We held the first Abrahamic Small Group meeting in our house last night.
The idea behind an Abrahamic Small Group is to duplicate the Evangelical Christian small group experience in a mixed group of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish families. This is not about inter-faith dialogue, but instead is about inter-faith engagement. We're not all sitting around a campfire holding hands and singing "Kum bay ah". Instead, we're getting to know each other on a personal basis, and we're learning those areas of faith in which we agree, and those areas in which we disagree.
We kicked off the grand experiment with a bit of trepidation all around. After all, Evangelical Christian small groups have high failure rates, and it's hard to tell how these things will evolve.
In what could have been an ominous foreshadowing of the evening, Middle Tennessee was hit with a severe thunderstorm last night. We prepared snacks for the invited families, but weren't sure if anyone would make the trek out to our neck of the far suburbs for the adventure.
The cell phone rang, however, about 15 minutes before the start time, and it was Rashid and his family en route.
Arriving just as the storm let up, Rashid, his wife Fatima, their children Ayesha and Ali joined our family and Marlin's family just as the storm let up. Setting a graciou tone, Rashid and Fatima brought a fabulous gift for my wife, a special perfume they had purchased when they had visited the holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia.
We were fascinated to learn that Rashid, a medical doctor, and his wife Fatima, were both born in the same city in India, and had come together under a "quasi-arranged" marriage. Rashid came to the US as a young boy. Fatima came after their marriage.
Another good sign for the evening was that the children, who had never met before, connected easily.
Rashid, a fellow Ivy Leaguer, brought an enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity to the evening that matched my own. Both he and Fatima seemed to quickly "get" the structure of what a small group setting tries to accomplish, and the conversation flowed easily.
The evening had been in the works for over a year, since I had begun writing my book, Letter to an Atheist. My chapter on Islam there suggested that Sam Harris' dismissal of Islam as fundamentally and completely opposed yo intellectual and social compatibility with the West was simplistic and close minded. This evening, my criticism of Harris was put to the test, and based on how the evening went, I must say that my initial impression has been confirmed.