Monday, February 11, 2013

Does Interfaith Dialogue work?

 From left to right: Sheikh Dr Muhammad al-Hussaini; Dr Patrick Sookhdeo; chairman Martin Bright: Rev. Patrick Morrow, and Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg at last week's discussion in London on interfaith dialogue.(Photo: M Huberman)

Update: To receive a sound recording file of the discussion, please apply to

"It's good to talk,"to quote the old BT ad. 'Jaw-jaw' is better than 'war-war', as Churchill once said.

Who can argue with interfaith dialogue? As with motherhood and apple pie - what's not to like? But is there a point where dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims can prove not just fruitless,  but destructive?

 At a panel discussion last week arranged at Friends' House in London by Harif and Spiro Ark: 'Interfaith dialogue: does it work?  it dawned on some that disapproval or  reservations about interfaith dialogue, publically expressed, could be dangerous to your health. Sheikh Dr Muhammad al-Hussaini, of the Council of Imams and Rabbis of the UK (Children of Abraham), drove home the point  that 'moderate' Muslims such as himself ran risks merely for being openly critical. He reduced the audience to tears as he threw away his prepared statement and talked with emotion about how his very appearance on the panel had exposed his family to threats and harassment.

Interfaith dialogue, he claimed, was an industry funded by petrodollars whose function was to manipulate genuine people of good-will for 'PR advantage' and confer legitimacy on extremists.

For fellow panellist Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, of the Barnabas Fund, serving persecuted Christians worldwide, interfaith dialogue reminded him of an encounter between a fox and a chicken where the chicken was on the menu.

Not only had interfaith dialogue failed to protect the rights of women, children and minorities, but hypocrisy was rife, he said. A Pakistani law-maker extolling the virtues of interfaith dialogue turned out to be the architect of the blasphemy law, under which Christians and converts from Islam could be condemned to death.

On the other side of the debate, Reverend Patrick Morrow of the Council of Christians and Jews said interfaith dialogue could lead to some real successes. He would dialogue with the devil if it helped. Rabbi Jonathan Wiittenberg argued that if there were a 0.0001 percent chance that dialogue could lead to better understanding, he would do it.

You dialogue with your enemies, not your friends: the example was proffered of Jo Berry: her father was blown up by the IRA, but she talked with her father's murderer.

The discussion, expertly chaired by Martin Bright, political editor of the Jewish Chronicle, was eloquent and far-reaching. The audience expressed a range of views for and against.

 The conclusion was that dialogue can be a good thing, especially when it occurs naturally and without contrivance. But be careful to check that the sheep you are talking to is not really a wolf, and make quite sure that you are not his next meal.

Report by Amie on Harry's Place 

In defence of Bright - Harry's Place

Telling the truth about dialogue by Martin Bright (JC)

It's not always good to talk by Geoffrey Alderman (Jewish Chronicle)

When interfaith friends fall out by Martin Bright ( Jewish Chronicle)


Jesterhead45 said...

While I remain skeptical about his claims of being a moderate (the same goes for all muslims who do not declare themselves murtads out of principle and consistency), Dr Muhammad al-Hussaini has practically validated the views of those critical about the notion of interfaith dialogue.

It does indeed provide PR advantage / cover and legitimacy not only to islamic extremists (along a various assortment of Christian extremists with widely differing yet eerily consistent agendas), but also to unrepresentative self-proclaimed “jewish leaders” (from oikophobic “asajew”-style j-streeter types of usually questionable / outright fraudulent jewish status to anti-zionist neturei karta types, etc) who are all too ready to unilaterally compromise / sell-out the people, land, history and belief system they claim to speak on behalf of when in actual fact those loud self-styled “jewish leaders” tend to seemingly harbour some sort of deep-seated near-annihilationist animosity towards those Jews who do not share their extreme and absurd fringe beliefs.

Interfaith dialogue really only works between belief systems that in spite of not seeing eye to eye in many areas otherwise have no problem with each other, not on belief systems who entire existence and legitimacy is dependent on debasing and eliminating the movement/s they claimed to have superseded. (e.g. Christianity’s claim to have replaced Judaism and in turn islam’s claim of not only replacing both Judaism and Christianity, but also its ridiculous notion that somehow islam also simultaneous preceded both Judaism and Christianity via adam in the garden of eden who was apparently a “prophet” before the concept of religion even existed.)

Empress Trudy said...

No it's nonsense. Christianity and Islam are triumphalist religions. They believe they are absolutely the fist last and only word on subject and everyone else is not only wrong, but willfully sinful about it. Judaism suffers none of that and so is always in an inferior position.

Jesterhead45 said...

Empress Trudy

I agree though it is not the fact that Judaism is always in an inferior position because it is not a triumphalist belief system, it is what Judaism mostly has as leaders (who typically do not practise what they preach or claim to believe in) that always places Judaism in an inferior position.

izzy said...

My own experience with lay people interfaith dialogue groups was less than luke warm. Aside from the niceties and overt respect, preconditions to real understanding and friendship is to renounce zionism and make a distinction between religion and political affiliations.

While to a certain extent, that rings true, for me conditional friendship, e.g. think like me, believe what i believe etc... is not friendship.

You need to enter the dialogue unconditionally with acceptance of each other position and discuss what's right and what's wrong and work through the issues, not negate them going in.

Alas, I became jaded about the concept albeit the interfaith Judo Christian group had great results since 70's and 80's.

Anonymous said...

Jesterhead, why do you doubt Dr Al-Hussaini is a moderate? If you heard him speak you wouldn't ever doubt it. The fact that he's a Muslim cleric resident at Leo Baeck college ought to give you some clue as to his true commitment to interfaith learning and dialogue.

Tony Jacobs said...

Jesterhead45, you're so right in what you say, especially about Jewish leadership, I may have to plagerise your post.