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Published: Saturday, 4/9/2005

Interfaith discussion takes a broader view

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

The Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, held annually at the University of Toledo since 2000, has been expanded this year to include a speaker representing the Jewish faith and one on Christianity instead of Catholicism.

"The Muslim-Catholic Dialogue had been very successful and had very good numbers for attendance, but we felt this was the natural progression," said Dr. Richard Gaillardez, professor of Catholic Studies at UT and head of the committee that organizes the dialogue.

He said the committee wanted to include all Christianity, not just Catholicism, and added Islam because "we wanted to foster dialogue among all three Abrahamic religions," he said.

Speaking at the event, which will take place from 7-9 p.m. Thursday in UT's Nitschke Hall, will be Philip Markowicz, a Sylvania resident, Torah scholar, and Holocaust survivor representing the Jewish faith, Professor Gail O'Day, from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, and Professor Mustansir Mir, head of the Center for Islamic Studies at Youngstown State University.

This year's topic, "The Authority of Sacred Texts," will include a look at the similarities and differences in how the three faiths view intepretations of their sacred texts.

"One of the things all three religious faiths share is that all three are called 'religions of the book,'‚óŹ" Professor Gaillardetz said. "They are all bound by a special revelation that has come from God and is mediated through a set of sacred texts."

He said the annual dialogue is designed to dispel myths and to build bridges among people of diverse religious groups.

Within each tradition, he said, there are "lively debates and disagreements" over interpretration of the sacred texts.

"We all know the debates that go on within our own tradition, but we tend to look at other traditions as a monolithic whole," professor Gaillardetz said.

Professor Mir agreed that people are usually well aware of discussions within their own religion but not others.

While the Qur'an was written in Arabic in the 7th century by the Prophet Muhammad and is largely unchanged today, there are some "Quranic variants, and how you interpret those variants determines whether you interpret the texts differently," Professor Mir said.

The professor also will discuss the Hadith, another sacred Islamic text containing about 600,000 sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. The sayings are categorized into three levels based on how reliably scholars feel they can be attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, and are meant to be considered as a supplement to the Qur'an.

Mr. Markowicz, who was born in Poland in 1924, is the son of a rabbi and began studying the Jewish sacred texts of the Torah and the Talmud when he was 3 years old. When World War II broke out in Europe in the 1930s, he was known as a Talmud prodigy. He continued to study the Jewish texts and to observe strict religious laws even when he was confined by the Nazis to the Lodz ghetto, and was sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

"It's a miracle I'm alive today," Mr. Markowicz said in an interview this week. "I've been through a lot, I've seen a lot."

He said the Torah "was written for being read aloud," at a time when most people could not read or write and received their information through oratory.

The texts were written "in a simple language for simple people to understand. It's like with a child, you have to start somewhere before you can go to a higher level."

Today, people are much more sophisticated and well-educated, Mr. Markowicz said, and they expect a more intellectual translation of the original Hebrew.

"I'm in the middle of writing up a new interpretation for modern people," he said.

After researching the original texts, he said he finds that "it's translated wrongly, or translated so that the nuances are not there. And some of the most important things, the names of God, are not translated at all.

"Every name in the Scripture has a meaning to it, and this is not translated in the Torah. This is why we don't know exactly what the meaning of God is. And if you don't know who God is, then you don't know the true meaning of the stories."

Mr. Markowicz said he also finished writing his autobiography, titled My Three Lives, which he hopes to have published later this year. It is divided into his life growing up in Poland, his wartime experiences, and his life after the war, including moving to Toledo in 1950 and founding Phil's TV appliance company.

He said he believes the Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue at UT can make an impact on interfaith relations.

"Dialogue is the center of everything," Mr. Markowicz said. "If you don't know something, you're prejudiced."

Professor O'Day, who will represent the Christian faith at the dialogue, is associate dean of faculty and academic affairs and the A.H. Shatford professor of preaching and New Testament at Emory. She is researching the Gospel of John, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and the Bible and preaching.

The Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue 2005 starts at 7 p.m. Thursday in the University of Toledo's Nitschke Hall. Free and open to the public, it will include a question-and-answer session and is sponsored by UT's Religious Studies Program, Hillel, Muslim Students Association, Catholic Students Association, and Toledo Campus Ministry. Information: 419-530-7832.



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