Three men of three faiths promote shared respect, understanding
March 6, 2012
By Tom Corrigan
The three men give a lot of spiritual advice to the members of their various congregations.
Imam Jamal Rahman said he and his partners, Pastor Don Mackenzie and Rabbi Ted Falcon, who make up the Seattle-based Interfaith Amigos, travel the area and the country trying to spread interfaith tolerance and understanding.
They have even taken their message overseas to the Middle East and Japan. They make regular appearances on TV and radio, and are the joint authors of two books.
The three will appear March 17 at the Community Church of Issaquah.
Besides giving advice to their congregations, the three also give advice to each other, Rahman said. According to the Quran, he said, diversity among humanity exists so people might get to better know one another and themselves. Getting to know each other and themselves better is exactly what the three Interfaith Amigos have done, Rahman concluded.
“We’ve become good friends,” Rahman said of his partners.
There were several reasons he invited the trio to the Community Church of Issaquah, Pastor Keith Madsen said.
Most know there is a lot of tension between the various faiths, particularly Muslims and Jews, as well as Muslims and Christians, Madsen said. But one way around those tensions is for both sides to learn about the other, to learn not to demonize the other, he said.
The Interfaith Amigos grew directly out of the tensions between the United States and the Islamic world. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Falcon invited Rahman to a Shabbat, or Sabbath, observance. Falcon said Rahman was the first person he called after the attacks because he wanted a more balanced view of Islam and what had taken place.
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“We said, ‘Why stop there? Let’s continue,’” said Falcon, who brought Mackenzie into the mix.
“It was very clear that we wanted to work together,” Falcon added.
After years of getting to know each other, Rahman now calls the pastor and the rabbi two of the best Muslims he knows, hinting at an idea Madsen said he finds very interesting.
The Muslim faith calls for the surrender of the ego to the will of God, Rahman explained, not needing to add a belief that Falcon and Mackenzie have done so in his opinion. Madsen said he believes the idea of surrendering to God is a thought more Christians could embrace.
One reason the Interfaith Amigos collaboration works so well is they don’t avoid difficult or unsettling questions or issues, Falcon said. For example, Rahman and Falcon said they never have shied away from talking about the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“We agree that Jamal is wrong,” Falcon joked, regarding Rahman.
“It’s crucial for us to show our different points of view,” Rahman said.
The trio has come up with five specific steps toward interfaith understanding.
“We start with the premise that both of us are right,” Falcon said.
Both Falcon and Rahman said the importance of interfaith dialogue extends in several directions. Rahman spoke of a Gaza Strip Muslim leader and a conservative Jewish rabbi who publicly came to an understanding following the five steps laid out by the Amigos. Their understanding included the idea that disputed Middle East territories belong not to Muslims, Israelis or Christians, but to God.
In the vein of difficult subjects, at present, U.S. military forces have come under criticism and violent attack by Afghan Muslims angered over what American authorities describe as the accidental burning of a number of Qurans.
“It is right to feel indignant,” Rahman said, but he added the violent and self-righteous response of the Afghans is “morally indefensible.” The Quran teaches forgiveness again and again, he continued.
Besides helping solve political disputes, both Rahman and Falcon said there are issues facing humanity and the planet that no one religion or country can deal with on its own. Rahman mentioned social justice issues and environmental problems, what he termed “Earth care,” several times.
In Issaquah, the Amigos will touch on their five steps to interfaith understanding. Significantly, the last step is a willingness to honor diversity.
“It’s not about conversion but completion as a person,” Rahman said.
He and Falcon said they hope to attract people who already are willing to embrace interfaith dialogue as well as those who oppose it. Rahman said he has been able to become friends with fundamentalist Christians who previously were “allergic to Islam.”
“There has been no narrowing of our theological differences,” he said, while adding that, importantly, those involved no longer see the other side as some kind of threat.
Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.