Three longtime colleagues of different faiths have forged bonds of friendship through decades of dialogue in interfaith forums. The three men, who are leaders in the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities of Los Angeles, recently shared their insights into religion with middle and high school students. The students learned that the men respect their differences and celebrate what they have in common.
They have known each other and worked together for decades - Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California; Leonard Beerman, the founding rabbi of the Leo Baeck Temple, a Jewish synagogue; and the Reverend George Regas, retired rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California.
The students, from Flintridge Preparatory School, asked probing questions about violence inspired by religion. Rabbi Beerman told them that, sadly, evil is a part of religion's legacy, but that faith also plays a positive role in human development.
“It has brought comfort to the afflicted, it's brought courage to the weak, it's brought a sense of spirituality into personal lives,” said Beerman.
The students were interested in religion’s place in the world and in individual life, and its role in the Middle East, said Egyptian-born Maher Hathout.
"I notice that they are engaging in a very healthy way. They are not watering down issues. They are asking serious questions. But somehow it's coming from a background of openness and a touch of innocence,” said Hathout.
History teacher Michael Roffina said Flintridge Preparatory is a private institution, and teachers here are willing to discuss controversial topics like religion, something that does not happen often at public schools.
“A lot of schools might shy away from this because religion is such a hot-button topic. I also think that some schools would find it much more convenient to just have these three speak,” said Roffina.
But through two days of events, these students probed and interacted with the speakers.
Episcopal clergyman George Regas said he and his colleagues have worked together on interfaith projects for more than 30 years. He said the three share a friendship and a passion for social justice, something at the root of all of their traditions.
"It's not a very common thing that a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian could really be very much tied together over all those decades, and really care for each other and support each other, and differ with each other strongly, but with understanding and compassion,” said Regas.
The students learned something about religion, said 12th grader Vanessa Lieu.
“I think that all religion stems from a basic human conscience, and we can all relate to that,” said Lieu.
The interfaith dialogue delivered an important message, said student Brandt Rohde.
"I think it was, mostly just break down barriers, and everybody needs to work for peace, for acceptance and tolerance and peace,” said Rohde.
These students say the exchange gave them insight into the bonds of affection that can foster understanding across faiths.