Dr Ed Kessler, an expert on interfaith relations, told a large audience in London on March 24, 2011 that people from the three Abrahamic faiths were starting to build important mutual understanding, but much more work needed to be done.
Kessler, the director of the Woolf Institute, delivered the 2011 Project Mosaic Lecture on the topic of "Descended from Abraham: Exploring the Common Heritage of Jews, Christians and Muslims".
In reviewing relations amongst the world's 2.2 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims and 15 million Jews, he said Christians and Jews had made encouraging progress in interfaith dialogue over the past nearly 100 years, but that the encounter with Islam was "a much more recent and fragile phenomenon".
Kessler urged a recognition that religious beliefs and cultural traditions varied widely amongst those living within the 120 Christian-majority countries, the 60 Muslim-majority countries and the one Jewish-majority country, Israel. He said Christians, Jews and Muslims needed to learn more about one another's religion -- to develop a "faith literacy" -- which would lead to greater trust, respect and sensitivity.
Kessler described the subject of Israel-Palestine as the "elephant in the room", an uncomfortable topic but one that needed to be addressed. He said many Jews considered the creation of Israel in 1948 as an act of national liberation after nearly 2,000 years of homelessness, while many Muslims described it as "The Disaster" because it displaced more than 700,000 Palestinians.
Kessler said Christians, Jews and Muslims needed to learn to talk about the Middle East, even when this involved strong disagreement. But he said this most difficult of subjects was not the place to start when initiating interfaith dialogue. The best place to commence, he said, was in recognising the similarities, not the differences, of the three faiths handed down by Abraham.
He said that Jews, based on their experience living in a disaspora for two millennia, could play a special role in helping Muslims to relate on a constructive basis with members of the Christian community. "Judaism is ideally placed to act as an intermediary in the essential encounter between Christianity and Islam, between the West and East," Kessler said.