Contrary to popular belief, interfaith dialogue “is not is all sweetness and light.”

Nor is it simply a vehicle for showing that “we’re really all the same”. We’re not.  Rather, it’s a candid attempt to “understand each other,” emphasized Maureen Fiedler, host of the radio program Interfaith Voices, during an interfaith gathering of some 100 Jews, Christians and Muslims held Sunday afternoon at the John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Annandale.

The event, part of a series of tolerance-building get-togethers sponsored by the Fairfax County government, included a panel discussion on the widely divergent uses of religious texts. They can inspire righteous acts or be perverted by extremists to justify hatred and violence.

Or, as the Very Rev. Grayce O’Neill of the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Annandale put it: “Words taken out of context of their times become very, very dangerous.”

Context is key, reiterated the other two panelists, Rabbi Ita Paskind of Conservative Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, and Imam Zia of Annandale’s Mustafa Center.

Paskind, for instance, cited passages in the Torah that have “the most potential for [stirring up] hatred against another group.”

She mentioned the story of the nation of Amalek, a tribe that murdered weary Israelite travelers during their exodus from Egypt, prompting God to command: “Blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

Paskind went on to explain that while the episode is a part of Jewish history, it “doesn’t apply to us today” and “we don’t associate any modern-day nation with Amalek.”

Perhaps, the Koran contains some of the most widely misinterpreted edicts.

Imam Zia referred to the notorious verses from the Koran that order Muslims “to fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you,” explaining that it is “very tragic” to witness how al Qaeda and other extremist groups “use these verses to justify violence and hatred.”

Zia maintained that “expansionist wars are alien to Islam,” and while those wars certainly have taken place in the past, “they are not sanctioned by the faith.”


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