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Upcoming Books by ICJS Scholars

Two of our ICJS scholars, Protestant Scholar Matthew D. Taylor and Jewish Scholar Benjamin Sax, have books that will be published in the coming months.

Matt’s book, Scripture People: Salafi Muslims in Evangelical Christians’ America, will be published by Cambridge University Press in August. In this work, Matt explores the experiences of the Salafi community in America after 9/11 through a comparison with American Evangelicals. He finds a striking similarity in how they approach their respective scriptures, the Qur’an for Salafis and the Bible for Evangelicals. Matt goes into quite a bit of his own history growing up Evangelical and finding a kind of kindred spirit in the Salafi Muslims he meets. You can order a copy when it becomes available here.

Ben’s book, Winged Words: Benjamin, Rosenzweig, and the Life of Quotation, will be published by Brill Press in September. This book, part of Brill’s Jewish Thought and Philosophy series, examines a unique philosophical obsession of German-Jewish intellectuals during the Weimar Republic that focused on how quotation and abstract thought could inspire new ways into how people experienced Jewish tradition and culture. You can order a copy when it becomes available here.

LESSON PLAN: Introduction to the Abrahamic Religions

Creating connections through storytelling

Stories have the power to create connections, build community, and catalyze change.

This insight inspired a dozen members of the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship to gather at a retreat center on a recent Sunday afternoon to learn the art of storytelling, and to tell stories of their own.

“When we are willing to pull up our own stories from inside and to give of them and share, we create connection; we create change,” said workshop co-leader Hannah Hasan, who teaches the art of storytelling with her sister Shardae through their platform, Epoch Tribe. “We build bonds of understanding. We make this world a much better place.”

Storytelling lies at the heart of what happens in the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship, said program director Alisha Tatem. “Stories are used to communicate our religious identities and the values espoused by each of our religions. Throughout the Fellowship, cohort members shared with one another the stories that animate their religious identities and perspectives around hospitality and how to care for our neighbors. We also used our personal stories as a group to engage difficult topics like gun violence, prayer in schools, and reproductive rights, etc.” 

As part of the workshop, Fellows shared their stories at an evening session that was broadcast over Zoom, so their congregations could watch. They chose to speak on a moment of  inspiration, a time they felt helpless, or an issue where they felt called to act.

Tala Drammeh, a member of the Muslim Community Cultural Center in Baltimore, said he was deeply inspired by a speech given by actor and director Tyler Perry who recalled helping an elderly man at a busy intersection who was asking for someone to help him cross.

“This moment reminded Perry  of how he would bring his mother out of pain, into laughter, and that he would help her cross,” Drammeh said. “So now every day at 3:00 PM, I receive a reminder on my phone stating, ‘Help someone cross.’ So every day, this reminds me of my ‘why,’ which has opened many doors of my ‘what.’” 

And what is his “what?”

“My ‘what’ is entering spaces with individuals from different faith, racial and ethnic backgrounds and working together to help others cross,” he said. “And as we do this, we foster communities of religious dialogue and spaces of belonging.”

Jane Ambrose, a member of St. Ignatius Catholic Community in Baltimore, spoke about her feeling of helplessness after being carjacked at gunpoint. Her car was soon recovered, but she lost something more enduring: her feeling of fearlessness that she had when she walked on the street. “Almost for two and years now, I still look over my shoulder, no matter what city or what place I am in,” she said. 

She says she feels conflicted between the injustices she sees committed against people in the courts and prisons, and her own desire for justice in her case, in which a teenager received a 7- to 10-year prison sentence for the crime: “I keep thinking, what is this young man going be like when he comes back after seven-to-10 years? And at the same time, I keep wondering if there will ever come a time where I will feel safe.”

Krista Wallace of Faith Presbyterian Church in Baltimore spoke of the pain of living in Baltimore amid the scourge of gun violence. “In the past few years, I’ve had three friends that I’ve known shot and killed, for seemingly no reason. It’s left me feeling angry. and sad, and helpless,” she said.

But she sees reason for hope.

