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Leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations discussing religious perspectives April 4 agreed that God loves all people equally, and that greater education could teach that violence and exclusion are not part of their commandments.

The three clerics focused on what unites people of different faiths more than what separates them in an interfaith dialogue sponsored by Homewood at Crumland Farms’ Retired Clergy Group. Rabbi Dan Sikowitz, from Congregation Kol Ami in Frederick, the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel, pastor of Evangelical Reformed Church, United Church of Christ, in Frederick, and Imam Yahya Hendi, who lives in Frederick and is the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, discussed the perspectives of their various faiths regarding humanity and religion.

Cliff Harrison, convener of the clergy group, introduced the three speakers, selected by his group to represent the religions “that affect us most,” he said. “We expressed our concern particularly about the Muslim- Christian relationship.”

Most questions from the audience concerned how, according to their faith, Muslims are called to respond to non-Muslims. Hendi acknowledged that he is used to confronting “why so many men, women and children are killing in the name of Allah.”

“It is the opposite of what the faith teaches,” he said.

The Quran teaches Muslims to follow the same Ten Commandments that the Jews and Christians follow, and that “if you kill one [person], it is as if you kill all of humanity,” Hendi said.

Compassion is the primary concept in Islam’s holy book, he said; mercy, love and peace are mentioned 446 times. A minority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are justifying violence by taking out of context a few passages of the Quran that deal with sixth-century Arabia, where Muslims were persecuted, he said. “They twist, abuse and interpret the Quran in a way to justify [their actions]. I call that cut and paste.”

While he is used to responding to questions about terrorism by Muslims, he said he “would not judge Christianity by a few crazy Christians.”

Kershner Daniel asked rhetorically why Muslims are expected to explain the acts of terrorists who are Muslim, but she and other Christians are not expected to explain terrorism carried out by Christians.

“Nobody ever asked me to account for the Ku Klux Klan,” she said.

She also faulted what she called cultural Christianity, which justifies exclusion and violence against those who do not follow a particular Christian tradition. That cannot be justified by true Christianity, Kershner Daniel said.

“That has nothing to do with the Jesus ... I understand,” she said. “All people are loved by God. ‘Love your neighbor’ — those are the words of Jesus I follow. We know that Jesus loved the ones that nobody else loved.”

Hendi recalled a Christian cleric friend who once told him he was sad because he admired Hendi and believed that Hendi’s faith would prevent him from getting into heaven.

“I think there’s more love in Jesus’ heart to bring me in,” Hendi said.

“We were all created in God’s image,” Sikowitz said. His progressive Reform Jewish tradition acknowledges many religious paths open to humanity and calls on people to see the divine spark in every person, he said.

Hendi affirmed diversity and said if God had wanted all people to be alike, he could have made them that way.

(See FORUM D6)

Rabbi Dan Sikowitz, center, speaks at a recent interfaith dialogue panel along with the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel and Imam Yahya Hendi.

Staff photo by Graham Cullen

(Continued from D5) More education about world religions in general would help, the three leaders agreed. Teaching the religions’ histories, not necessarily teaching the faiths, would bridge many divides, they said. Hendi said such teaching has been his privileged role at the Jesuit Georgetown University. Leaders brought him in not to minister to the small Muslim student population there, but to be a chaplain to all, just as the Catholic and Jewish chaplains were, he said. “I’m there for everyone. ... It has been the best experience,” Hendi said. “At an academic institution, the best thing you could do is empower a mind.” Education should involve listening and learning, better than enforced tolerance of others, Kershner Daniel said. “Tolerance means ‘I’m putting up with you.’” “In honoring each other, we’re honoring the God of us all,” Hendi said. He advocated for all faithful people to look to the current pope for guidance and inspiration. Pope Francis has emphasized mercy, peace and the universality of God’s love.

“This is an amazing guy that I think we should all be standing by,” Hendi said.

Homewood resident Joyce Cook reminded the group of an Old Testament verse that, for her, guides any righteous life: from Micah 6:8: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”

What more can Homewood residents do to foster greater understanding among people of different faiths, asked someone from the audience.

Kershner Daniel responded that Homewood had made a good start, “By you just visually seeing the three of us up here.”

Hendi offered to teach a course at Homewood on how to learn, pray and serve together.

“That’s what you can do here. ... Have more of these [forums],” he said. “Work with others to ensure that we reclaim the soul of America, the soul that made America great.”

Follow Patti Borda Mullins on Twitter: @FNP_Patti.

Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, speaks at an interfaith dialogue held recently at Homewood at Crumland Farms.

Staff photo by Graham Cullen

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