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Interfaith panel will close event with talks about Jesus

By Sarah Whitman, Times Columnist
Times file
Imam Hassan Shibly, CAIR executive director will take part in the discussion that concludes a week of gatherings to promote unity.

To close out Tampa Interfaith Week, an Imam, a Rabbi and a Reverend will meet to talk about Jesus.

The event, a panel discussion and luncheon sponsored by Interfaith Tampa Bay, will take place at noon on Monday (Oct. 9) at the University of Tampa's Sykes Chapel, 401 W Kennedy Blvd.

Congregation Schaari Zedek Rabbi Richard Birnholz, Imam and CAIR Executive Director Hassan Shibly and Reverend Russell Meyer of the Florida Council of Churches will share their perspectives.

The discussion will end a week of gatherings, services and other events celebrating the theme, "I am Your Neighbor." In its fourth year, Tampa Interfaith Week aims to promote unity and understanding among people of differing religions. In addition to the Oct. 9 talk, participating Bay Area Temples, churches and Synagogues will open their doors to the public at events today (Oct. 6) through Sunday (Oct. 8). A complete list is available at tampabayinterfaithweek.com.

I asked upcoming panelist and event organizer Meyer, who pastors St. Paul Lutheran Church in Tampa, why interfaith dialogue matters.

Jesus is a broad topic. What specifically will you discuss at this event?

We will discuss Jesus/Isa from the three different perspectives of the Abrahamic faiths. Jesus is of course the focus of Christianity. Yet, he drew deeply upon his native Judaism. In the Quran, he is known as Isa and is mentioned more often than anyone else. So, Christians, Muslims and Jews all have important perspectives on the man from Nazareth. We will be sharing those perspectives.

Why is it important to explore Jesus as he relates to different faiths?

Looking at the many views on Jesus is helpful for expanding understanding and appreciation. Within Christianity, Jesus has had many faces. For instance, the first depiction of Jesus is as a black man from an icon of the Coptic church. He's highly revered in Islam and fits into the prophetic pattern of ancient Judaism. There's a lot more commonality than we think and the core differences become human enrichments. I actually understand my own faith better when I openly share with people of other faiths. We learn a lot about our own religion when we openly discuss issues with those of other religions.

Why are interfaith discussions in general important in today's world?

Interfaith, or inter-religious discussions, are mission critical in a pluralistic society. A peaceful world is one in which I can tell my neighbor's story in a way in which the neighbor says, 'Yes, I see myself in what you say.' And vice versa. Over the last few decades, too much has been centered around the marketplace for solving human problems. But we're going in reverse. Interfaith discussion helps us recover the wisdom and empathy that has sustained humanity over millennia. We need that wisdom and empathy even more today to get going in a positive direction.

A donation toward hurricane relief efforts is required to attend this event. RSVP to [email protected]