“In the ICJS community, it feels like there’s a candle that’s lit in that dark hallway. We’re creating a community. We’re creating that power grid to reach across,” she said. “And it’s gonna take a long time. We have a long way to go. But it does give me a little bit of hope that together we can try to make a difference.”


A Groundbreaking Experience for Muslim & Christian Emerging Religious Leaders

Over five days of mutual learning, challenging discussion, and blossoming friendships, a group of more than two dozen emerging Muslim and Christian religious leaders recently engaged in an innovative intensive course in interreligious dialogue.

The Emerging Religious Leaders (ERL) course, held in early June on the campus of Virginia Theological Seminary, is a groundbreaking program for Muslim and Christian students in the U.S. Sponsored by the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS), it was co-directed by two ICJS faculty, Protestant Scholar Matthew D. Taylor and Muslim Scholar Zeyneb Sayilgan. 

ICJS partnered with the Washington Theological Consortium and five Muslim-training institutions to create the five-day course, an expansion of a similar program for Christian and Jewish students offered since 2012. 

A number of students, both Muslim and Christian, described the experience as transformational.

“ERL was a unique, life-giving experience,” said Ed Crump, a student at Wesley Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. ”It was an opportunity to develop real relationships with other religious leaders in both the Muslim and Christian traditions. I will leave the experience a more complete Christian who has a deeper love and appreciation for my Muslim family.”

The program was structured to encourage honest, open, and at times, difficult conversations between Muslim and Christian students. In one session, Christian students explained to their Muslim counterparts their understanding of the Apostles’ Creed, a core statement of faith shared by nearly all Christians, including its statement of faith in triune God: one God in three persons. Muslim respondents challenged the Christian students  to reconcile this doctrine with the Islamic belief in the one, true God. The discussion was deep and spirited. Then the Muslim students explained to their Christian counterparts the Hadith Jibril, a central early statement of Islamic faith and practice, followed by questions from the Christian students.

For Naseer Muhammad, a Muslim student at Tayseer Seminary, this kind of unvarnished dialogue made the experience all the more meaningful. “Often the nature of interfaith dialogue lacks a certain authenticity and eye for actually attempting to address more contentious differences between faith traditions, instead focusing far too much on similarities,” he said. “ERL goes out of its way to foster an environment that tackles very real differences between faiths in meaningful ways with a gaze towards actionable change in our faith communities.”

Other participants pointed to the power of meeting students of other faiths.

“My experience in this ERL Muslim/Christian intensive was revelatory,” said Kevin Compton of  United Lutheran Seminary.The information was deep and compelling. The class experiences interacting with Muslim students and people from other Christian denominations was challenging, but always expanding both mentally and spiritually. ”

The social and intellectual interaction was also a high point for Eamaan Rabbat, an instructor at Rabata, an organization providing traditional Islamic education for women by women. “ERL has been a very positive and eye-opening experience.” she said. “I witnessed and participated in some intense conversations and growth. It is a wonderful opportunity to begin some very important and sorely needed conversations. I see the ERL as a starting point for more interreligious work and progress in the future.”

In addition to lectures and structured discussions, ERL participants attended a Christian worship service near the Virginia Theological Seminary campus and t visited the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center mosque for Friday prayer. 

The Muslim students come from seminaries across the country: Boston Islamic Seminary; Madina Institute, Atlanta; Mishkah University, Houston.; Rabata, Twin Cities area, MN.; and Tayseer Seminary, Knoxville, TN.

Christian seminarians participating in the program are from Mid-Atlantic institutions, including: Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA; Wesley Theological Seminary, Howard University School of Divinity, and Catholic University of America, all in Washington, D.C.; and United Lutheran Seminary, with campuses in Gettysburg and Philadelphia. 

Announcing Inaugural Interreligious Dialogue Course for Emerging Muslim & Christian Religious Leaders

BALTIMORE—The Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS), in partnership with the Washington Theological Consortium, is hosting a one-week intensive course in Muslim-Christian dialogue for emerging Muslim religious leaders from around the United States and Christian seminarians from the Mid-Atlantic. 

