EXCERPTS

Ranya:

My daughter came home from school and asked me a simple question: "Do we celebrate Hanukah or Christmas?" Her friends at school wanted to know. I wasn't sure how to respond. I worried that the reality of 9/11 had made it unworkable for my children to be both Muslims and American. Would their sense of belonging be compromised? Would they as Americans feel burdened by their religion and heritage?  

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Muslims, I explained, believe Muhammad to be the last of a series of 25 messengers and prophets, starting with Adam and including Moses and Jesus, who were sent by God to guide people to the right path. Muslims believe that Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which means peaceful surrender to the will of God, are three forms of one religion, which was the religion of the prophet Abraham.

Priscilla: Isn't that blasphemy, Ranya, to say that Islam is just a different version of Judaism and Christianity?

Ranya: No. Not to me.    Muslims are required to believe in the Gospels and the Torah. Your God is the Muslim God, too.

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Suzanne:

I walked into our first meeting, my stiff new notebook in hand, ready to share stories of religious inspiration.   I was comfortable in my own religion, having made a difficult decision to leave the Catholic Church of my parents for the relative liberalism of the Episcopal Church. After twelve years in Catholic schools, I was finally going to get an inter-faith education. That education, however, proved not to be as neatly packaged as I had anticipated.   It came with the messiness and complications of the real lives and different perspectives of three women with very different relationships to their religions.

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Muslims believe in the Gospels and the Torah?   Our religions were closer than I had ever thought.   It was thrilling! Thrilling and simultaneously unnerving because the Muslim view of events was not always the same as the Christian one.

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Priscilla:   You know, Suzanne, this is kind of upsetting to me, this stuff about the Jews killing Christ.  

Suzanne:   Jews killing Christ? I never said that!

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Priscilla:

As I drove into New York, I worried about where the next terrorist attack would occur. Would they set off a dirty bomb in Grand Central Terminal? My husband rode commuter trains and subways for a total of three hours every day. The idea of him trapped underground haunted me.

Had I become a cowering suburban wife and mother? Did my fears define me? Truth be told, I was lost spiritually. I wasn't sure if I believed in God anymore.

Yet here I was sucking it up and driving into the city to meet my new acquaintances, Suzanne and Ranya, to talk about God.

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"I wish I believed in God," I said out loud for the first time. Nobody in my family had ever talked about God. Not my father, my mother, my sister or my brother. In twenty years of marriage, I'd had only one three-minute conversation with my husband about God.

Maybe, I realized as I spoke, all that was about to change.

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Suzanne: Priscilla, without the promise of an afterlife , what do you think makes people want to be good?

Priscilla: I do believe that God is inside all of us.

Suzanne: And he is willing to let that part die, and that is fine?

Priscilla: Hmmm. He goes on to the next.   We are like flowers that bloom, fade and go back into the earth again.   Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.