From The Pitt News
October 27, 2003
Towards Interfaith Understanding: A Journey Through
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
"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."