The Emerging Religious Leaders course, to be held from June 1-5 on the campus of Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va., is an expansion of a successful program ICJS and the Consortium have offered since 2012 for Christian seminarians and Jewish rabbinical students, and the first of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

The course will focus on providing the Muslim and Christian students with the opportunity and the tools they need to engage in fruitful interreligious dialogue.

“I think it’s safe to say that most Christian seminarians go through their years of training without having the opportunity to interact intellectually with Islam or meaningfully encountering their Muslim peers,” said Zeyneb Sayilgan, Ph.D., ICJS Muslim Scholar and a co-leader of the ERL  program. “Similarly, while there are a growing number of training programs and higher educational institutions emerging to train the next generation of imams and chaplains, these future Muslim leaders have few opportunities to learn alongside and with Christians during their formation.”

Matthew D. Taylor, Ph.D., ICJS Protestant  Scholar and a co-leader of the ERL program, noted that many programs facilitating Jewish-Christian dialogue have been developed over the past few decades. But there are fewer opportunities for Muslim-Christian dialogue. “The infrastructure for Muslim-Christian engagement and exchange in the U.S.  is still being built. This course aims to help construct a crucial piece of that  needed infrastructure: networking and dialogue skills for religious leaders in training,” he said. 

Through this interreligious experience, participants will gain knowledge about another religious tradition, learn skills in engaging in interreligious dialogue and inquiry, and develop a relational network through which they can continue to pursue dialogue and interfaith learning. The course will include lecture and discussion, observing each others’ worship services, and field visits to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center mosque in Sterling, Va., and the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. In addition, America’s Islamic Heritage Museum in Washington, D.C. will have its travel exhibit on site and museum director Amir Muhammad will engage students in a learning session on the early presence of Muslims in America.

The Muslim students come from seminaries across the country:  Boston Islamic Seminary; Madina Institute, Atlanta; Mishkah University, Houston.; Rabata, Twin Cities area, Minn.; and Tayseer Seminary, Knoxville, Tenn.

Christian seminarians participating in the program attend Virginia Theological Seminary, Wesley Theological Seminary, United Lutheran Seminary, Howard University School of Divinity, and Catholic University of America. 


John Rivera, Communications & Marketing Director
Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS)
O (410) 494-7161 ext 202; C (443) 604-2918



The Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS) works to dismantle religious bias and bigotry to foster an interreligious society in which dialogue replaces division, friendship overcomes fear, and education eradicates ignorance. Through courses, fellowships, online events, and scholarship initiatives, ICJS builds learning communities where religious difference becomes a powerful force for good. ICJS is an independent 501c3 nonprofit organization. More information is at 

The Washington Theological Consortium is a community of theological schools of diverse Christian traditions—with partners in education, spirituality and interfaith dialogue—that supports ecumenical unity and interfaith understanding. Learn more at

Statement on the Mass Shooting in Buffalo

The Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS) mourns the lives of our brothers and sisters who were murdered in Buffalo, New York. ICJS strongly condemns the racism and bigotry behind this hate crime, and we stand in solidarity with Black communities who are experiencing deep pain, grief, hurt, and fear.

The perpetrator of the Buffalo mass shooting targeted Black shoppers at a neighborhood supermarket indicating he was motivated by the so-called “Great Replacement Theory,” a racist ideology that is unfortunately growing in popularity. “Great Replacement” asserts the superiority of white Christian culture, and is a religiously and racially bigoted worldview grounded in anti-Black, anti-brown, antisemitic, and Islamophobic ideology. The murders in Buffalo echo attacks targeting Jewish worshippers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; Muslims at prayer in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand; Latinos shopping at a Walmart in El Paso; Asian women killed in the Atlanta-area spa shootings; and Black Christians praying at Mother Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. This form of white supremacy is especially pernicious and must be called out when it is espoused on national television by political pundits, used in rhetoric by publicly elected officials, promoted in online spaces, and adopted by religious leaders.

“Great Replacement Theory,” and other expressions of bigotry directed at racial and religious minorities, are a direct threat to building an interreligious society—which is the vision and mission of ICJS.  In these dark hours, we must take time to grieve and accompany those who are grieving. We must remain vigilant, continually calling out these acts of hate and redoubling our efforts to dismantle the bias and bigotry that underlie them. And we cannot lose hope—we must continue to be champions for a multiracial and multireligious democracy. 

