Jews and Muslims in Charlotte begin a dialogue for understanding
By Erin Ryan, Correspondent
While most of the world focuses on the differences between Islam and Judaism, some people in Charlotte are discussing how the religions are alike.
“We’ll realize how important we are to each other, how much we have in common, and how much in the future can be worked out if we just sit down and talk,” historian Amadou Shakur told a group at Temple Beth El. Dialogue “is the most critical idea that we can have for the 21st century.”
Beth El senior rabbi Judy Schindler told the group her “dream checklist” includes starting an Islamic-Jewish dialogue. Schindler started a Jewish-Muslim dialogue seven years ago, she said, but it only lasted a few sessions.
“What I am excited about in the prospect of … finding partners in study is that we can go deeper,” she said, “not just have these statements about what Jews believe and what Muslims believe, but that we can really study each other’s texts.”
Schindler and Shakur described their holy books and examined the presentation of Moses, prayer and judgment in the Torah and the Quran.
The Torah comprises the five books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. “Torah” can also refer to the Tanakh – all the writings of the Hebrew Bible, including psalms and prophetic writings. The last four of those five books chronicle the deeds of Moses, known in Arabic as Musa.
In the Torah, Moses leads the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, receives the Jewish law on Mount Sinai, and uniquely knows God “face to face,” according to Deuteronomy 34.
Who wrote the Bible?
Islam also honors Moses, recognizing him as the only person to speak directly to God, said Shakur. The Quran devotes a “very long” portion of its 116 chapters (known as suras) to the prophet’s deeds – about “30 verses.”
“We respect all the prophets of old,” said John Ramadan, imam of Masjid Ar-Razzaq in Charlotte. He referred to the Quran’s sura 5, ayat (verses) 44-50, which include the lines: “It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews,” and “We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light.”
“We are judged by what has been revealed to us,” Ramadan said in an interview.
Muslims believe the Quran was revealed by the archangel Jibril (or Gabriel) to the Prophet Muhammad, who died in 632. Though there is often disagreement among Muslims about what the commands may mean, said Shakur, no one disputes that the words themselves were from Allah.
While Orthodox Jews believe God gave the Torah to Moses on Sinai, said Schindler, Reform Jews believe in the idea of divine inspiration, that the Torah was written by humans, inspired by their experience of God.
James Howell, senior pastor at Myers Park United Methodist Church, agrees.
“There’s probably a minority in Christianity who think that God wrote” the Christian Bible, which comprises the Hebrew scriptures and Greek New Testament. “But not many,” said Howell, 58, a past speaker in Temple Beth El’s Comparative Religions Program. “We certainly recognize that there’s a human element to it. … We think that God guided that process. Most Christians think ‘inspiration.’ ”
Shakur said Islam is heavily focused on the afterlife. “None of us will get to heaven because of our good deeds,” he said. “It’s because of the mercy of God.”
While the idea of a heaven exists in Judaism, it has evolved over time, said Schindler. “The notion (for Jews) is that it is our actions that lead us to heaven.”
“On the one hand you can say, the sort of baseline in Christianity is you’re saved by the grace of God,” said Howell. But then, “If (for Christians) heaven is a place where there’s equality, then we should have equality now … The idea of heaven drives us back into a focus on the world.”
Temple Beth El’s community has a “passion for dialogue,” Schindler says. The Comparative Religions series, now in its 17th year, offers speakers from Jewish and Christian traditions, Baha’i and Islam.
“I hope this is the start of a good dialogue for the future,” said Marshall Lindner, 76, a retired dentist and Beth El member. “There’s so much religious ignorance and hatred in the world, and this is a wonderful chance to learn and to heal wounds.”