Students of three faiths joined together at Rutgers University to share how their vision of God influences their relationships with others and the world.
The Jan. 31 program at the university’s New Brunswick campus was initiated by the Muslim Student Association, which reached out to Rutgers Hillel and Ratio Christi, a student Christian group, as co-sponsors.
“We think it’s good to promote understanding of the three faiths,” MSA president Ibaad Sadiq told NJ Jewish News. “We have a lot in common. There are now thousands of Jewish students on campus, thousands of Muslim students, and a lot of Christians. It’s great to have a dialogue about these various concepts of our religions.”
Twenty minutes were allotted to three panelists to speak. They then fielded questions from the 200 audience members on topics ranging from Zionism to why Jews and Muslims can’t eat bacon.
The scheduled 90-minute program ran an extra hour as volunteers continued to bring up index cards with questions. Even then, Sadiq, who served as moderator, acknowledged he probably had another hour’s worth of questions.
Mohammed Hannini, a local computer engineer speaking for Islam, said he welcomed the discussion because “the issue has been marginalized.”
“The two things you’re told not to discuss at work are God and politics,” he said. “You can discuss other things, but what is more important than God? The idea that we can discuss and not reach a conclusion is okay. But this idea that we have to hide our heads in the sand and pretend there is no such disagreement — we are really just fooling ourselves.”
Rabbi Heath Wantenmaker, representing Hillel’s Reform outreach initiative, explained the differing interpretations of Jewish law and tradition among the various Jewish streams.
“Regardless of their domination all Jews are tied together by ethical monotheism,” he said.
At subsequent programs, Hillel will also be represented by its senior associate director Esther Reed, a Conservative rabbi, and educator Akiva Weiss, an Orthodox rabbi.
David Wood, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at Fordham University and a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, drew a parallel among faiths by explaining that the teachings of Jesus are everlasting.
“The word of God cannot be destroyed,” he said. “But as we know the holy Koran has been destroyed [by anti-Muslim vandals]. Yet, the Koran is the eternal word of Allah.”
Wantenmaker said his idea of God “isn’t fixed and is constantly evolving.” Jews, he added, believe humans are born in God’s image.
“I can’t see God, but I know God is all around me,” said Wantenmaker. “I see God in the faces of everyone I encounter.”
Hillel education chair Aimee Blenner said she thought “it was a really good forum that engaged the three faiths on the same topic.”
Saira Bakshi, a Muslim student from Bergen County, said, “It was interesting to hear about the different denominations of Judaism and Christianity and hear about their respective differences and parallels with Islam.”
The program will be followed by four other interfaith programs focusing on the following topics: the concept of faith, Feb. 13; faith and society, March 6; preservation of the holy texts, March 27; and the day of judgment and accountability, April 16.