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Three scholars speak on interfaith issues at Fau

February 16, 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Three scholars speak on interfaith issues at Fau, by James D. Davis.

For his recent interfaith conference, Manny Shemin counts success in several ways. One was the crowd of 1,100. And the coffee and pastries went.

But more important were the many questions from the audience, which continued even beyond the 10 p.m. cutoff.

"Interfaith understanding is a long-term situation, but you need short-term successes," said Shemin, a retired businessman and founder of the Trialogue Seminar series at Florida Atlantic University. "We think we're on the right path."

The conference, on Monday night, highlighted three scholars: Rabbi A. James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee, Sulayman Nyang of Howard University and Thomas Idinopulos of Miami University of Ohio. They were blunt about the hurdles.

"We're dealing with deep, embedded values of life in this world and in the world to come," the rabbi said.

Rudin, a veteran of Jewish-Christian dialogue, said Jews somehow became a "swing vote" between Christians and Muslims in the clash of cultures. "We never wanted to be in someone else's drama."

He said Jewish-Christian relations deal with theological issues, such as the concept of a Messiah, and how to proclaim one's faith. Jewish-Muslim relations, however, must tackle "territorial" matters such as land, and how a majority should relate to a minority.

"Yes, we need love, sweet love, but that's not sufficient. We need a theology of pluralism — the belief that that is, in fact, God's will," Rudin said.

"Don't despair. Be prisoners of hope."

Nyang was more upbeat, saying America has some advantages for interfaith dialogue. One is the First Amendment, which "gives us room to live together and learn from each other." Another is to see religious pioneers — including Abraham and Jesus — as immigrants, like many people who have come to America. "It is immigration at a philosophical and geographical level," Nyang said. "This is an important point in interfaith relations."

Nyang — whose newest book, Islam in America, is due out this fall — condemned terrorists who kill for religion, calling it "one of the tragedies of the modern period.

"Today, many Muslims are hellbent on using violence to further their cause," Nyang said. "Those who are interested in dialogue must be able to separate religious and political issues."

Beliefs alone can't bring peace, Idinopulos said. "Jerusalem is blessed by God and cursed by religions," said Idinopulos, who taught and studied there. "One God unites them, but the application every day drives them apart.

"There is no true religion, only true faith. Beliefs may be right or wrong, idealistic or tyrannical. But faith doesn't deceive, because it leads to good works, and to social and moral justice."

Shemin, 77, agreed that years of interfaith work lie ahead. "I don't know if I'll live to see ultimate success. But I want to build bridges and pass on the gains."

James D. Davis can be reached at or 954-356-4730.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,0,2419531.story

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