There can be deep divisions between faith traditions, but it doesn't have to be that way.
For inspiration on how to hold productive interfaith dialogue -- particularly in a Muslim-Jewish context -- one useful guide is the "Sharing the Well" project, an initiative of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Hartford Seminary and the Islamic Society of North America.
Between 2010 and 2014, the institutions worked together to conduct three academic workshops and four community-based pilot projects in the Maryland, DC, and Northern Virginia areas. The results were published in a special issue of the academic journal The Muslim World on “Judaism and Islam in America" and the resource guide "Sharing the Well."
Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at JTS, said the most significant thing for him that came out of the project was being reminded of the similarities between many Jews and Muslims.
"This is true religiously, and in our positions as minority religions in America," Visotzky told HuffPost. "There are many places for natural alliances, and, as it turns out, for deep and abiding friendships."
"Sharing the Well" begins with a series of guidelines for interfaith dialogue, printed in full below courtesy of the creators. We invite you to use and adapt them to the needs of your community and share your successes and challenges with HuffPost Religion as you go. The guide is available for free PDF download, as well, through the JTS website.
Guidelines for Interreligious Dialogue
When beginning interreligious dialogue of any kind, it is important that all who participate enter the dialogue with open minds and open hearts, prepared to truly listen to the “other” and begin building bridges of understanding. To help you begin your dialogue on strong footing, we have provided the following two tools, prepared and used by experts in interreligious dialogue.
1. Before Beginning: Review and share your answers to the following questions before you begin your interfaith dialogue, and add your own questions as relevant to your community’s needs and interests.
• How do we begin a relationship with our Muslim/Jewish sisters and brothers?
• How do we create a safe space for all participants?
• How do we establish parity between participants?
• How do we talk about Islam and Judaism without talking about Israel and Palestine? And when can we have that conversation, if at all?
• How do we create strong interfaith leadership in our community?
(Guidelines for “Before Beginning,” by Joyce Schreibman)
2. Dialogue Rather than Debate: The following guidelines will help set an open, respectful, and productive tone for your interfaith dialogue. After reviewing and discussing these guidelines, adjust or build on them to suit your community’s dialogue.
In order to engage in dialogue rather than debate, we will:
Listen with a view of wanting to understand, rather than listening with a view of countering what we hear.
Listen for strengths so as to affirm and learn, rather than listening for weaknesses so as to discount and devalue.
Speak for ourselves from our own understanding and experiences, rather than speaking based on our assumptions about others’ positions and motives.
Ask questions to increase understanding, rather than asking questions to trip up or to confuse.
Allow others to complete their communications, rather than interrupting or changing the topic.
Keep our remarks as brief as possible and invite the quieter, less vocal participants into the conversation, rather than letting the stronger voices dominate.
Concentrate on others’ words and feelings, rather than focusing on the next point we want to make.
Accept others’ experiences as real and valid for them, rather than critiquing others’ experiences as distorted or invalid.
Allow the expression of real feelings (in ourselves and in others) for understanding and catharsis, rather than expressing our feelings to manipulate others and deny their feelings are legitimate.
Honor silence, rather than using silence to gain advantage.
(Guidelines for “Dialogue Rather than Debate” adapted by Yehezkel Landau and Karen Nell Smith for use in the Building Abrahamic Partnerships program at Hartford Seminary)