Audience members in the packed Jewish Theological Seminary auditorium just down the block from Columbia University might have been gratified to see hijabs and yarmulkes adorning the heads of Muslims and Jews coming together for interfaith dialogue on the evening of October 25. The title of the event, "Islam in America: Assimilation and Authenticity," drew a large, mixed crowd, perhaps three hundred strong, eager for interreligious conversation. The anticipation of imams and rabbis in reserved front seats, or students filling other rows to the brim, was understandable -- isn't this, after all, the conversation Muslims and members of other faiths need to start having?
This optimism at the prospect of dialogue between mainstream Muslim organizations and their Jewish and Christian counterparts resurfaces often, and rarely for good reason. Monday night was no exception.
The event, a joint project of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Islamic Society of North America, featured several high-profile speakers, including JTS Chancellor Arnie Eisen; the Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, President of the Union Theological Seminary across the street from JTS; and two familiar faces from ISNA's side: Ingrid Mattson, the immediate past president of ISNA who moderated the panel and said little, and Sherman Jackson, a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Michigan and a convert to Islam who specializes in Islamic law and the black Muslim-American experience.
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