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On Faith: A week to celebrate interfaith harmony

January 22, 2011|By Benjamin J. Hubbard

The idea of interfaith harmony might strike some as ironic in light of the immensity of interfaith disharmony through history right down to the present. This is particularly true at the moment in some Muslim-majority nations, where persecution of Christians has spiked.

In response to the chronic problem of religious conflict, the United Nations recently declared the first week in February each year as Interfaith Harmony Week, and is urging religious groups across the globe to sponsor interfaith events — breakfasts, charitable projects, lectures, and dialogues. One such event will occur at University Synagogue in Irvine on Feb. 3. The award-winning film "On Common Ground" will be shown followed by a discussion with its director, Ahmad Zahra.

The interfaith movement has grown significantly in Orange County since 1993 when the first Interfaith Diversity Fair (now Forum) took place at UC Irvine. Its 18th iteration, at UCI on April 28, will be directed at a select group of area university students on the theme of religion's impact on world politics. Additionally, the Interfaith Youth Council, working with high school students, presents a forum March 13 on "Faith Commitments and the Environment" at Shinnyo-en Buddhist temple in Yorba Linda. Then there is the work of 11 interfaith councils throughout the county that meet monthly to share mutual concerns, often with guest presenters.

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Despite this impressive activity — mirrored in many parts of the nation and free world — not all believers are on board. In particular many Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Christians and ultra-conservative Muslims view such activities as compromising their own faith. How, they ask, can we recognize the truth claims of another religion when they contradict our own beliefs? Can Jesus, for example, be simultaneously a misunderstood Jewish reformer to Jews, the son of God and savior of humankind to Christians and a great prophet, but of less importance than Muhammad, to Muslims? And, by participating in interfaith activities, are these conservative believers implicitly endorsing the legitimacy of other faiths?

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