Abrahamic Dinner promotes interfaith dialogue between Christianity, Judaism and Islam

“If your faith is strong, you shouldn’t be afraid to learn about other faiths,” Calvin sophomore Tuba Jaheran told her audience. Jaheran was a keynote speaker at “The Annual Abrahamic Dinner,” an interfaith event focused on promoting understanding of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. As a Muslim student at Calvin, Jaheran has a unique perspective on interfaith interactions.

Speaking about her move from Bangladesh and her transition to life at a Christian school, Jaheran said, “I was forced to open my mind.” She also noted that being a religious minority was a new experience for her since the majority of Bengalis are Muslim.

“My parents are my greatest role models as Muslims,” she added.

“The Annual Abrahamic Dinner” is hosted by the Kaufman Interfaith Institute of Grand Valley State University (GVSU). It’s called the Abrahamic dinner because Abraham is a central figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This year’s dinner took place at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, just a few miles away from Calvin. The theme was “Listening to New Voices: The Next Generation Speaks.”

In addition to Jaherun, two other college students spoke: Allison Egrin, a senior at GVSU, and Allison LoPrete, a senior at Hope College.

LoPrete introduced the audience to the concept of “holy envy,” the deep appreciation of elements of another religious tradition. She explained that she experienced this when she saw how devoted a Muslim friend was to daily prayer, and how that inspired her as a Christian. She also shared her perspective on why interfaith work is important.

“The media loves to broadcast religious violence,” she lamented, adding that it is important for people of faith to change the narrative about interactions between different religions.

Egrin told the story of her struggles to find Jewish community in West Michigan. She described leaving her vibrant Jewish community in the Detroit area when she came to college, and the void she felt without it.

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” Egrin said. In response to her yearning for Jewish community, Egrin joined Hillel, a Jewish student organization at GVSU, and is now its president.

The audience had very positive reactions to the talk.

“These kinds of events will promote awareness [of other religions],” said Filiz Dogru. She represented the Niagara Foundation, a group that seeks to promote “sustained relationships between people of different cultures and faiths.”

Calvin students echoed these sentiments.

“I really liked how people are open to new cultures and religions,” said sophomore Blerta Lika.

Katherine Benedict

“It was nice to hear motivational speeches,” added another student, who asked not to be named.

Manato Jansen, the Interfaith Coordinator at the Service-Learning Center, expressed the importance of Jaherun’s keynote speech. “It was great to see one of our students represented. Students of other faiths at Calvin are often far from highlighted.”

Lauryn Nett, the Interfaith Coordinator at GVSU, pointed out that interfaith events are especially essential in our community. “It’s important to make people aware of the diversity that is in West Michigan,” she said.

Douglas Kindschi, Ph.D, the director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, said he was happy with how the dinner went, noting that about 130 people attended. “I have much hope listening to the next generation,” he said. “The young people are the ones who are open-minded.”