Fostering tolerance goal of multifaith discussion
Monday, November 21, 2005 By TOM MEAGHER
FAIRFIELD - As many North Jerseyans sat rapt in front of televisions cheering on football teams Sunday, nearly 100 others gathered to discuss a different kind of rapture.
Men and women of different religions sat in the ballroom of the Wellesley Inn to listen to spiritual leaders from seven faiths discuss their perspectives on salvation. The purpose, according to the conference's organizer, Aamir Khokhar, was to promote social harmony and religious tolerance at a time of political and spiritual turmoil.
"No religion preaches hate and violence. It's important for people of different faiths to come together," Khokhar told the audience.
Khokhar belongs to the Clifton chapter of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Association. The movement is a denomination of Islam founded in India in the late 1800s and devoted to peace, brotherhood and devotion to Allah. Each year, the local chapter hosts the interfaith conference to draw people together.
Vinay Vakani of the Jain Society of New Jersey in Essex Falls began the discussion by comparing the different religions to the old parable of a group of blind men inspecting an elephant.
"Each one of us sees things from our own point of view. Consequently, we acquire a view that is only partially correct," Vakani said.
He stressed that the Jain religion, which was founded in India in the sixth century B.C., is based on non-violence and acceptance of opposing viewpoints.
The Rev. Joseph Doyle,pastor of St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in Fair Lawn, said forgiveness is necessary for salvation and in society. He referred to the sectarian violence that has long plagued Northern Ireland as an example of humankind's failure to forgive.
"We all think we have the right to punish the wrongdoer. When we do it, we think God is on our side," Doyle said. "We can no longer victimize anyone, because the victim is the face of God."
As children squirmed in their seats and thumb-wrestled one another, the adults listened attentively for more than two hours as each religious leader shared his insights into faith and salvation.
Rabbi Daniel Brenner, director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, said that in Judaism, the path to salvation rests in the present world and by helping the impoverished and those in need.
"The only way to do it is to dedicate ourselves to God," Brenner said. "The only way to dedicate ourselves to God is to dedicate ourselves to the work of fixing the world."
After the presentations, Larry Walpert, a Nichiren Buddhist from Leonia, said he was pleased with the messages he heard from each religion - messages of inclusion, respect and love.
"If this discussion today is any kind of reflection of society on a larger level, we are moving in the right direction, and I am pleased," Walpert said.