Interfaith Forum Strays to Politics

Despite organizers’ and panelists’ hopes for a dialogue focused on the philosophical and spiritual aspects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, politics could not be excluded from the Religious Diversity Interfaith Dialogue on Nov 1. Panelists representing each of the three major monotheistic religions discussed the societal implications of their Abrahamic faiths.
Dean of Students Sally Peterson, who moderated the event, asked the panelists what they were critical about within their own religions. All three panelists said that they disliked it when people within their faiths were exclusive.
‘People do not have the kind of life to include people the way Jesus did,’ said Pastor Emeritus Gary Barmore of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa. ‘I think to follow Jesus is to have a radical inclusion. What I see in Christianity, the attitude is to have a radical exclusion.’
Later, he said, ‘I wish that Christians were not militant, aggressive, [seeking] out to evangelize, but offer[ing] ourselves to be a part of the bridge of reconciliation in this world.’
Iman Sadullah Khan, executive director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Irvine, referred to the differences between Muslims and Christians in how they engage in dialogue.
‘Though Islam has the concept of ‘Ahlul Kitaab’ or ‘People of the Book,’ implying a special relationship with people of the Christian and Jewish faiths, it bothers me that many Muslims are not ususally the most open to embrace others. In fact, I find the Christians more open to this notion of embracing the other,’ Khan said.
Rabbi Richard Steinberg of the Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine said that he does not like it when people in his faith assume they have the final answer.
‘It will be the death of religion if they become fundamental in their thinking,’ Steinberg said.
The first question from an audience member was, ‘What do you think about the existence of the nation of Israel?’
Steinberg said that the Palestinian people have a right to land, peace and freedom, but he did not specify what land they have a right to.
Speaking from a spiritual perspective, Barmore said that ‘one’s faith should influence how one acts politically and economically, but one’s faith does not determine the exact means of what that has to be.’
Khan spoke about the varying attitudes of religious groups and publications at UCI, and expressed concern for how they present their thoughts on the existence of the state of Israel.
‘To heighten certain things, to darken certain things is part of the problem,’ Khan said. ‘Sometimes we are not prejudiced but we are left in darkness.’
‘I think we must we must stop confusing Judaism as being the same as Zionism and we must stop assuming that being critical of the Israeli government implies being anti-Semetic,’ Khan said. ‘The government is causing the problem, not Islam or Judaism.’
Steinberg said that he has also had problems with the Israeli government at times. He also agreed with Khan’s points about how UCI students are addressing social, political and religious issues relating the state of Israel.
‘Words are very powerful,’ Steinberg said. ‘The university should take a greater leadership role in monitoring those words in a way to oppose those screaming at each other and not listening to those words.’
Despite the speakers’ desire for respectful and open minded dialogue, a community member was rather hostile in questioning Khan about the politics associated with certain people within the Muslim faith. The audience member’s questions did not adhere to the main purpose of the event, which was to discuss the spiritual and philosophical beliefs behind the religions and rituals.
‘[They were] friendly toward one another and composed their arguments in a manner which reflected the spirit of the event,’ said sixth-year economics major Will Cramerotti. ‘There was definitely an undercurrent to the dialogue where criticisms and counterarguments were implied, but it was more agreeable than watching religious fanatics hurl insults on Ring Road.’
One audience member asked a more pertinent question to the spirit of the interfaith dialogue: ‘How do these beliefs deal with the concept of creationism?’
In reference to religious texts, Steinberg said, ‘If [they are] written by human beings then [they] can be fallible.