Judaism, Christianity and Islam all trace their roots back to Prophet Abraham. Followers of these faiths have recently been increasing their efforts to establish interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding. One important factor that is sometimes overlooked in these efforts is the involvement of ordinary people. In order to produce a significant impact, dialogue has to take place among lay people, not only among the elite. University professors, writers and other intellectuals do not represent the majority of the population. Neither do they necessarily have the capability to make an impact on the majority of the population. In this article we will describe an interfaith dialogue project proposal that is designed to get everyday people involved in the worthy goal of interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding: The Plaza of Abraham.
The Plaza of Abraham is a place that will host and welcome people of all faiths, especially followers of the Abrahamic faiths. The Plaza is envisioned as being built on approximately ten acres of land. On this land a large circle, called Abraham's Circle, has been planned. Three places of worship are positioned on the circle. If the circle were a clock, at 3 o'clock there is a mosque, at 7 o'clock a synagogue, and at 11 o'clock a church is located. These will be active places of worship. People will feel safe and comfortable in these places. To illustrate this feeling of safety and comfort for our readers, we would like to them to imagine that they are going to stay in a foreign city, where they do not know the language. They may well prefer to stay in a hotel which is part of a well-known chain. A significant number of people visiting foreign cities would prefer to stay in a well-known hotel, because even though they have come to this foreign city to explore and discover new, fascinating facts of history and geography, even though they are there to visit places, meet people and otherwise live an experience that is novel and different from what their experience at home, they would still prefer to stay in a place that is familiar to them, as a starting point. In the same way do the places of worship on the Circle of Abraham serve as safe and comfortable starting points for people who want to discover other religions. They give the message: Come, you are safe here.
The imams, the rabbis and the priests to be employed in these places of worship are not simply religious leaders; they are scholars as well. They can and are willing to study different religions without any prejudice. They are also guides for other people in the dialogue experience, they serve to protect this effort from falling into a common dilemma: the blind leading the blind. In interfaith dialogue, in efforts where knowledgeable people are not involved, ignorant members of the groups can easily turn the atmosphere into a critical one. In order to prevent such occurrences, these scholarly religious leaders have authority over the people of their faith and there is an internalized approach to dialogue, based on such principles of interfaith dialogue as courtesy, respect, self-critical examination, abandonment of preconceptions and seeking first to understand before trying to be understood.
The plaza will also have a computerized digital library that provides access to digital copies of the main sources for all three religions. Scholars of the different religions will come together to discuss recent issues, and past and possible future interpretations of the religious sources. These efforts focus on searching for interpretations of the sources that foster peace, harmony and mutual coexistence instead of animosity.
A common value to each of these three faiths is hospitality. To bring this common value to the fore, Abraham's plaza has a feast table covered by a large tent. Once a year a celebration will be held that will last for many days and weeks. Through this event, the People of the Book (as described in the Qur'an) become the People of the Tent. A feast like this is also likely to attract young people. The feast itself and the possibility of making friends from other faiths and nations is likely to be attractive to them.
We envision replicas of Abraham's Plaza being constructed on all continents of the earth: Europe, Asia, the Americas, Australia and Africa. We envision plazas in major cities, as well as in any small towns where there is a representation of all these faiths. We live in a strange age. We have the best, most widespread and fastest means of communication and transportation to date. Yet the world still faces challenges of misunderstanding and animosity. Projects like the Abraham's Plaza are needed to get everyday people involved in an interfaith dialogue and in the active pursuit of a more peaceful world.
- Feiler, Bruce. Abraham, a Journey into the Hearts of Three Faiths. Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.