Interfaith Dialogue Presents Opportunities
2012-01-26

Let us establish business partnerships and support joint projects between faith-based organizations.

Exploring what the Abrahamic faiths have in common was the theme of an interfaith dialogue held in Atlanta’s All Saints Episcopal Church on the sidelines of the recent US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum. The Saudi Committee of International Trade (CIT) and the Saudi-US Trade Group organized the event.

The discussion was moderated by Nick Stuart, president of Odyssey Networks, America’s largest interfaith media organization. The American panelists were prominent religious leaders in Atlanta; the southeast regional director of Anti-Defamation League, president of the Concerned Black Clergy, president of the Alliance for Christian Media, and dean of the Chapel and Religious Life at Emory University. Saudi participants included senior members of the CIT.

The dialogue focused on two major global concerns of this century — poverty and the environment. The discussion was very informative, and the participants exchanged their valuable experiences in dealing with these two realities that are threatening our world. They debated the theological aspects of the three religions and shared the actual spiritual practices in their daily lives that reinforce the commonalities of Abrahamic beliefs.

The dialogue ended with five recommendations for future interfaith projects: The need to build trust, address issues with open transparency, acquire knowledge and understanding of the other faiths, and to come up with joint projects that can serve their communities and tackle common issues of major concern.

Meanwhile, the outreach program succeeded in connecting the Saudi business leaders with the Odyssey Media Networks, which supplies videos of interfaith news stories to CNN, Huffington Post and a number of websites run by hosts such as AOL. It has its own website and mobile app, Call on Faith (available at i-Phone and BlackBerry app stores), which carries 18 short-form video channels. One of the main contributions is providing weekly links to churches to help preachers prepare for their weekly sermons, linking faith to the weekly events that are uppermost in the lives of the faithful, such as news about the economy, the environment, poverty and how we treat each other.

One of the objectives of Odyssey Networks is to launch a similar service for Muslims in America to aid preaching and study in the mosques and linking the insights from the Qur’an and the Hadith to topical news stories. Muslim organizations need to reach out and connect with such sincere interfaith efforts to foster better understanding between Muslims and other faiths.

Indeed the Saudis could learn a lot from their experience and adapt some of their programs to promote the role of the mosque and make it more effective by providing realistic guidance for the faithful.

Muslim organizations certainly could learn from such experiences in order to provide proper interpretations of the Qur’an and follow the authenticated Sunnah that relates more to the realities of our time in order to address the challenges of the 21st century.

There are many other ways in which we can benefit from establishing links with more-experienced interfaith organizations. One of them is encouraging Muslims to reach out and interact with other faiths and engage in dialogue to correct distorted information that has harmed Muslims and has given Islam a bad name. Odyssey is trying to grow its Muslim membership, and they are interested in appointing a Muslim board member who could contribute by providing firsthand information about the true principles of Islam and give a Muslim perspective on current issues of global concern. Other initiatives could include an internship or sponsored Muslim video journalist who would join the production staff for a few months to interact with other professionals and learn from their experience to cover stories from the Muslim world that would provide a more accurate picture of Muslim culture and way of life.

Talented Muslims in this field could introduce Muslim insights to the production team, whether it be new media, Web expertise, graphic design or video journalists and editors.

We need to support such initiatives to build trust and eliminate the elements of fear and suspicion that have divided Abrahamic faiths. Let us establish business partnerships and support joint projects between faith-based organizations to address global challenges like poverty or the environment and other pressing issues that threaten humanity.

Muslim organizations in Saudi Arabia that support Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s initiative of interfaith dialogue need to seek interfaith initiatives emerging out of the US like the Odyssey Networks and find ways to link up to highlight Muslim contributions to provide a positive perspective that promotes peace and harmony.

The outreach program initiated by the CIT to promote an interfaith dialogue with Saudi Arabia could be the beginning of a strong partnership to foster better relations with the West and a chance to find common ground between the Abrahamic faiths. Investment in such initiatives would contribute to global peace and prosperity.

(Samar Fatany is a Saudi radio journalist)