Daniel Tutt, outreach coordinator for 20,000 Dialogues and a part of the Unity Production Foundation making the film, “Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain,” spoke recently at The Collegiate YMCA at the University of Pittsburgh about that time period’s influence on the present.
Christians, Muslims and Jewish students participated in the program, “YMCA Moderate Voice For Progress,” which took place Wednesday, Oct. 22.
The documentary was a historical review that discussed how the three major monotheistic religions coexisted and flourished in Medieval Spain until the Spanish “Reconquista (Inquisition) that expelled all Jewish and Muslim populations in the region.
Rabbi James Gibson from Temple Sinai, Rev. Dan Valentine from St. James Church, representing Catholicism, Minister David Hearndon from the First Unitarian Church and Omar Slater from the Council of American Islamic Relations comprised the panel.
Referring to today’s world, Gibson quoted from the Book of Amos to strengthen his belief on interfaith unity:
“Where there is diversity — there is creativity (Amos 9:7),” he said.
He also said God is universal to all religions, commenting on how the seven Noahide’s laws, the basis for the Ten Commandments, are a part of each and every one of us.
Slater, like Gibson, said God is a common factor to all people.
“All of the religions of the book acknowledge the existence of one God,” he said. “We are fighting and killing each other, our family.”
Valentine said he came to the event to speak about how he sees interfaith relations on three levels — local, national and international.
“We must find ways in which we can help [people] open up, through promoting this kind of dialogue and working together,” he said.
Valentine recounted one event in which Jewish and Catholic teenagers walked together in a museum, learning from each other.
“It’s a remarkable experience,” he said. “I’m encouraged from what I see, people interested in working together.”
In disussing the value of justice, Hearndon cited segregation in the United States between 1865 and 1960. He said coexistence can come to pass if people not only understand one another, but work together for justice.
Slater mentioned Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a Muslim, who fought in Iraq as a member of the Army, saying having a different religion does not mean being different in every way of life.
It wasn’t long before the topic turned to the Middle East with one member of the audience asking the panel how religious coexistence can make a difference in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Gibson responded with a Chasidic story about a mayor of a city, who did not know how to approach the different groups of people there. He thought he would start by discovering what each group wanted before he acted.
Valentine used the word equality as a way to address the question. By sharing, he said, people can appreciate their differences.
“I don’t know what that word really means among religion,” he said. “We are different, and it’s OK to be different.”
Aleeza Harburger, 18, a freshman at Pitt said that some of her non-Jewish friends ask her if they can come to Friday night dinners at Hillel. “I find the people are very interested in exploring different faiths in such a nice community.”
Diana Peterson, 22, a graduate student at Pitt, said that coexistence exists here in Pittsburgh. However, she has not seen many examples of it.
“I think that’s an issue because I don’t focus on it, therefore I don’t go looking for it either,” she said. “But in my everyday life, I don’t see it as often.”
(Alon Melamed can be reached at email@example.com.)