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In Search of Common Roots:
Children of Abraham

New York – October 29, 2004—Amidst this year's continued turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere, a project based on ancient faith and ritual is forging alliances between Jewish and Muslim youth around the world. Children of Abraham 2004 is an internet-based collaboration which has involved over sixty participants (interns) between the ages of 15-21 from twenty-three countries in the development of an online photo essay that highlights the core similarities between Judaism and Islam. An advanced interactive website has enabled these interns to discuss their work, and to engage in frank, probing dialogue on sensitive issues of culture, religion and politics.

Prostration in Prayer, Fahad Ali Kazmi, Lahore, Pakistan

The project is a continuation of a similar concept begun last year. This year, however, the project has moved to a higher level of participation that was made possible by using Internet technology. Interns explore their local Muslim and Jewish communities, photographing aspects of religious and communal life in order to become familiar with them, and to compare their findings with their counterparts in the other religion. "Muslims and Jews have learned to see each other with new eyes that focus on inherent similarities between these sister religions, rather than the contemporary political differences that pit them against one another," says Ari Alexander, American born co-director of this year's project. "Through their research and interactions, our interns have uncovered striking commonalities between Judaism and Islam that have altered their original perception of each others' faiths, and resulted in a genuine appreciation of both."

Kissing the Siddur, Carl Pintzka, Oslo, Norway

Many of the interns came from parts of the world where they have had no contact with the other faith. Maria Ali-Adib, a Syrian co-director of the project, was impressed by the openness displayed by interns during this process of discovery. "We have been deeply moved by the atmosphere of dialogue and candor, encouraged by the project's focus on atavistic elements of the Jewish and Muslim faith, which has spurred our interns to form friendships across religio-cultural borders. The majority of our interns had never had personal interactions with members of the other 'side.' They no longer see 'sides', but a movement and community to which they all belong, Muslims and Jews together."

More than 1,500 photo images were collected and some 3,000 postings submitted on the discussion boards. The project will have a fall photo exhibit available to be accompanied with comments from the interns. Current efforts include the formation of Muslim-Jewish dialogue groups by interns in their schools and communities, and a compilation of the summer's online discussions for use as educational material.

More information:

Hevruta: Traditional Study of Talmud, Chananja Daniel, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Qur'an Class for Girls, Sumayya Kassamali, Vancouver, British Columbia

Selected quotes from interns about Children of Abraham:

These past few weeks of communication on the Children of Abraham message boards have completely blown me away. I've found myself learning far more than I ever expected, strengthening my own faith and opening my eyes to viewpoints I have never before been exposed to. I've found myself researching parts of my religion I took for granted, and parts I never quite understood until asked to explain them, and I've found myself repeatedly in awe of how so many diverse individuals can come together and share so much. I've found myself connecting on a personal level with individuals from across the world, transcending religious and cultural barriers and inspiring me to do even more. Even if the photo essay was not part of this project, and it were to end tomorrow, it would already have been far more rewarding than I had believed possible.

Sumayya Kassamali (Vancouver, B.C., Canada)

I've learned more about both Islam and my religion, Judaism. I've learned about the attitudes of Muslims and Jews around the world, and I feel that I've reexamined some of my strongly held notions and beliefs. Most importantly, I feel that I've gained a new network of friends around the world.

Andrew Horowitz (Connecticut, USA)

Some of the discussions I have been part of were eye-opening, because when you explain your religion to someone who never had the chance to learn about it, you some how undergo the process of rediscovering your own religious identity; you start questioning the parts of your religion that don't make sense to you- and I believe that this is the first step towards understanding them.

Ahmad Alkhateeb (Hebron, West Bank)

I also wanted to use the opportunity, and thank you for trusting in me and offering me this wonderful opportunity of being a part of COA, and meet the other interns from other parts of the world. I gained valuable knowledge of both religions, and learned how people can change many things through communication, and also through pictures. Sometimes pictures talk louder then words can, and i saw this through this project, there were some moving pictures that best illustrated the situation/event that they portrayed.

Rinor Sadiku (Pristina, Kosovo)

We venture out into the unknown in this project… going into Islamic communities about which I know nothing about is kind of hard. But I am learning so much about the religion and about mine as well. Things were not always this bad [between Muslims and Jews]. It seems in times of need when both are targeted, we come together. These are the kinds of connections we need to uncover and show people.

Alexandra Kaplan (Massachusetts, USA) 08-11-2004

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