On April 3, Saint Leo University Campus for Catholic-Jewish Studies presented “Antidote to Fear,” a lecture about the Catholic-Jewish-Muslim Dialogue on Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, held in Student Community Center Boardrooms.
“Antidote to Fear” was composed of three sessions, the first of which took place at 10:30 a.m. and featured Dr. Souheil Zekri of Miskah University. Dr. Zekri spoke about the introduction of Islam and how to understand the Islam ways and religion. The second session began at 1:30 p.m. with Dr. Matthew Tapie, Assistant Professor of Theology at Saint Leo and Director of Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, and also featured Dr. Rabbi Jason Rosenberg, Congregation Beth Am, and Dr. Zekri. The presenters had a “Dialogue on Islamophobia & Anti-Semitism.” The last session was held at 2:30 p.m. with Rabbi Rosenberg, who spoke about “Understanding Judaism.”
According to Rosenberg, in Judaism the world stands on three things. Those three things are: “Torah (learning), Avodah (worship), and Gemilut Chasadim (acts of loving kindness).” The essence of Judaism includes “tribe – not a religion, monotheistic, non-hierarchical / egalitarian, and textual.”
Rosenberg said that it is important to speak about Islamophobia.
“Hate is hate. It’s incumbent upon all people of good conscience to speak out against hate, in every form, in every place. Our Muslim brothers and sisters deserve to live and worship in peace. Our society has always been riven by deep-seated, institutionalized prejudices. The only way was ever going to pass those is for good people to fight back against that kind of senseless hatred,” said Rosenberg.
Rosenberg wanted to present this event because the world today seems to be lacking a concrete understanding of religion.
“I believe in the importance of interfaith dialogue. It’s part of how we learn about the world, and part of how we better understand ourselves. And, of course, it’s part of how we work towards peace among our communities. Also, I support the CCJS. Oh — and I consider Dr. Tapie to be a friend, so when he asks me to do something, I say yes,” he stated.
Rosenberg was born and raised as a Jew in the Reform movement. Islamophobia is a sensitive situation because “it’s a mixture of a few factors.”
“First, many/most Muslims are a visible minority. As opposed to Jews, who are an invisible minority, you can’t identify us by sight. It’s a common, maybe natural, phenomena for people to fear others who aren’t like them; who look somewhat different, or speak with an accent, or dress differently,” explained Rosenberg. “Add to that that there is a real problem in the world with radical, fundamentalist, distorted Islamism, and is easy for people to start lumping all Muslims together, and fearing/hating them. Basically, our natural fear of the other leads us to generalize from the worst examples from the Muslim world, and therefore impugn all Muslims.”
Rosenberg wanted to leave his audience with an important matter to consider.
“Just that it’s pretty obvious that this problem isn’t going away anytime soon. So, again, it’s incumbent upon all of us to keep speaking out about this and keep pushing back against hatred and bigotry, in all forms. Religion has too often been the justification for hatred. We have to be part of reversing the trend,” Rosenberg concluded.
The audience seemed to have learned a lot from the eye-opening experience.
“I have never had a teaching about Islam, and it was a fascinating religion that I want to learn more about,” said Nephtalie Jacques, a junior criminal justice major.
Jacques and others enjoyed learning about “the five pillars if Islam” and would like to see this and similar events held on campus more often.
“I learned more about the Islam religion by coming to this event,” explained by Andrye Austin, a senior sociology major. Austin also said that the speakers gave an impression that “Islam is not how it is portrayed.”
Some students attended the event for more personal reasons.
“I wanted to come to this event because I am Muslim and I wanted to counteract Islamophobia by my presence,” said Shireen Sardar, a local accountant and artist. “Dr. Zekri knows about the true Islam, and he is a Muslim in the real sense, and he cares about Islam.”
Linde S. Taggart, MA., professor of world religions, had hoped to see more students attend the event and expand their knowledge. She, along with each of the guest speakers, hope that the students gained a better understanding of the shared values in the different religious beliefs.