Interfaith services highlight similarities of different religions

Ashley Lau

As Challah bread traveled around the Shabbat table Friday evening at the Fiedler Hillel Center, Weinberg juniors Mohammad Ahmad and Jason Gutstein sat side by side to celebrate the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath.

Looking past the violence and disputes of a war-torn Middle East, Ahmad, of Islamic faith, and Gutstein, of Jewish faith, gathered with about 70 other students to meet over a kosher meal as a part of the interfaith day planned by Peace of Mind, Northwestern’s Muslim-Jewish dialogue group.

“It’s a wonderful thing to bring together both groups of students,” Rabbi Josh Feigelson said. “It’s important for promoting an understanding.”

The interfaith events began Friday afternoon when students of different religions assembled in Parkes Hall to join in the Muslim-cultural Students Association’s Jum’ah, or Friday, prayers. Later that evening, the students walked over to Hillel to take part in Reform, Conservative and Orthodox services. This is the first year Peace of Mind coordinated joint observances between the two religions.

The interfaith observance was designed to expose students to religions different from their own, said Gutstein, who with Ahmad is co-president of Peace of Mind.

“It gives Northwestern students the opportunity to see how Jews and Muslims on campus approach religion and their observance of religion,” Gutstein said. “It exposes each group to each other’s services so they can see the commonalities between prayers and prayer services.”

Peace of Mind began about four years ago when three women at NU came together to address the controversy over the violence surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ahmad said. Shortly after the Second Intifada uprising broke out in Palestine in 2000, the students decided something needed to be done in response to the growing hostility abroad.

“They said, ‘This isn’t OK,'” Gutstein said. “They wanted to figure out a way to respond to the atmosphere on campus and build an understanding of different cultures.”

Ahmad and Gutstein, along with other members of Peace of Mind, began planning the day of interfaith observance last quarter after realizing that both religious services fall on the same day.

After dinner, about 20 students stayed for another two hours to discuss their personal interpretations and understandings of Islam and Judaism through an interfaith discussion led by the group.

During the intimate dialogue, the group discussed the commonalities between the two prayer services. Both involve physical movement, a series of individual and group prayers, and are recited in a non-English language, the group said. Like Muslim services, Orthodox Jewish services separate men and women.

“It was really interesting to see how they also use physical movement,” Weinberg sophomore Fizza Hussain said. Using a translation of the Hebrew passages and prayers, Hussain sat in on the Reform and Conservative services at Hillel.

Communication sophomore Samantha Berry, who is Jewish, said this is the first year she had ever held a conversation with a Muslim student.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Berry said. “There were a lot of similarities in that there is an importance in coming together and in how it is preferable to pray with other people.”

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