Interfaith event underscores unity

Geneseo Hillel, the Muslim Student Association and Geneseo’s Central Presbyterian Church cohosted “The Story of the Binding of Isaac: An Interfaith Dialogue” at the Interfaith Center on Sunday Sept. 17 to engage in a guided discussion centered on a common story between the three major monotheistic faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

This event begins the Interfaith Service Project’s Better Together Week. Central Presbyterian Church Pastor Rev. Nancy E. Lowmaster, Hillel program coordinator Laura Matthews and assistant professor of history Megan Brankley Abbas led the program, which ran for nearly two hours. Both Geneseo students and members of the surrounding community attended.

“[Our goal is] to promote interfaith dialogue,” Lowmaster said. “Doing that allows for a greater understanding between groups who often find themselves separated by culture, tradition or ideology.” 

The event’s core, the Binding of Isaac, unites Christians, Jews and Muslims, who consider the story a shared element in their sacred texts. Discussions highlighted how these groups—relying on a shared history—have interpreted this story of faith and of submission.

The Binding of Isaac recounts the narrative of God commanding the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a testament to his faith. As Abraham prepares the sacrifice, however, God sends a messenger to stop Abraham, who then receives a message of approval acknowledging Abraham’s fear of God. 

“This is an important thing to study that, in terms of religion, someone would choose God over their family,” English major freshman Lara Mangino said. “That affects how people practice and how modern practitioners might see this story when they choose God in their lives.”

To begin, Abbas, Lowmaster and Matthews summarized the significance of the story to the Islamic, Christian and Judaic traditions, respectively. While the three Abrahamic faiths share this story, the extent to which they emphasize it differs. 

Muslims celebrate the second major holiday of the Islamic calendar—Eid al-Adha—to commemorate the sacrifice that coincides with their holy pilgrimage. This reenacts the story of Abraham and thus situates the feast of the sacrifice in a larger prophetic framework. 

Christians, meanwhile, lack a specified holiday to acknowledge the sacrifice, but can study the story while completing the revised, common lectionary cycle of readings, according to Lowmaster. Jews, on the other hand, incorporate the story into their marking of the new year at Rosh Hashanah; consequently, the Jewish community has extensive familiarity with the Binding of Isaac.

“I think it’s really important to understand the connection between different religions and how they affect each other today,” history adolescent education major sophomore Alison Coggins said. 

After opening remarks, small groups examined three side-by-side passages: Genesis excerpts from both the Jewish Publication Society Version, the biblical New Revised Standard Version and the Quran. The groups sought similarities and differences that, by textual analysis, subtly revealed themselves between three iterations of the same story. The hosts distributed posters featuring quotes from the sources, offering the groups a lens to reexamine the stories and to expound their meanings.

“I don’t know much about these topics,” communication major freshman Maureen Murphy said. “This event, though, has helped me enhance my coursework by learning more about them.”

Evaluating the three passages revealed fundamental commonalities between typically juxtaposed groups. Ultimately, understanding such shared stories demands acknowledgement that the perceived differences between Christians, Jews and Muslims have stemmed from geopolitical—not scriptural—disagreements.