AU scholar holds dialogue

Judea Pearl speaks about slain son

Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, engaged in a dialogue with AU professor and Muslim scholar Akbar Ahmed at the University of Pittsburgh's Bellefield Auditorium on Oct. 23.

"In Pearl I saw great compassion," said Ahmed, former high commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain and chair of Islamic Studies at AU. "Here is a man whose son has been killed in the most brutal of ways, and through this tragedy he saw a need for the bridges of dialogue."

Pearl is president of the Danny Pearl Foundation, established in 2002 to "continue Danny's mission of dialogue and friendship, and to address the root causes of his murder." Daniel Pearl was a Wall Street Journal correspondent killed by Islamic extremists in Pakistan on Feb. 21, 2002, after being kidnapped in January.

Last Monday marked Judea Pearl's first dialogue, and some members of the Jewish and Muslim community expressed apprehension about such an effort. Pearl and Ahmed were uncertain of who would show up for the event, but they were received by over 400 audience members, curious to learn what the speakers would share with each other.

"Hatred took the life of my son and hatred I will fight till the end of my life," Pearl said, acknowledging his son's death as a reason for dialogue.

He also revealed one of the key reasons he agreed to come to Pittsburgh and talk with Ahmed.

"Ahmed was the only Muslim author I read who has expressed empathy for the sense of siege Israelis feel," Pearl said. "Empathy is the essence of understanding and prerequisite to dialogue."

Ahmed connects the statement in his book with the two most frequently repeated of the Muslim tradition of God's 99 names, Rahman and Rahim (Beneficent and Merciful), to express the compassionate nature of Islam.

Members of the audience spoke out against hatred.

Faizan Haq, secretary-general of the Pakistani American Congress, offered his apologies for not being there as a Pakistani and a human being to speak out against Pearl's murder. He also pointed to the violence perpetuated toward Muslims in the United States.

Umar Ghuman, a member of the National Parliament of Pakistan, said, "On behalf of the people of Pakistan I beg for forgiveness for the murder of your son, Danny Pearl."

Ghuman and Haq encouraged Pakistanis and Americans to move forward in dialogue toward a greater understanding of each other.

According to Ahmed, the apologies speak of the true nature of Islam - compassion and justice.

In a personal interview Pearl shared his thoughts about the apologies of Ghuman and Haq.

Pearl wanted clerics to speak out against the death of his son and make the punishment for such crimes, which is "hell" in the afterlife, clear to their parishioners.

Ahmed said the murder of innocent people like Danny Pearl is never acceptable in Islam.

"You have the freedom to interpret your religion any way you want, but you have an obligation to interpret it in a way that would benefit mankind," Pearl said.

David Shtulman, executive director of the American Jewish Committee and organizer of the event, said it offered a unique opportunity for audience members.

"People had a chance to speak, but also listen. People heard each other through Akbar and Judea in a way they normally are unable to hear one another," he said.

Eleanor Loftis, an audience member, apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church and stated that the slaughter of Jews and Muslims in the name of God and religion throughout history was wrong.

Ahmed and Pearl had a follow-up discussion at the Pittsburgh Press Club the following morning. Though Pearl and Ahmed are advocates for a two-state solution in Israel, they do not believe it will significantly decrease the violence in the Muslim world. Ahmed asked the audience to consider the situation in Israel and how it will affect Muslims.

"Though peace in Israel is important, let's say today both societies are at peace," Ahmed said. "Do you think that will make any difference in the violence and murders in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia and other Muslim nations?"

According to Ahmed, the answer is no, the violence will continue, and dialogue and compassion are the only ways to squelch it.

Interest in this type of dialogue has been shown in cities across the United States, including D.C., Detroit and San Francisco. There has been talk of continuing this dialogue in countries such as Pakistan and Egypt.

In response to a question on the purpose of dialogue now, Shtulman said, "Some things take a long time to accomplish, but just because they will not be completed in your life time does not mean that you don't start the effort"

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