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Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Tuesday Book Discussion: The Faith Club
by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner.

Each Tuesday this September we'll be discussing themes from The Faith Club, an interfaith journey between three women friends -- a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian. It's an easy, engaging and rich read -- if you're busy, keep it in the car and read at stop lights, or a sneak in a few minutes before bed. If you haven't started yet, come join the conversation and share your reflections and experiences.

The beginning of the learning year is a good time to look out into the world, as well as into our own hearts to discover what it means to understand, appreciate and grow in relation to people, faiths and experiences very different from our comfort zone.

This week I invite you to share your experiences with people from different faiths, both positive, negative and whatever ambiguous feelings lie in the spaces between these poles.

1. When was the first time (if ever) you had a close friendship with someone of a different religious background?

2. On page 28, someone is quoted saying, "'I never liked that word "tolerance." It's too passive. Think about it. To tolerate someone? That doesn't sound very positive. It's not a call to engage and understand someone else. I like the phrase "'mutual appreciation.'"

What do you think of the word "tolerance?" Do you have any alternatives that you find have more to offer?

3. Why is interfaith friendship and conversation important?

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posted by Jemila Kwon at 7:48 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/04/2007 08:44:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    1. My first close friendship with a person of another faith occurred the summer before my sophomore year of high school when I attended a college prep camp at Wellesley College. I became very good friends with a young women from Bahrain named Sahar, and a young man named Abdullah. Sahar told me stories of getting up early and going to the mall in jeans before the older adults got up and the young people had to don the traditional veils. She told me of the difference between the relatively progressive Bahrain and the ultra conservative Saudi Arabia. Sahar was a critical, deep thinker like me and I enjoyed our conversations. These were my pre-fundamentalist Christian days, so we enjoyed conversations about different paths to the same God and I loved getting to know her culture.

    Abdullah was sweet, shy and possibly had a crush on me. I had a little crush on him. We had conversations about how he wasn't allowed to date, and how he wasn't going to have sex until marriage, and I teased him alot about it, in an affectionate way. I thought it was admirable that he was foregoing dating and premarital sex, but I wasn't so sure about the arranged marriage thing. I respected his faith, which seemed genuine. He liked me name, which in Arabic means 'beautiful'

    2. It was interesting for me reading about tolerance as a negative word, because I have intuitively felt this, and heard someone say something similar in an interfaith lecture last week. In medicine, to build up a tolerance to something means to become resistant to it, or get to the point where the thing tolerated no longer causes an effect. To say that something is tolerable, to me connotes something which one would prefer to be rid of, which one puts up with out of resignation.

    I like the term "mutual appreciation" because it fosters positive engagement and learning, without requiring anyone to necessarily alter their beliefs or commitments in order to genuinely appreciate another's context, culture, spiritual perspective and theological process of interpreting scriptures and life.

    A few others: Creative engagement, Life Affirming Co-existence, Person-honoring engagement, spiritual sibling dynamics


    My therapist advocates transforming judgment into curiosity when we approach aspects of ourselves or others that normally we're prone to reject or condemn. I think this applies to interfaith communication as well.

    A wise teacher once said, 'the measure of a man (or woman) is the amount of contradictions he (she) can hold.'

    I think it's an amazing act of genuine spiritual love to honor one's own beliefs and spirituality and simultaneously truly open to the experiences and understandings of another person.

  • At 9/05/2007 09:41:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    P.S. I forgot to mention that my friends at college prep camp were Muslim.

  • At 9/08/2007 08:39:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    3. I am convinced that interfaith friendship is essential to world peace. We automatically feel afraid and defensive toward what we don't understand or to people we feel do not belong to our people -- so when we become meaningful friends with people of other faiths, we discover our shared humanity, grow from our differences and begin to include people who formerly we thought of as "them" or "other" as part of our family -- people we love, care for and know to also feel invested in our wellbeing.

    It's in taking the risk of laying down our verbal weapons and turning them into plowshare, able to produce nourishing friendship that we love our enemies and often find that they aren't actually our enemies anymore! On a broad scale, this could lead to changes in public policy and a movement toward world peace.

  • At 9/09/2007 02:02:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Growing up I had the impression that people from other faiths were not just wrong, but that they were dangerous. Perhaps that is from my parents restricting how much we played with the Mormon, Muslim, or Jewish (and Catholic) kids in our neighborhood (and we were never ever allowed to go over to their houses). I wasn't allowed to be around them so there must be something really wrong with them.

    I first started engaging with with other faiths when we moved to Austin and ended up in a very Jewish neighborhood. It was hard to avoid all the bar mitzahs and arguments between the orthodox and reformed Jews, but we were not allowed to "date" them (the whole unequally yoked thing). I remember having a friend in high school who was Bahai and that was really the first time I tried to understand another belief system. But it took a long time for me to admit that there is good in other religions, that I can learn from them, and that we are worshiping the same God.

  • At 9/09/2007 05:01:00 PM, Anonymous lyn

    1) When I was growing up I lived in an area which had a large Jewish population, at school we mainly learnt about Christianity and Judism. At that time I was not a Christian and I respected both religions. I didn't fully understand why the Jewish people did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but I saw how the religions interconnected and had a wonderful history together. Around 12 yo I also had a close friend who was Muslim. She never really spoke about her faith. Although I was aware that there were some things she was not allowed to eat or participate in at school. I didn't question that, I just accepted it. I remember her showing me the Qu'ran one day when I was at her house and we had a little discussion about it - mainly to do with the fact that it was read from right to left!

    It was only when I became a Christian whilst at college that I was "warned away" from other religions.

    2) Tolerance isn't a word I really like, it's like saying that you can't bear something about the person, but you kind of put up with it to be around them. I like the term mutual appreciation too, and co existance.

    3) I think interfaith friendships and conversation are so important. When we start to get to know each other and talk we can find and celebrate our similarities, and hopefully embrace our differences, as we see Rania, Priscilla and Susannah doing in the book. I think the world would be very different if we spent time getting to know other cultures and religions rather than judging them, on what is mainly these days poor reports from the media. I learnt so much about Islam that I didn't know from Rania. There were so many things that I have been taught through church and the media that simply are not true. I think jihad is a good example of that. A great example on interfaith talking and friendships has to be Brother Andrews testimony, which we read about in Light Force http://www.amazon.com/Light-Force-Stirring-Account-Crossfire/dp/0800731042/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2/002-4071563-5050436?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1189375160&sr=8-2

  • At 9/10/2007 08:37:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Lyn, what you wrote makes me wonder what Jesus feels when people who want to love him become less embracing rather than more...how do we walk with God in mercy and kindness and humility rather than building walls of definitions that shut out the very people Jesus made a point to include?

  • At 9/10/2007 09:39:00 PM, Blogger Melicious

    My first close friendship with a person from another faith was my best friend in 3rd and 4th grade. Her family was Israeli. It didn't even occur to me that I should "tolerate" her . . . I just accepted her for all she brought to our friendship. Being young, I was just a little jealous that she didn't have to drink milk with dinner. LOL

    For most of my life, most of my closest friends have not even been people of any faith. This is something that I think about more as I get older. I just try to live my life as a light to those friends.

    2. The word tolerance is just condescending. I think I mostly remember hearing the term "tolerance" in college in reference to gay people. It's like "Oh how kind of you to allow so and so in your presence." I much prefer acceptance and I really like "mutual appreciation."

    Looking forward to reading the book.

  • At 9/12/2007 01:16:00 PM, Anonymous lyn

    Jemila, I wonder if people become less embracing of other cultures and religions out of fear? You know fear that they may stir up some doubt in their faith or something like that?


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