A special forum on what inter-religious dialogue can contribute to Arab-Jewish relations will take place this week at Bar-Ilan University (BIU) in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv. Guest speakers will include Rabbanit Tirza Kelman, a doctoral candidate in Jewish thought at Ben-Gurion University, and Adv. Reem Masarwa, a social activist for human rights for the Arab sector.
The event will be moderated by Dr. Ben Mollov, who co-initiated the forum along with a non-governmental organization named Search for Common Ground, as part of a new inter-religious dialogue course being offered by BIU. The event is being sponsored by the School of Communications’ International English Program at Bar-Ilan, the Project for the Study of Religion, Culture and Peace, Israeli Hope in Academia, and Search for Common Ground.
Thirty students are participating in the Jewish-Arab Inter-Religious Dialogue Course, which opened this academic year and is taught by Mollov. The course facilitates dialogue among Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians in which religion serves as a bridge based on insights in academic literature and research published by Mollov and his colleague Dr. Chaim Lavie. This includes the notion that focus on commonalities in religion can promote dialogue and facilitate improved inter-group relations. The course emerged from an initiative by students Sariba Feinstein and Fatima Amer, and is offered under the auspices of the School of Communications International English Program.
Sessions in the course, many of which are based on student presentations, include topics such as prayer, and pilgrimages in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Recently, Arab Muslim students made presentations on their own pilgrimages to Mecca and Jewish students spoke about pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem as part of the Jewish holidays. The students shared the common experiences of religious spiritual uplift. The class also visited the BIU campus synagogue and learned about Jewish prayer rituals; they subsequently visited the main mosque in Kfar Kassem and were hosted in the home of Amer, who organized the visit.
The course aims to promote mutual respect, self-respect, and mutual enrichment between Jewish, Arab and Christian students on campus, as well as to advance a model for accomplishing these goals outside the classroom.
Last year, Feinstein and Amer, with Mollov’s support, established a BIU branch of the National Interfaith Encounter Association, which is dedicated to promoting coexistence and peace in Israel and the Middle East through cross-cultural study and inter-religious dialogue under the belief that religion can and should be a source of solution for conflicts that exist in the region and beyond.