Panelists Stress the Importance of Dialogue

Ameena Jandali greeted an SMC Muslim graduate student, and Ken Maki (in the background) shook hands with Ed TywoniakSpeakers from four different religious backgrounds – Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism – came together in an event at Saint Mary’s titled “The Great Interfaith Conversation” on October 4 in an effort to promote dialogue among religions.

The event was organized by the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism (CERP) with support from the College Committee for Inclusive Excellence, Office of Mission, Mission & Ministry, Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA), the Intercultural Center and the School of Economics and Business Administration.

In response to questions from Professor Barbara McGraw, director of the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism at Saint Mary’s, and audience members, the panelists aired their views on human rights, social justice, peace and violence within the four traditions before the audience of nearly 250 people.

All four agreed on the importance of nonviolence, respect for human rights, and concern for the poor.

Diane Muller, who served as the facilitator and represented the Christian faith, said interreligious dialogue is essential in the promotion of world peace. “Peace is the answer, dialogue is the way to peace,” she said, adding that “people need to be heard and validated.” As evidence, she cited certain communities in Israel in which Jews and Muslims live side by side peacefully despite the conflict all around them.

Addressing the stereotype of violence in Islam, Ameena Jandali pointed out, “Other religious groups in history have engaged in violence. Violence is a human issue, not a religious issue.” She emphasized that violence often arises out of economic and social conditions, even when religion is the stated reason.

Ken Maki, an Orthodox Jew, agreed. “No matter what, humans will have conflict. They find God a convenient way to justify their actions,” he said. But that doesn’t make it right. “It is a sin to use God’s name when furthering hegemonist goals,” he said. 

“Religions are supposed to unite people, not divide them,” said Dr. Sulochina Lulla, representing the Hindu faith. She added: “As soon as a man states that his religion is right and everyone else’s is wrong, that is when you can be sure that he himself is wrong.” 

Panelists included (left to right) Dianne Muller, Ken Maki, Ameena Jandali, and Dr. Sulochina LullaBefore the question-and-answer session, each speaker took a few moments to highlight his or her religious tradition’s essence, beginning with the oldest religion in the Abrahamic tradition:  Judaism.

Maki explained the Jewish concepts of repairing the world and social justice. Jandali spoke about the connection that her faith holds with other Abrahamic faiths and the Koran’s emphasis on helping the poor. 

Muller discussed the emphasis on acceptance and love in the New Testament. And Lulla, citing Gandhi as the prime example of Hindu social justice, articulated the mystery of Hinduism in the belief that, ultimately, everyone’s true self or soul (Atman) is God (Brahman).

The panel discussion was one of a series of events that will be hosted by the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism and other organizations on campus as part of the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation on campus through service-oriented activates, the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism attempts to expand awareness and cooperation with other faiths among Saint Mary’s students and faculty.

The next campus challenge event will be an interfaith Saturday of Service with the Sikh community of El Sobrante on October 27, coordinated by CILSA and CERP.  Watch for announcements for other events during the 2012-13 academic year.

By Cabrilla McGinn

Photos by Sara DeSantis

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