On Wednesday, October 25th, about 40 Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Sufis gathered to discuss the topic “Religion and Modernity.” The event was held at the Islamic Society of Sarasota. Representatives from each of the faiths brought sources about their religion’s perspectives on modernity.
Rabbi Geoff Huntting spoke from a Jewish perspective and talked about how different branches of Judaism evolved as different responses to modernity, especially during the Enlightenment. He explained that “all of Modern Orthodoxy, the Conservative movement, the Reform movement, Reconstructionist movement, all were a response to 19th century modernity and the challenges of the societies where Jews lived.” Rabbi Geoff also brought up the question of balance between modernization and maintaining identity.
Mary McNeill Homola told everyone about Gaudium et Spes, which was written by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The document is also known as “Joy and Hope in the Modern World.” It was the Catholic Church’s response to modernity. It outlines the social responsibilities of Catholics in the modern world, saying “Help us see that rights and responsibilities are universal and critical to the ongoing creation of the common good.” It calls on everyone to “be concerned about the common good.”
Sheikh Ghassan Manasra spoke about how Islam has evolved in response to modernity, using the banks as an example. Because usury is forbidden in Islam, Muslims could not have bank accounts that accumulated interest. To adapt to the modern world, new banks were created for Muslims. It was also decided that Muslims could use other banks, as long as they set up their accounts to not accumulate interest
David Less pointed out every religion thought of itself as the modern religion when it began, and that the interfaith movement is modern religion. He asked everyone, “what’s the religion of today? In my eye, what we’re doing here, this is the religion of today. This is the modern religion. We each believe in the way our soul pulls us to believe. And yet, when we sit here, we feel the presence of God.”
Finally, Anna Less shared a Sufi perspective. She read from the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Kahn, who said “If there is any coming religion, a new religion to come, it will be this religion, the religion of the heart.” She shared that the past, present, and future are all connected and affect each other.
When each representative had shared from their faith tradition, everyone broke into small groups of five or six people for intimate discussion. Sheikh Ghassan stopped to facilitate and spend some time with each group before everyone came back together.
After 40 minutes of deep discussion, people rejoined as a large group again. Members from each small group shared what their group had discussed and the insights they had come to. Everyone then enjoyed some delicious hummus and cakes prepared by Sheikha Laila Manasra to close a night full of learning and connection.
Thanks to Imam Mohamad and ISSB (Sarasota Muslim Community) for hosting the discussion on “Religion and Modernity”.