Interfaith dialogue – a painstaking process
The main problem with interfaith dialogue is that it is often a case of theologians and academics talking among themselves. The Abrahamic Teams, on the other hand, have a very different approach. Abrahamic Team groups – each one being made up of a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew – go straight to the people, talking to them in schools or at open events.
The idea behind the Abrahamic Teams hails from Germany, where a former Protestant minister, Jurgen Micksch, set up the initiative in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Abrahamic Team members highlight the things that their faiths have in common, point to the areas where they differ, dispel prejudices and answer questions. This form of interfaith dialogue centres on the Biblical Abraham, a major figure for the faithful of all three monotheistic religions.
Following the success of the initiative in Germany, the people behind it decided to try and extend it to the Mediterranean, specifically to the MENA countries Israel, Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon. The work is supported by the Robert-Bosch-Stiftung, Brot fur die Welt and the Allianz Kulturstiftung.
The intention was that dialogue would help further understanding in a region where religious conflicts are intensifying existing tensions. The relationship between the different religions and religious denominations in these countries differs considerably. One thing they all have in common, however, is that these interfaith meetings at grassroots level are ground-breaking.
Israel: no everyday interaction
Generally speaking, Jews, Christians and Muslims don't mix in Israel. Even in mixed residential areas – such as those in Jerusalem or Jaffa – the members of the three religious communities keep themselves to themselves.
Because of the conflict that has raged for decades between Israel and the Palestinians, there is hardly any contact at all between young people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Even religious education at state schools is divided up according to religious denomination.
This means that when Jewish Israelis go to what is known as ʹpre-army academyʹ in preparation for their military service, most of them have never met a Muslim or a Christian. Rabbi
Nava Hefetz from the initiative Rabbis for Human Rights succeeded in persuading the State of Israel to include a four-day programme of interaction as standard in the pre-army academy programme.
As part of this programme, a Muslim contributor speaks about Islam and a priest talks about Christianity. Together, the group visits a mosque and a church. According to Hefetz, these experiences make a deep impression on the participants.
The Abrahamic Forum conducts between 10 and 12 events in Israel every year, each of which involves groups of between 50 and 200 people. But the military academy programme does not account for all interfaith meetings organised by the initiative in Israel: in 2018, a group of Christian Palestinian theology students from Bethlehem met rabbis-in-training from the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. Both groups promised to meet again this year.