|Left to right: Rev. O'Neill, Rabbi |
Paskind, and Imam Zia
There was lots of talk about the need for more understanding and respect of other religions and the need for more education—about one’s own—as well as other religions. But many participants agreed that one of their biggest challenges is bringing that message to the extremists within their religions.
The moderator, Maureen Fiedler, host of the “Interfaith Voices” radio show, told the audience that while the session is “a quest to understand each other. What it is not is all sweetness and light. We’re not here to say we’re really all the same. We’re not.”
Zia, of the Mustafa Center in Annandale, quoted verses from the Koran that call upon Muslims “to fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you.” He called it “very tragic” how Al Qaida and other extremist groups “use these verses to justify violence and hatred.”
He said “expansionist wars are alien to Islam.” Those wars have happened, but “they are not sanctioned by the faith.” And, he said, “while it is an obligation to tell others about your faith, Muslims are not out to convert the world.”
Fiedler suggested that we don’t have religious wars in the United States, because just about everyone has a relative of a different religion whom “we don’t believe is going to hell.”
A member of the audience objected, stating the real reason is that we have separation of church and state. He said Islam is different because it “doesn’t wish to preserve separation of church and state,” and we should be concerned about Muslims who want governments to adopt Koran-based Sharia law. That is an opinion within Islamic tradition, Zia acknowledged, but said, “it’s important to make a distinction between opinions and the Muslim religion as a whole.”
In response to Fiedler’s question about how religious leaders could promote interfaith understanding among followers who adhere to the original interpretations of the scriptures, Zia suggested eliminating extremism and terrorism by addressing poverty and oppression, “the root causes of militancy.” Paskind stressed the importance of education, and of teaching peace, starting with the youngest children.
“We must speak out against hate in our own communities,” O’Neill said. Referring to the preacher in Florida who threatened to burn the Koran and the opposition to the Park 51 project in New York, she said, some people were afraid their Christianity will be taken away. But if that is the case, “how deep is your Christianity?”