October 6, 2008

Interfaith Dinner Fosters Dialogue

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Cornell students enjoyed a night of delicious food and stimulating discussion at a Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Dinner last night.
With Rosh Hashanah and the end of Ramadan coinciding together this year, Jewish and Muslim students on campus gathered in the One World Room at Annabel Taylor Hall in the hopes of bridging a dialogue between the two communities. Cornell Hillel, Muslim Education Cultural Association (MECA), Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Islamic Alliance for Justice were the four hosts of the dinner.
“The purpose of this dinner is to bring our two communities together because we believe that there needs to be a basis of mutual understanding of each other’s identity,” Amy Pearlman ’09, president of Hillel, said. “By meeting together, breaking bread together, we hope to learn about each other’s culture and religion.”
This initiative to engage these two communities started at the end of last year with smaller dinners that included the executive boards of each organization. This year, there are also larger dinners which are open to all Cornell students interested in learning about Jewish and Muslim religion and culture.
“What we have seen from the smaller dinners is that there is so much to talk about,” Pearlman said. “We spend over two hours there and we all have homework to do.”
The interest for such discussion, however, is not limited to the organization’s leaders. 72 Cornell students turned out for last night’s event, indicating that “People make this a priority,” Pearlman said.
For Sabrina Imam ’09, the former president of MECA, the Jewish-Muslim Dinner was an opportunity to speak with people without having to deal with the pressures of formal political discussions or large audiences.
“A lot of events often focus on political issues or are large forums where people are expected to speak,” Imam said. “Tonight is more informal and much less pressure.”
Though the political conflict in the Middle East is one plagued by intense disagreement and strife, Cornell students gathered with the purpose of learning about the cultures of the two sides.
“My purpose as a leader of Islamic Alliance for Justice on campus is to foster dialogue and to get know people,” Ali Hussain, a member of the Islamic Alliance for Justice, said. “We hope not to politicize Cornell, but to bring students understanding of the political issues.”
The guests were met with a list of questions that members of the sponsoring groups submitted in the attempt to spark interesting conversation. The questions varied from “Which holidays require fasting?” to “Is there anything in the Quran that calls for immigration to Israel/Palestine?”
Jen Fishkin ’10, vice president of political affairs of Cornell Israel Public Affairs, sees the importance of fostering a sense of mutual understanding before any discussion of the political issues takes place.
“We don’t want to bring up the political issues until we have a sense of each other’s identity with trust and friendship, because we think that that is the only constructive basis through which one can engage in political discussion,” she said.
Tara Malik ’09, President of the Islamic Alliance for Justice, agreed with the idea that this is the basis for future discussion of the conflict and the arguments on both sides.
“This is the start of many things,” Malik said. “Once we get to know each other on a personal level, then we can have more open debate. We will respect each other more because we will know where each person is coming from.”