Q&A: Interfaith Amigos are coming to MC
Bound by experiences after 9/11, men speak about interaction among the faiths
Three clergymen who came together after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 will visit Marietta next month for a presentation and workshop on how to promote positive interaction among people of different faiths.
The trio, known as Interfaith Amigos, is comprised of Jamal Rahman, an Imam of the Islamic Sufi tradition, Don Mackenzie, a United Church of Christ minister, and Ted Falcon, a rabbi in the Reform Jewish tradition.
In a recent conversation, Rahman said the three friends share the challenges of interfaith dialogue as well as the rewards, sprinkling in humor and wisdom. And, said Rahman, they welcome even the most difficult questions.
Question: How did the three of you initially come together?
Answer: It was after the traumatic events (of Sept. 11). Rabbi Ted Falcon invited me to speak in his synagogue and it just so happened that we became friends. We started doing interfaith programs together, our families became friends, our congregations became friends. We realized we’re essentially cousins from the same family…and realized our third cousin was missing. We met with Pastor Don Mackenzie and became friends with him. It just so happened that we genuinely liked one another. As we connected on human levels, we realized this was the key. You have to have human connection to avoid polarization. We’ve now traveled all over together, to Israel, to Palestine, to Japan, we’ve written three books together and we have a real friendship.
Q: What sort of reaction do you typically get when people see and hear the three of you together?
A: We can sometimes see people in the front row with tears glistening in their eyes. I think we represent hope, vision and possibilities. They realize our friendship is genuine. We’re having more and more of these interfaith groups and relationships happening all over the country. There’s one in Illinois now getting attention, one in California…it’s exactly what we want. If it was still just us, it isn’t working.
Q: What sort of questions do you get from the people who attend your programs?
A: I do get a lot of questions about Islam-phobia and the jihad, it comes up. The issue of Israel and Palestine comes up. We get questions about our traditions. We invite the difficult questions. One of those difficult questions we get is “Why is there so much exclusivity in your traditions?” Or “why is there so much violence in your traditions?” “Why is there so much homophobia in your traditions?” “Why is there so much gender inequality in your traditions?” People in religious institutions are glossing over these. We were so struck by those questions that we wrote a book called “Religion Gone Astray.” It’s not about what’s wrong about you and in your religion, but looking at what’s wrong in my own tradition. It applies to all of us.
Q: Do you think it’s important to learn about different religions, not just in terms of tolerance, but understanding the history and the beliefs?
A: Religious literacy is very critical but most human beings don’t have time to go into the details. I find people even misunderstand their own traditions. The key is hospitality and friendship, not just tolerance. There should be a celebration of diversity. Diversity can be very beautiful and very enriching but only if there is interaction and intercooperation.
I think people are realizing more that the problems that exist, whether it’s social justice or earth care, are so huge that unless we have cooperation and collaboration we can never solve them. It can’t be solved by one religion, or one culture or one political party.
Q: What can those who attend the presentation in Marietta expect?
A: There are three areas we spent a lot of time on. First, talking about simply connecting. Have three cups of tea: listen, respect, connect. The idea is not to change the other person’s religious ideology but to simply have a friendship. When you have that, you overcome the tendency to demonize the other.
We also talk about the areas in our religious institutions that go astray. Third, we talk about the need to practice techniques to evolve into our best beings. People want to know “What can I do?”
Q: Is there a lot of time for discussion with the audience?
A: At minimum, 30 minutes of discussion. That’s the part we particularly relish.
Q: Since you began the Interfaith Amigos, what have you learned from each other?
A: If there is a human connection, then no matter the differences–and there will always be differences–the other person no longer looms as a threat. Then you can continue the deeper discussion. At the heart of every religion is the golden rule. How does it feel to be the other?
Q: After someone hears the Amigos speak, what do you hope they’ll go on to do on their own?
A: The primary goal would be to have them also connect with others different than them, to move beyond tribal affiliations. I hope it inspires people to reach out. And it doesn’t have to be about religion, it could be politics or culture or race, as long as you’re bonding as humans and sharing those three cups of tea.
Kate York conducted this interview.
If you go
¯ A presentation by Interfaith Amigos.
¯ When: 7 p.m. Nov. 10; 10 a.m. Nov. 11.
¯ Where: McDonough Auditorium at Marietta College; Nov. 11 event is in the Great Room of Andrews Hall.
¯ Who: Both events are free and open to the public.