Column: Intersection of three faiths reminds us to be tolerant

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Yesterday was the first day of Hanukkah, a time of remembrance for Jewish people.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Yesterday was the first day of Hanukkah, a time of remembrance for Jewish people. Saturday is the final day of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims. And Advent, a time for preparation for most Christians, began Dec. 2. And so for one week, around the world, believers in all three major monotheistic religions are setting aside time for some extra rituals, rituals that go to the heart of what their faith in God represents. In some parts of the United States, believers from all three traditions will be remembering or fasting or preparing within the same neighborhoods. I think that is interesting, and worth noting.

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Hanukkah is a time when Jews remember the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, after the defeat of the Greek occupiers, who had conquered Israel in the time of Alexander the Great. The cleansing and rededication required the burning of lamps for eight nights, but there was only enough oil to keep lamps lit for one. And yet the lamps stayed lit throughout the vigil. Somehow, inexplicably, miraculously, there was enough. Somehow, inconceivably, miraculously, the Jewish people and their faith had survived yet another time of trial and exile from their holy places.

And while Jews are remembering their history this year, Muslims are ending their holy month of Ramadan, one of the Five Pillars of Islamic tradition and a time of fasting, repentance and reconnecting with God. For one month, able-bodied adult Muslims are expected to abstain from eating, drinking and smoking from sunrise to sunset. The way I understand it, the experience of Ramadan for a Muslim is part of a long struggle of faith, striving always for more self-discipline and a proper relationship with God.

And then there is Advent, a time of special significance for my own faith tradition: Christianity. It is by no means universal, but most mainstream Christians use the four weeks leading up to Christmas as a time of preparation, a time to reflect on their faith and renew their relationship to God and the community within which they worship. Our focus in worship, prayer, bible study and meditation is supposed to be on the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world.

And yet, even while we all gather in our synagogues, mosques and churches to pray and worship God, we do so isolated from each other, ignorant of what each other believes. How many Christians even know what Hanukkah and Ramadan are all about? How many Muslims are willing to give up their suspicion to try and understand the spiritual significance of Jesus’s birth to Christians or of Hanukkah to the Jews? How many Jewish people are willing to transcend the animosity with Muslims to understand the importance of Ramadan or overlook the commercialism of Christmas to see the spiritual dimension for Christians?

There are, of course, important differences among us, but we pay too much attention to the things that keep us apart: the dietary restrictions that keep Jews and Muslims from eating with &uot;outsiders&uot;; the long history of violence that has led to the deaths of millions over the centuries; the intolerance and fanaticism of extremists within all three faiths (of which the Taliban are only the most recent example).

I refuse to accept that our relationships need to be controlled by conflict based on ignorance and suspicion. Hans Kung, a Roman-Catholic historian and theologian, claims that real peace among the people of the world depends on peace and understanding among religions. I think peace is worth striving for, and I agree that it depends, to a large degree, on the willingness of religious people to talk to and learn from each other. God, after all, is immense and mysterious – beyond the abilities of any one person or any single group to completely understand.

As we talk to each other, perhaps we will find that we are not all that different. Perhaps we will find ways to live together in peace that do not require us to deny our own faith, but which do ask us to set aside beliefs that there is only one right answer to questions about God. Perhaps we will even discover ways to cooperate to build a better world for all humanity. Surely God -&160;whatever name we use – would smile on that.

David Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.