Chicago Tribune: Religious leaders come together in Frankfort

Christianity, Islam and Judaism may seem like totally different religions, but participants at an interfaith forum in Frankfort learned they all share some basic principles.

The South West Interfaith Team (SWIFT) forum included talks on “faiths respecting other faiths,” and the history and similarities of the three religions. The speakers were Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president for the Chicago Board of Rabbis, Dr. Joan Gorski, professor at The Biblical Institute, Chicago Scripture School and professor/teacher at St. Laurence High School and the University of Saint Francis, and Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations)-Chicago..

SWIFT includes 13 mosques, churches and synagogues, which meet monthly and stage various events, including public forums and community dinners. Members also perform service work through the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Habitat for Humanity.

For Balinsky, the forum was a chance to examine the religions’ differences and similarities in an atmosphere geared toward education, rather than argument. He noted that Jews, Muslims and Christians view Jesus differently, but can still respect each others’ ideas.

“The question becomes, how do you understand other religions, how do they fit in and what happens if you have disagreements?” said Balinsky in a phone interview. “Can you still make room in speaking a language of value and legitimacy for other religions, more than just tolerating them?”

“We share a belief in God,” Balinsky said. “We certainly share a belief in the principles of living …of having moral principles,” he said.

Many participants in the forum at Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Frankfort were struck by the religions’ similarities.

“Every faith that was talked about, their own book says to accept one another, to love one another and each book also points to the fact we all worship the same God and are all children of Abraham,” said Carol Davis, a member of Saint Elizabeth Seton Parish in Orland Hills.

Mohammed Nofal, a member of The Prayer Center in Orland Park and Muslim coach for SWIFT, said he was most touched by Rehab’s description of the Abyssinian King Negus protecting Muslims who fled Mecca because of persecution centuries ago.

“That kind of really stood out for me as a Muslim,” Nofa said. “II you believe in God, that’s the only threshold you have to meet…then you’re going to get respect and be treated well.”

Before Faith United Methodist Church joined SWIFT several years ago, JoEllen Simmons, who belongs to the church and is a SWIFT board member, said she hadn’t realized people of all three faiths are descended from the Prophet Abraham and that each religion also has angels. Simmons said many people aren’t aware of the similarities, which is why people “sometimes get divisional about faiths.”

“I just think it’s a neat way for us to build bridges between religions,” she said.