I have heard hundreds of talks by Akbar Ahmed often on the subject of interfaith dialogue. Often he will push the audience to not only speak to others of different faiths but to become friends with them. Friendship, he says, is the only hope. He is himself a paradigm of this model for peace, but friendship spreads and his talk on Thursday at the home of my best friend in St. Louis embodied that message. From one friend to another and then another, the friendship model can make real transformations in people’s lives as it has in mine with Dr. Ahmed, Laurens’s, and her mother Susan’s. I believe our travels will spread this message and create new friendships that have the real power to transform relations between faiths.
Lauren and I met at American University. We lived on the all-girls floor next door to each other and since have been great friends. Even as undergraduates we learned about each other’s interests and shared in each other’s differences. She took me to her shabbat dinners, the traditional Jewish dinners served on Fridays by the Jewish student group Hillel. When I went to the Muslim world in sophomore yea for the project “Journey into Islam,” Lauren was my biggest supporter. She first met Dr. Ahmed as she hugged me goodbye at the airport, tearfully asking him to bring me back safely. She then became involved more in our team doing our Jewish outreach and working on issues related to the Muslim world.
At the breakfast on Thursday hosted by Susan Zuckerman, she told the story of her first meeting with Dr. Ahmed at the National Cathedral. Bishop John Chane, Rabbi Bruce Lustig and Dr. Ahmed were launching the book Journey into Islam which came out of our trip. Lauren had asked her to fly in especially from St. Louis for this talk and she couldn’t understand “what all of this Islam stuff was about.” She, like so many people, were struck by Dr. Ahmed’s charisma, compassion, and message. As a Jewish mother in St. Louis she had little knowledge or involvement with Islam but she too became one of Dr. Ahmed’s biggest supporters.
In preparing for the breakfast Susan would tell her rabbi, Susan Talve, a Starbucks barista and a prominent speaker about the breakfast. Her friends, Jewish, Christian, and a nun, Sister Annette, were all there in support, despite the hurricane-like conditions. Lauren’s friend Emma and former teacher Mrs. Colgiavanni and new friends came to hear this message of friendship. The video can speak for itself, but the breakfast was a huge success. We had a wonderful message of blessing from Rabbi Susan Talve who spoke of the Abrahamic tradition of opening one’s home to new friends when they are on a journey and the necessity of friendship in a divided America today. We left that day with the love and support of loyal, generous, and warm friends, both old and new.
Susan Zuckerman sent us this note after we left:
I only have a moment, but I would be terribly remiss if I did not let you know – and please pass on – all of the absolutely wonderful comments I have gotten from our event last Thursday. I feel it is fair to say that you all made a huge and lasting impression about a topic that we, as Americans, sometimes do not focus on. I will try to send you the emails, I just wish you could hear all of the spoken comments first-hand. Additionally, I just heard from Mindy that Rabbi Talve’s sermon on Saturday was all about Dr. Ahmed and his team of young, talented and committed scholars working to change hurtful and incorrect perceptions in our world.
Thank you all again for your commitment to creating a safer, better and more loving world for all of us!