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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Religious discussion centers on concept of God

Rabbi Howard Wolk of Jewish Family Services listens as Imam Zia-ul-Haq Shaikh of the Islamic Center of Irving responds to questions students submitted before the forum began.
Stuart Palley
Rabbi Howard Wolk of Jewish Family Services listens as Imam Zia-ul-Haq Shaikh of the Islamic Center of Irving responds to questions students submitted before the forum began.

Rabbi Howard Wolk of Jewish Family Services listens as Imam Zia-ul-Haq Shaikh of the Islamic Center of Irving responds to questions students submitted before the forum began. (Stuart Palley)

What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of God? How can we know God? How does knowing God make a difference in one’s life?

These four questions began a multi-faith panel in the Hughes-Trigg Theater Tuesday night as part of the Veritas Forum, a two day event that will conclude today at 7 p.m. when Dr. Os Guinness will give his keynote address in the Hughes-Trigg Theater.

Five representatives from five different religions gathered to discuss their concept of God and to answer questions posed by students about their respective faiths.

“This is an opportunity to start a conversation,” graduate student Daniel Liu said while beginning the discussion.

Rabbi Howard Wolk of Jewish Family Services, Dr. James Denison of Park Cities Baptist Church, Imam Zia-ul-Haq Shaikh of the Islamic Center of Irving, Pandit Mahendra Persad of the North Texas Hindu Mandir and Eddie Mowrer of Dallas-Soka Gakkai (Nichiren Buddhism) joined in the conversation. Robert Hunt of the SMU Perkins School of Theology moderated the panel.

Each panelist began by answering the four questions on the concept of God. A question-and-answer session began after the last panelist answered the questions.

Imam Zia-ul-Haq

Shaikh discussed the Islamic viewpoint of humanity saying Muslims believe that Adam was the first human being. Humans, he said, have been given free will and they have the choice to obey God’s will or disobey God.

Shaikh acknowledged that humans are weak and said Muslims try to live their lives in accordance with the teachings of God.

“We are supposed to be worshiping all the time,” he said.

Muslims interpret God in a strict monotheistic sense, according to Shaikh. The Christian notion of the Trinity-God the father, God the son and the Holy Ghost-goes against their teaching because it is saying God is deficient and cannot work alone, Shaikh said.

God is also “not comparable to anything,” he said, elaborating that Muslims cannot give God a type or form. While God has no specific form, Shaikh said God has 99 qualities that are used to describe him in the Quran, and in fact, Muslims worship the same god that Christians and Jews worship.

To understand God, Shaikh said Muslims believe that one must first understand the greatness of the universe because it is impossible to fully comprehend God.

Knowing God puts ease and comfort in your life, Shaikh said.

Rabbi Howard Wolk

According to Wolk, God is a creator. When he created Adam and Eve, Wolk said God was demonstrating the preciousness of human life.

Wolk said the main tenets of Judaism hold that each individual has a soul. In traditional Jewish teachings, Wolk said angels are held as spiritual beings while animals are held as earthly beings. Only humans, Wolk said, combine both the body and soul.

God is also a lawgiver, according to Wolk, and his laws are immutable.

“God speaks to us through the orderliness of nature,” he said. “God wants us to be intimately involved with his world.”

Wolk said each person has the ability to form a one to one relationship with the Almighty through prayer, meditation and accountability. Wolk also said that Jews believe that God speaks to us through the Torah, or the first five books of the Old Testament.

Free will is also accepted in the Jewish faith, Wolk said, and it is up to each person to make his or her decisions.

Pandit Mahendra Persad

For Hindus, the human condition “is a rewarded state,” Persad said because humans have the special potential to become one with God.

“We are a part of the whole,” he said. “The whole creation is an expression of God.”

Persad said the single greatest thing in Hinduism is that people have the potential to realize God. Persad equated this with a drop of water traveling back to the ocean from where it came.

“We can have an idea of what God is,” he said.

Persad said that Hindus worship one god in many forms and that God took each form for a different purpose. To know God, Hindus believe in three things: devotion, karma and knowledge. Persad said Hindus realize God through meditation.

He further commented that other religions can help a person reach God but at some point in time, a personal effort to communicate with God is required.

Dr. James Denison

Denison opened by saying God created us and that he loves us.

Humans, he said, are alienated from God, but that each of us can have a personal and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Denison said God has chosen to initiate the relationship by offering his son to die to pay for our debts.

He acknowledged that this view “seems intolerant and narrow,” but said Christian logic is that everyone has the opportunity to know God. He elaborated that many cancer patients receive only one method of chemotherapy to treat their cancer and that they do not question if there are other methods. This, he said, was the same as having a relationship with God.

Eddie Mowrer

Mowrer said Buddhists have a different concept of God. Instead of God, there is an awakening, he said. Buddhists strive to realize extreme happiness, he said.

What role can women play in religion?

Each panelist noted women have an active role in their respective faiths. Mowrer said there is no difference between men and women in Buddhism.

“Women are wonderful,” he said.

For Christians, Denison said women can do everything a man can do.

“Women are as called, as gifted, as used as men,” he said.

Women have the ability to be saints as well as priests in Hinduism, Persad said, but it is not very common to see a woman priest.

Jewish women have the same opportunities for education and leadership as men, Wolk said, except in some Orthodox traditions where they cannot serve as a Rabbi.

Shaikh said that Islam teaches that “we are all equal,” but that men and women have different responsibilities. In Islam, women cannot be prayer leaders, although they can teach religion.

How do Islam and Judaism regard Jesus and the Christian belief that he is the Son of God?

Shaikh said Muslims believe that Jesus was a messenger of God and they believe he will return. He also said that Muslims believe that Jesus is a son of God, in the way that “we are all children of God,” but they do not believe he is the same as God.

Likewise, Wolk said Jews also accept that Jesus is a child of God as Muslims do. Wolk said Judaism accepts the positive aspects of his teachings, but that he is not viewed as a prophet.

How can a person have free will if they are not in control of their conscious mind, such as a person who is mentally disabled?

Mowrer said Buddhists believe in karma and that everybody still has the potential to change your karma.

For Christians, Denison said sometimes nature couldn’t be explained.

“God’s grace redeems all that God allows,” he said.

Wolk echoed Denison saying, “We don’t always know why things happen.”

Persad acknowledged that Hindus believe in reincarnation, which is affected by actions in a previous life.

Sheikh said Muslims believe there are three groups who are not held accountable for their actions: the mentally incapable, children who have yet to reach puberty and people who are asleep when the action occurs.

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