Unity in Diversity: Interfaith Dialogue in the Middle East.

Author:Afsaruddin, Asma
Position:Book review

Unity in Diversity Interfaith Dialogue in the Middle East. By Mohammed Abu-Nimer, Areal I. Khoury, and Emily Welty. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007. 285 pp. np.

This book is an indicator in many ways that inter-faith dialogue is maturing as a process and beginning to be taken seriously by all kinds of people--by policymakers, politicians, academicians, journalists, and others. As religious, ethnic, and political conflicts continue to engulf various parts of the world, a handbook that clearly and cogently explains as well as demonstrates how inter-faith dialogue may contribute to the amelioration of such conflicts is timely and most welcome. The authors focus on one of the most conflict-ridden parts of the world--the contemporary Middle East--and on dialogue among the Abrahamie faiths there, although many of their observations may be generalizable to other faith traditions. Might inter-faith practitioners succeed where the most seasoned diplomats and policy-makers have ventured with considerable daring but with little tangible enduring success to show for their efforts to date? Abu-Nimer, houry, and Welty would agree. And they proceed to tell us why in a matter-of-fact and compelling manner while not glossing over the daunting challenges inherent in such endeavors.

As is dear from their exposition, inter-faith dialogue (IFD) demands from its participants no less than an internal, spiritual transformation at the outset and dogged patience. After all satisfactory resolution of conflictual situations through such encounters is predicated on the cultivation of long-term relationships based on mutual trust and honesty. Dialogue for peacemaking, the authors say, "is a dialogue of persons, not a reading of texts" (p. 21). Their guidelines for engaging in such exercises are down-to-earth and commonsensical, but at the same time they are likely to strike the conventional policymaker as rather impractical and unimplementable. The gains that may come from IFD are not always quantifiable or measurable, and the objectives of such dialogues are often at the expense of one's narrowly conceived self- or communal interests.

For example, according to our authors, to ensure enduring reconciliation IFD participants, must engage in a confession/forgiveness approach--confession of one s complicity in wrong-doing on the part of the culpable and a gesture of pardon from the aggrieved party, an approach that in its self-abnegation is...

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