predictions about what direction it will take overall in the future.

Ray said...

Hi Gary,

Eboo Patel is a great speaker with a wonderful inter-faith vision. There is a fascinating interview with him at the "Speaking of Faith" site. The unedited version of the interview is good.