Beth Shalom to sponsor interfaith talks sessions

Threats, religious conflict the motivation for series

February 21, 2003|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A series of interfaith dialogues Tuesday evenings at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia will present topics on repentance, liturgical practices, holy books and the role of women in their religions.

Among the questions the series will tackle are: What are the basic beliefs of your movement? What are your beliefs about salvation? Can people who don't believe in your faith go to heaven?

Each week, a representative from a Christian, Buddhist or Islamic group will discuss the topics.

"You need to understand religion to understand what's going on in the world," said Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom about the "comparative religion" conversations that her synagogue will sponsor.

Grossman will be moderator for the discussions, "pointing out places where ... Judaism converges or differs with ... [the] faith beliefs and practices of these religions." A question-and-answer session will follow each presentation.

Grossman said her congregation's longstanding interest in interfaith dialogue, as well as terrorist threats and religious conflicts around the world, is a motivation for the series.

"As a minority in a country, the Jewish people are very aware ... of what happens when religions foster hate and when religions are misunderstood," she said. "And so we were hoping to foster understanding and interfaith dialogue to help open the avenues of communication and facilitate tolerance and appreciation for each other's differences."

The scheduled start of the series this week was postponed because of the snowstorm. That program, with Shamshad Nasir, imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Silver Spring, has been rescheduled for Tuesday.

Other Islamic groups have faulted the Ahmadiyya movement in Islam.

"People criticize us because [of] the definition of jihad," Nasir said, noting that his organization is a peaceful one. "... These people take jihad as ... fighting with everyone. We don't interpret jihad like that."

Nasir said that he has spoken at interfaith meetings "for many years" and that he welcomes the opportunity to speak at Beth Shalom.

"The interfaith dialogue meetings [are] always good. It brings people together. ... It brings more understanding," he said.

A group of Buddhists from Soka Gakkai Temple in Silver Spring will take part in the program March 4, and the Rev. Steven Sorensen of Community Bible Church in Highland will talk about evangelical Christianity March 11.

Sorensen said he is glad to participate in the interfaith series, noting that his church is "very supportive of Israel" and "proudly displayed both the American and flag of Israel" after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But he made a clear distinction between Christianity and other religions. "The death and resurrection of Christ is seen as one of many ways to God. We stress that it is the [only] way to God because of what God has done in Christ in reconciling the world to himself," Sorensen said.

The final speaker in the four-week series is to be announced.

"It can only help to learn what other people believe," said Barbara Miller, adult education chairwoman at Beth Shalom. "You need to know what your neighbors think."

The interfaith dialogue will be held at 7:45 p.m. Tuesdays at Beth Shalom Congregation, 8070 Harriet Tubman Lane: next week, Imam Shamshad Nasir of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Silver Spring; on March 4, representatives of Soka Gakkai International Buddhism Temple, Silver Spring; on March 11, the Rev. Steven Sorensen of Community Bible Church, Highland. Information: 410-531-5115.

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