Faithful build bridges with books
How a post-9/11 book club brought Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women together.
Laughter rings out in the salmon-colored living room of the parsonage at First Church in Cambridge, Mass. More than a dozen women - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim - are sharing insights garnered from "Gilead," a 2004 novel about the faith and struggles of a Christian minister in Iowa.Skip to next paragraph
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The easy camaraderie as they discuss their distinctive approaches to prayer reflects three years of monthly meetings of the Daughters of Abraham, as they call themselves. The book club has explored the realms of the three monotheistic faiths - and blossomed into comfortable relationships that reach into each other's daily lives.
"My hope was we'd come to know and respect the other two faiths while deepening our commitment to our own," says the Rev. Anne Minton, a retired college teacher and Episcopal priest. "What I didn't anticipate was the deepening of relationships in the group."
In fact, 10 of the 18 members traveled together to Spain last January, where they explored sites of the medieval golden age of Muslim-Christian-Jewish coexistence, which spawned an intellectual flowering. They are planning a trip to Jerusalem next May.
The club's origin, however, lies in the immediate anguish of Sept. 11, 2001. That night, an interfaith service hastily called by the minister at First Church (United Church of Christ) packed the sanctuary.
"The service was powerful and people were crying; there were women in head scarves sitting next to me," recalls club founder Edie Howe. "I had this strong thought of how we were all the children of Abraham, and how unnecessary and tragic it was. I thought, 'What can I do about this?'"
Her answer was to start the women's book club as a first step toward improving understanding. To ensure a joint commitment, she sought out Jews and Muslims who might share her interest and held planning discussions. A group of 18 met for the first time in September 2002 and has been meeting ever since. Though expectations vary, all share an interest in how other faiths are expressed in individual lives.
"I wanted the benefit of how to guide my reading on this," says Rona Fischman, a real estate agent active in a local synagogue. "In light of what's going on in the world, it just wasn't acceptable for me to be ignorant of Islam. It's not acceptable for Muslims to have little idea of what Jews are about. Or for Christians, either."
Keeping a booklist, they vote on priorities and read a book a month, alternating among the three religions. Tastes range across novels, history, poetry, memoirs, and religious philosophy. During their summer hiatus in 2004 - after the group had developed a level of trust - they read books on the history and politics of the Middle East.
"The Crusades Through Arab Eyes," was particularly informative, says Ms. Fischman, because of its non-Western vantage point.