Bruce Feiler's book "Abraham - A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths" goes to the heart of the interfaith issues between the Abrahamic faiths. This is an excerpt of his interview with Sheikh Abu Sneina, an Imam at the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem:
"As our meeting was drawing to a close, I mentioned the interfaith conversation in the world and asked whether he believed Abraham was a uniting figure or a dividing figure.
"If Muslims, Jews, and Christians follow what is mentioned in the Koran, then Abraham can be a uniting figure," he said, and I felt we might be heading down a path similar to the night before. "But even if Jews and Christians just follow what's mentioned about Abraham in the Bible, then we can reach unity."
Now this was a new idea. "But we have two different texts," I said.
"But the principle is the same, " he said. "You have a true heart, you have to believe there is one God. Maybe we have different approaches, but the destination is the same."
This was so radical in its openness that I didn't quite believe it at first. I mentioned that the previous Friday I had stood on a perch overlooking El-Aksa as he spoke. I could see Jews praying, Muslims praying, all the churches with their bells ringing. "And everybody could hear everybody else."
He laughed. "So what is your question?"
"Was that the sound of conflict or the sound of peace?"
"As Muslims we have the order to pray, to believe according to Islam, and God asks us very clearly to protests against other groups who have other beliefs. We want to spread Islam, to have a jihad. But that doesn't mean we have to fight. Jihad does not mean to fight people, it means to invite people to Islam, which is highly misunderstood, both historically and now. But this can be done peacefully."
"I would like to believe that," I said. "But people are dying. I live in New York."
"The situation is very difficult. There are problems in Palestinian society. People are deprived from coming to El-Aksa. Every family knows people who are prisoners, or who were killed. This political domination threatens religious tolerance. So religion is mixed with politics, you see."
"So, when I look at the situation, should I feel sad, or concerned? Or should I feel that in the future the spirit of Abraham can prevail?"
"You should feel sadness," the imam said, "not just for the Muslim world but also for Jews and Christians."
"But despite this sadness, " he continued, "hope must endure. We all sacrifice. We all have people killed. It's the same for Palestinians and Israelis, for Christians and Jews, for Americans, for people all over the world. We must find a way."
For the first time all morning I felt the imam emerging from his defensive posture. He was sitting on the edge of his chair now. His arms were stretching wide, his hands upstretched. His eyes burned. He was a preacher. He was a leader.
I lifted my voice in response. I moved to the edge of my chair, too. I swung my arms out wide. "So I give you a microphone," I said. "You can speak to the whole world. And I ask you to speak about Abraham. What is your message?"
We were sitting face-to-face now. The gap between us had disappeared. "Abraham was a man of faith," he began. "He worshiped God, and was thankful for God. He invented monotheism. He had high values. If all people - not just Muslims, Christians, Jews - follow the correct path of Abraham, I'm sure life would be better. But we are not doing that. The situation we are facing is that people are living their daily lives far away from the truly faithful, and from Abraham. if we look beyond the details, which we may disagree about, and follow the principles of Abraham - truth, morality, and co-existence - then most of our problems will disappear." (2002, pp. 182- 184).
~ Excerpted from "Abraham" by Bruce Feiler.