Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Arts & Culture U.S. Jews, Muslims and Christians Clear the Air on New Television Show

November 15, 2006
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A rabbi, a priest and an imam walk onto a set at a Muslim television station to film the rabbi’s show — and it’s not a joke. It’s the platform for a new talk show being aired on the American Muslim television network, Bridges. The show, “Building Bridges: Abrahamic Perspectives on the World Today,” provides a platform for American Jews, Muslims and Christians to clear the air on many of today’s burning topics.

Each week for the next 18 weeks, show creator Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, vice president of CLAL The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, will sit down with a Muslim and a Christian religious leader to discuss topics ranging from God in the American public sphere to abortion to Jerusalem.

“At a time when religion is killing more people than at any time since the Crusades, this show is a ‘McLaughlin Group’ with God,” Hirschfield said, referring to the political talk show.

Primarily, it’s an opportunity to clear the air about what each of the three Abrahamic religions feels.

Hirschfield is a constant on the show, along with moderator Ahmed Soliman, who is an anchor on Bridges TV News.

Imams from a variety of ethnic backgrounds will appear on the show, along with a diverse number of Christian clergy.

The Rev. Francis Mazur, ecumenical officer for the Roman Catholic Diocese in Buffalo, is a regular guest who also does on-the-spot interviews.

“I think it’s valuable to have this kind of show for both Muslims and non-Muslims,” Mazur told JTA. “There are general misconceptions that exist in a lot of people’s minds about who represents Islam and what the Koran teaches. People are given a distorted vision of Islam from extremist groups that all Muslims are terrorists. This can put that to rest.”

“In a world of absolutisms that seem to come from extremists in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the question is, can we get past the absolutes to the nuance and to the richness and sophistication in all of our traditions?” Hirschfield said, explaining what “Building Bridges” is about.

Viewers may be surprised to find out how similar Judaism and Islam are when it comes to points such as abortion, he added, and how different they are from Christianity.

Mo Hassan and his wife, Aasyia Zubair, started Bridges Television in 2001 in response to what they considered prevalent anti-Muslim rhetoric on AM radio. There are other Muslim networks aired via satellite and cable television, but Bridges is the first such network in English.

The network, which Zubair said reaches 2 million homes, is “not liberal or conservative. It’s lifestyles television. Some American Muslims are very conservative, while some are very liberal. We just feel that we are showing what American Muslims are and the way we live.”

The show, which airs Monday and Friday at 9:30 p.m., is sandwiched between a news program and a show called “Women of Courage,” which profiles Muslim and non-Muslim women, according to Zubair, who is the network’s program director.

Hirschfield was allowed to pursue any topic he wanted without interference.

There were some tense moments during filming, Hirschfield said. But ultimately the show wasn’t about finding a place where the religions can agree on everything, he said; it’s about understanding that even when they don’t agree, they can each respect each other’s positions.

People need to “figure out how to maintain separate commitments to the traditions we love most and to the things we love most, while remaining genuinely open to people who follow different traditions and believe different things,” Hirschfield said. “If our ability to be open is destroyed, then we are in big trouble.”

Recommended from JTA