- 18 Saturday
- 19 Sunday
- 20 Monday
People of many faiths coming together in Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, Salach Alladin (pictured, dancing in the circle), a native of Nazereth who now lives in Jerusalem's French Hill, organizes monthly encounters for the city's youth and serves as assistant director of the IEA. The encounters take place at the Educational Bookshop, a café and store on Saladin Street in East Jerusalem, with the next meeting set to take place on June 30th.
As Alladin - whose "day job" is at the Ministry of Finance - describes the concept behind the encounters, "By bringing people together month after month, we are helping to build trust. The key behind these meetings is that they are continuing, long-term," he says. "People drop their baggage slowly. When you are involved for the long-term, you begin to feel more comfortable with one another - comfortable enough to ask questions that at first you didn't feel comfortable asking. But when you get to know one another, you learn how to question one another in a respectful way."
Indeed, mutual respect and understanding are critical to the
encounters, which actively encourage religious expression. As Alladin
explains, "We believe that religion is the right way to bring people
together. When people bring their intimate emotions to the table, that
is what others can relate to. At these encounters, we speak about our
own personal faith. We don't say 'Islam believes,' we say 'I as a Muslim
believe.' I think there are many similarities between the religions,
but you really have to listen to find them."
It's all about staying reasonable with long-term goals. "Trust doesn't come all at once, in one burst," he explains. "It takes time to build faith, to build trust - which is why we meet each month for years." This theory also explains why the groups are kept small, with 5 to 10 heads per encounter, so that the intimacy level is maintained. When enough new people come, a new group is formed to keep the same, close, dynamic.
According to Alladin, "We don't really have one-time drop-ins. If a person comes once, they almost always come back. Most of our new friends are people who heard about the groups from their friends. Most of the people who come to these encounters are people who believe in the need for interfaith dialogue but never had the opportunity to actualize this desire before."
The Encounters are key to bringing persons of different faiths and backgrounds together, because, according to Alladin, "There are not so many other initiatives or cultural events in Jerusalem which are able to bring together Jews, Christians and Muslims. Not every Israeli is comfortable going to east Jerusalem, and many of the cultural events held in west Jerusalem are not so appropriate for a Muslim family."
In addition to the monthly group encounters, the Interfaith Encounter
Association also runs retreat weekends, which are open to the public,
as well as occasional tours of the Old City and workshops in local
Photos courtesy of the Interfaith Encounter Association.