Local Interfaith Group Leads Discussion on Controversial Play at the Playhouse in the Park

By Chip Harrod

This past year Cincinnati witnessed the return of an important interfaith program.   After several years of inactivity, the Bridges of Faith Trialogue re-emerged in early 2016 out of a concern by its members with the rising tide of Islamophobia.

Cincinnati’s Bridges of Faith Trialogue is an on-going conversation among Cincinnati civic leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths to foster inter-religious understanding, respect, collaboration and community education.   It was organized by the Greater Cincinnati Region of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) in 2003, originally as a Jewish-Muslim dialogue; and was expanded to include Christians in 2007, thus becoming a trialogue

‘Trialogians” routinely meet in one another’s homes to discuss religious, cultural and geo-political issues of common concern.   Over the years, the participants, who are highly respected within their own faith communities, have reckoned with some of the most divisive and sensitive issues of the day, and when called upon, have spoken out with a much needed united voice – one that is informed, ecumenical and conciliatory.

Since its return in January, the Trialogue has focused its conversation and energies on addressing the dangerous level of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, a level of hostility not seen since “9/11.”  Fueled by ISIS-inspired terrorism and the inflammatory rhetoric coming out of the presidential campaign, today’s Islamophobic climate begged a response.

After a couple of get-togethers, the members of the Trialogue settled on several initiatives.  They launched a “Getting to Know Our Muslim Neighbors” community education campaign, featuring interfaith panels and the publishing and distribution of a brochure titled Islamophobia – Not in Our Community!  Presently in the works is another educational piece, a question-and-answer brochure on Islam.

Just recently, the Trialogue was invited by the Playhouse in the Park to partner with it in providing post-performance audience discussions of the controversial play Disgraced.  A Pulitzer prize-winning play authored by Ayad Akhtar, Disgraced features a Muslim protagonist, a success-tracked corporate attorney, who struggles with reconciling his cultural identity and fears of anti-Muslim bigotry with his quest to achieve the American Dream.  During the play’s run, interfaith teams of trialogians facilitated the audience’s reactions to the play.  A founder of the Trialogue, Dr. Inayat Malik said, “by the design of the playwright, this play is riddled with religious and cultural stereotypes intended to evoke strong reactions from the audience.  The purpose of our involvement was to help steer the 1,500 or so audience participants toward a truer understanding of Islam and American Muslims and the challenges our country’s minority religions and races encounter in attempting to successfully acculturate.”

Those interested in joining a trialogue are encouraged to send an email of interest to trialoguecincinnati@gmail.com.

It is believed the term “dialogue” was introduced by Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in 1905.   He described a courageous conversation that engaged equally the heart and the head.   Participants in genuine dialogue open themselves up to be challenged, and more often than not they discover that doing so results not only in an affirmation of their own beliefs and opinions but a newfound respect for the diverse perspectives and convictions of others.  Interpersonal relationships are forged and intergroup relations are advanced.