From The Pitt News
October 27, 2003

Towards Interfaith Understanding: A Journey Through Dialogue

By Mallory Womer


“Hatred took the life of my son,” Judea Pearl said last Thursday night. “And hatred I will fight till the end of my life with vengeance and tenacity. This is my vision of revenge.”


Pearl’s son is Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter whom a Pakistani extremist group kidnapped on Jan. 23, 2002 in Karachi, Pakistan, then murdered after holding him captive. The extremist group videotaped Pearl being stabbed and dismembered before sending the tape to American officials as unmistakable proof of his death.


There has been speculation over whether he was murdered because he was an American, or because he was Jewish.


The elder Pearl and Akbar Ahmed spoke on Thursday night at an event sponsored by the American Jewish Community titled “Towards Interfaith Understanding: A Journey through Dialogue.” The goal of the evening was to fight the hatred that exists between different religions by offering educated insights from different points of view. Dr. William Brustein and the UniversityCenter for International Studies brought the event to Pitt.


Judea Pearl, a Jewish man born in Tel Aviv, Israel and Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., discussed the similarities that exist between their respective religions, as well as their sorrow over the loss of a man they affectionately called Danny.


According to Ahmed, Judaism and Islam are closely related to each other because they were both founded in very similar manners.


“Who is a son of Abraham?” Ahmed said. “The Jews, the Christians, the Muslims. Abraham is one of the most revered prophets in Islam.”


There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world in about 58 different countries, and Islam is one of the largest religions in the world.


Ahmed felt the need to defend the people of his religion from “people of the book,” the term used to describe those whose religion descended from Abraham, but are not of Muslim faith.


“What happened [to Danny] is not Islam,” Ahmed said in defense of his religion. “The Quran says taking one human life is equal to killing all of society,” he added, referring to Islam’s sacred book.


Within the United States, Muslims are stereotyped to the point where some people liken Islam to Satanism, according to Ahmed.

“Just this dialogue gives us hope on understanding each other,” Ahmed added.


Danny Pearl is a beacon of hope, according to Ahmed, because through his death he became a symbol of the desire for religious understanding and of the tragedy that can occur when one faith is ignorant of another.


Judea Pearl agreed on the importance of communication, as did many others throughout the night.


A young, female member of the Pakistani Parliament named Kashmala Tariq, who contributed to the audience participation portion of the event, gave an impassioned speech about life in Pakistan and the need for action to accompany dialogue.


“Why are we so enclosed in our own books?” Tariq asked. “Why don’t we share our views?”


Tariq is one of 72 women in the Pakistani Parliament and the executive director of Parliamentarians Commission for Human Rights.


“Pakistan believes in peace,” Tariq said. “One has to be tolerant. You should learn to respect the views of other people. You should learn to be patient.”


The night was not devoid of discussions about Daniel Pearl. Most of the people who spoke during the audience participation section offered their condolences to the Judea Pearl.


“What did Danny want to know?” asked Umar Ghuman, a special guest speaker and member of the Pakistani Parliament. “What was he doing 10,000 miles away? He was on a quest that led to his death, a quest that made him into a martyr. But a martyr does not die — he lives on forever.”


Ghuman is a Pakistani-American who grew up in Philadelphia, Pa. He is also a U.S. citizen — status that Pakistani officials asked him to relinquish when he ran for Parliament. Ghuman refused because “all the values that I have in this life are attributed to my American morality.”


Ghuman also made it clear that something distinguishes the United States from most of the rest of the world.


“There were only three nations formed from people who wanted a place to practice their own religion: the United States, Israel and Pakistan,” he said.


While this discussion was the first step in understanding other religions, there are still many more actions that need to be taken, according to Tariq.


For some people, there is just a simple test necessary to satisfy the need for reassurance that other religions care.


“I gave you a test and you passed it,” Pearl said to Ahmed at the close of the discussion. “I got your book and looked in the index for Islam. I went to page 123, I think, and read, ‘as Muslims we have to understand that the people of Israel feel under siege.’ For the first time, I saw empathy.”
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania