Seeking Common Ground in Faith

June 14, 2008

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The Washington Post

For the first time in five Sundays of gatherings, the small group of Washington area Muslims and Jews around the fireside table seemed like it was about to move from polite chat on religious history to something unavoidably combustible: Zionism.

An imam had taken out a book titled "Palestinian Holocaust" and quoted a tiny ultra-orthodox Jewish sect that opposes the state of Israel. An African American Muslim said Zionism struck him as apartheid-like. A rabbi cited the "billions of dollars" donors give Palestinians.

"This seems like a good place for a period," Khalil Shadeed, one of the two organizers of the three-month-long dialogue group, said gently. "I do recognize this is very challenging."

And with that, Shadeed stopped the two-hour discussion before it plunged too deeply into unnavigable waters. The clock had run out, and it was best, he said, to keep the discussion calm -- a mantra of interfaith dialogue.

Such dialogue is often a balancing act: hopeful yet guarded; genuine yet superficial; teetering on the precipice of the most emotional subjects but often stepping back. Rare efforts such as this one, which ended June 1, go beyond a single mass event and seek more depth and intimacy.