How interfaith conversations turned our fears into friendships


Dr. Kelly James Clark writer of “Raging Fireplace of Love: What I Realized from Jesus, the Jews, and the Prophet” 

I used to be midway by a week-long workshop with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish professors from world wide when it occurred. The summary subjects introduced by our preeminent professors had been heady and foreboding. However an important problem, extra necessary than making an attempt to make sense of these subjects, was breaking down our imposing nationwide, cultural, and spiritual boundaries with a view to construct bridges throughout a few of our world’s deepest and most painful divides.

On day one, reenacting deep and lingering animosities, the 2 Iranian Muslims sat collectively and whispered asides to 1 one other; on the opposite aspect of the room (which could have been the opposite aspect of the world) the Israeli Jews huddled collectively. After just a few days collectively, although, we had been rising more and more comfy with each other, overcoming our preliminary resistances.

By day three, after being gently nudged collectively, the divisions started to crack, the teams started to merge, and friendships started to type.

It occurred on the finish of day three. One of many Israeli Jews, feeling unduly comfy, walked as much as one of many Muslims and requested, “You wish to kill me, don’t you?”

The sort Muslim smiled, appeared him within the eye, and mentioned, “No.”

The sort Muslim then patiently proceeded to speak, with out condescension, about his emotions in direction of Jews (favorable), Israel (not so favorable), and violence (opposed). The 2 of them walked collectively into the eating room, shared a meal, and talked lengthy into the evening.

I knew that these extremely skilled professors would enter the workshop on science and faith armed with their fears. I additionally knew that these fears had the facility to divide. But, the mission’s success—working collectively on problems with mutual concern in science and faith—would rely upon working collectively to face our fears.

Quite a lot of Christians and plenty of Jews imagine that Muslims are by nature violent and that Islam is a faith of violence. Such fears are fed by regular streams of media photos of violent Arabs. Extremely selective and extremely unrepresentative photos “affirm” the message that Muslims wish to kill non-Muslims (Jews, Christians): “They” wish to kill “us.”

However they don’t.

If we had been higher knowledgeable, we’d know that. If we had been higher, we’d know that.

I discussed that the professors had been extremely skilled for that reason: even probably the most extremely educated are with and pushed by concern. You may assume that the extremely educated would know higher; that professors, of all individuals, would have overcome their irrational fears. However no.

On the finish of our week collectively, we had been all—Muslim-Christian-Jew—milling about, awaiting rides to the airport. Then that Jewish man—the one who requested that query—walked as much as that Muslim man—the one who confirmed kindness regardless of the confrontation—and with an enormous grin on his face gave him an enormous hug. Hugging broke out throughout. The Iranians and the Israelis, whose international locations are in battle, hugged. Christians had been hugging Jews, who had been hugging Muslims, who had been hugging Christians. Tears flowed.

We didn’t discover ourselves at all times agreeing with each other (although we discovered that we agreed on quite a bit). Removed from it. However love created an island of peace inside a sea of concern.

After per week of deliberate and typically painful bridgebuilding, of tearing down partitions and opening up hearts and minds, of studying to talk little and hear quite a bit, the magic occurred: the love that overcomes concern turned enemies into associates.

My flourishing, I’ve discovered, has dramatically elevated by loving people who find themselves actually totally different from me. I’ve been invited into their international locations and their houses. They’ve shared their meals and their tales with me.

I’ve discovered in regards to the Ottoman Empire, the al Aqsa Mosque, Sufi dancers, and Rumi’s poetry, on the one hand, and the Wailing Wall, Ashkenazis and IQ, Outdated Metropolis Jerusalem, and the Hassidic mystics, on the opposite. And I’ve discovered that Muslims and Jews, like Christians, are various teams. There may be merely nothing attention-grabbing that one may say that will apply to all Muslims or all Jews in all places and always. I’ve met Muslims who pray 5 instances a day, others who pray thrice a day and even some who by no means pray. I’ve met deeply religious and deeply secular Jews.

My world is larger and higher as a result of I’ve discovered how individuals fairly totally different from me have been raised with beliefs and practices fairly totally different from mine. And I’ve discovered just a few extra necessary issues by reaching out within the love that overcomes concern.

I’ve begun studying to see the world, God’s world, from the angle of my Muslim and Jewish associates. Taking my very own tradition’s perspective as definitive, as people are inclined to do, signifies that I’ve a restricted view of the world; it’s a type of cultural satisfaction to raise our social group above different teams of individuals.

However we aren’t gods. We’re creatures, mired in a selected time and place. So to get nearer to God’s perspective on the world, finite creatures have to avail themselves of the views of all of God’s great creatures—even individuals we concern. Muslims and Jews assist me to get nearer to God’s view of our superb world.

By attending to know Muslims and Jews, I’ve additionally discovered how a lot we’re alike. Like me, they wish to reside in peace amongst good neighbors and associates; they wish to reside a protracted and wholesome life; they need monetary safety and to have the ability to share with family members in want; they wish to work laborious at a job they like and go to sleep with out anxiousness in their very own mattress with a roof over their head; they usually need time to freely calm down and play. And, most significantly, they need higher lives for his or her youngsters.

“They” are quite a bit like “us.”

I’ve discovered of the love that overcomes concern from the friendships I’ve developed with Muslims and Jews. I feel right here of: Ghazala and Bruno, Zahabia and Nuh, and Laila and Enis; and I consider Sam and Silvia, Aaron and Anthony, and Ava and Ariel.

They’ve let me into their lives and world.

Peace with them is my peace; their flourishing is my flourishing.


Dr. Kelly James Clark is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Ibn Haldun College in Istanbul. He earned his PhD from the College of Notre Dame. He has authored over 100 articles and written, co-authored or edited over 30 books. His most up-to-date e-book, “Raging Fireplace of Love: What I Realized from Jesus, the Jews, and the Prophet” is offered on Amazon:


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