December 7th, 2010
03:55 PM ET

Abrahamic leaders unite against a common enemy

By Gabe La Monica, CNN

On the first night of Hanukkah last Wednesday, three wise men (or at least influential ones) met inside the Washington residence of Indonesian Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal under brightly lit chandeliers.

Ambassador Djalal introduced the panel of grey-suited religious leaders as “the people of the book,” gathered together “to promote harmony and unity.”

Their common bond: Abraham, a central figure in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Before an elaborately carved wooden backdrop, Rev. Michael Livingston, Rabbi Sid Schwarz  and Din Syamsuddin sat to discuss their differences, similarities and their “common enemy,” according to Syamsuddin, which he said comprises “the problems of humanity and human beings.”

Syamsuddin said the major goal is to overcome injustice.

Rabbi Schwarz, bespectacled and wearing a gold-checked tie, was named by Newsweek as one of the most influential rabbis in North America.

He invoked the idea of syncretism, a united front of opposing parties against a common foe. “The tribal element separates us,” he said, but added that “the covenantal elements unite us.”

“We’re all asking the same questions but we may not have the right answers,” he said. “If we can recognize the paths we’ve been on are not the way out, perhaps we can join hands together, and go forward.”

Syamsuddin, a cherubic-cheeked man with silvering-hair, is the president of the Indonesia-based Muhammadiyah, one of the biggest Islamic organizations in the world, with some 30 million members.

He said that religions and people “must work towards mutual understanding and respect.”

“In this new paradigm,” he said, “dialogue must be inclusive,” and it must be a “dialogue of actions.”

The Indonesian religious leader and his two U.S. counterparts, settled on either side of Syamsuddin between Indonesian and American flags, were asked questions about globalization and stopping violence carried out in the name of God.

According to Syamsuddin, globalization has contributed to “the emergence of selfishness and greed” and “the radicalization of individualism,” which he said “leads to extremism in religious communities.”

Rev. Livingston, a moustached man in glasses and a black checked tie, is the president of the National Academy of Churches, a consortium of Christian denominations. “Even in the larger context of economic woes,” said Livingston, referring to the current global recession, “there exists a basic dichotomy.”

Globalization means the first world is racing ahead but the other world is languishing behind, he said.

Schwarz called globalization a “two-edged sword.” He said that “most religions were caught unawares” by it and that they “haven’t equipped the faithful to encounter one another.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Interfaith issues • Islam • Judaism

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.