My goal is to dispel myths about Islam," said Dr. David Freidenreich, professor of religious studies at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. "There’s more to Islam than Al Qaeda and Hamas, and it’s important to understand the beliefs and practices that have inspired the world’s Muslims for centuries."
Freidenreich, guest presenter at the Glen Rock Jewish Center’s weekend of learning on Feb. 8 and 9, does more than teach comparative religion; he is also a rabbi.
"People ask, why is a rabbi talking to Jews about Islam?" said Freidenreich. "It’s a kind of translation. I speak the same cultural language as the audience. It’s a less threatening space for Jews to ask questions they might not feel as comfortable asking Muslims. A kind of first step."
The speaker, who holds a doctorate in religion, lectures widely on Islam and interreligious understanding. On Friday night and Saturday morning, he will teach about the history and core principles of Islam, with particular attention to relations between Islam and Judaism. On Saturday night, he will screen the award-winning documentary "A Son’s Sacrifice," followed by a discussion about Islam in America. The events are open to the public.
"Most people have an awareness and concern about Islam, but it’s not rooted in real knowledge," said Freidenreich. "I want to provide the background knowledge, the bigger picture, to make sense of what they read in the media and of what’s going on in the world."
According to Freidenreich, what we see in the media "is only a small fragment. Islam is not more prone to violence than Judaism and Christianity," he said. "Every community has its group of radicals, but most of us do not condone it."
The religion teacher said he was inspired to pursue his studies by his early experiences at Brandeis University, where he engaged in Arab-Jewish dialogue, something he continued during his later studies in Israel.
"I found that a greater understanding of Muslims led to a better understanding of myself," he said. As a case in point, he cited the movie that will be shown at the synagogue.
"A Son’s Sacrifice," he said, depicts the experience of an American child of Pakistani immigrants. "You can see parallels to our own experience as immigrants," said Freidenreich. "It made me think of ‘Crossing Delancey.’"
Still, he said, while it "resonates with what our people experienced," the world is different now. So while there is a parallel track, it’s not quite the same. "Understanding this will help us collaborate on issues of mutual concern and better understand our own past," he said.
Calling his presentation "apolitical," the speaker stressed that "there’s a value in building a deeper understanding." First, he said, "It helps us make sense of the world around us." There are a billion Muslims in the world, he pointed out, and it is important to know the things in which these people find meaning. In addition, he said, the Muslim community is "vibrant and growing" locally, as well.
It is also important to study the material, he said, because "it helps put current events in context." While we see Islam as anti-West and anti-Israel, he noted, during much of history, Muslim nations were "among the most open countries and Jews benefited.
"We’re seeing one particular historical moment that is not shaped by the Koran or by Mohammed but by the experience of colonialism," said Freidenreich.
Finally, he said, "understanding helps us appreciate what we believe as Jews." We are a parallel group, he said; we are both religious communities and "we tell the same stories about the same biblical figures."
Freidenreich noted that "much of Judaism developed in Islamic lands. In the Middle Ages," he said, "90 percent of Jews lived in Islamic lands."
"Jews and Muslims share a long history," said Rabbi Neil Tow, religious leader of the Glen Rock Jewish Center. "This weekend can help us understand those connections as Americans and as Jews."
For further information about the weekend program, call the Glen Rock Jewish Center at (’01) 65′-66’4 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org