Story Corps: Fatimah Fanusie and Faridah Abdul-Tawwab Brown

Fatimah Fanusie and Faridah Abdul-Tawwab Brown

Twin sisters, Fatimah Fanusie (46) and Faridah Abdul-Tawwab Brown (46), share a conversation about their unwavering and unquestioning identity as Muslim African-American women.


Listen to Story Corps recording

Statement on Texas Synagogue Hostage Incident

The Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies (ICJS) gives thanks for the safe release of members of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, who were taken hostage in their synagogue during Shabbat services this weekend. ICJS strongly condemns antisemitism and all acts of religious hatred and violence. Everyone should be able to worship safely and peacefully. 

We are heartened by the stories emerging about the deep interreligious relationships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as the many expressions of solidarity from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders around the country. 

So happy for Rabbi Charlie [Cytron-Walker] and his beautiful family, and that all hostages are safe. Make no mistake that the trauma will continue as it always does… But we will be there for our Jewish neighbors again as they recover,” said Omar Suleiman, founder & president of the Dallas-Fort Worth-based Yaqeen Institute, an Islamic research institute.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we raise our voices against religious bias and bigotry, and do the hard, but essential work of engaging in interreligious dialogue in order to build the interreligious society; we need to be there for our neighbors. ICJS will continue to watch in hope as these interreligious conversations continue in the coming days and weeks.


Heather Miller Rubens, Ph.D.                                                             
Executive Director and Roman Catholic Scholar                               

Irfan Malik
President, Board of Trustees

Deepening Congregational Connections in Times of Crisis

In the midst of a global pandemic, a national reckoning with racism, and increased political and religious polarization, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religious and lay leaders from nine religious communities committed themselves to building interreligious bridges as the inaugural cohort of the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship.

The goal of the year-long fellowship is to build an interreligious network with balanced participation. This cohort included African-American Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and Mainline/Evangelical Protestant congregations. 

“It is our hope that as a result of participation in the Fellowship, both lay and religious leaders have developed the skills and sensibilities to cultivate a culture of interreligious engagement within their congregations and the broader community,” said Dr. Alisha Tatem, the Congregational Leaders Fellowship program director.

The fellowship is grounded with an understanding that in a pluralistic society, religion is an integral factor that shapes our worldview and actions in the world. Congregational leaders play a key role in helping their communities engage religious diversity, combat religious bigotry, and promote religious pluralism through the teachings, practices, and relationships that shape their community. 

“In the times in which we are living, it is of utmost importance that congregations engage in interreligious understanding that leads to a sense of belonging for all people,” Tatem said.

The Congregational Leaders Fellowship participants include one clergy member and two lay leaders from each congregation. This past year, there were 26 leaders participating from nine congregations: two Muslim, four Jewish and three Christian. They met virtually at least monthly for study sessions led by ICJS scholars, as well as readings, discussions and skill-building workshops related to the program theme of “Exploration of Human Dignity, Flourishing and Belonging in Abrahamic Faith Traditions.”

The pandemic presented a challenge, Tatem acknowledged, especially given that participants shared deeply and intimately about their faith and spirituality. But any obstacles were overcome through trust, hard work, and good will. Tatem said she was pleasantly surprised at how quickly deep relationships formed. When people got sick, other members of the cohort would check in on them. Many shared life events, both happy and sad. “The offline connections that were made were amazing,” Tatem said. 

The Fellowship year culminated in a series of interreligious events organized by groups of congregations. Members of Beth El Congregation welcomed members of Ames United Methodist Church virtually into their synagogue during a joint Sabbath worship service in November. Ames will in turn host the Jewish congregation in the new year. During the sermon, the Rev. Marlon B. Tilghman of Ames UMC and his assistant pastor sat on a panel with the clergy from Beth El as they posed and answered questions. And during the service, congregants from Ames were able to ask questions as they arose in the Zoom chat, which were answered immediately by a designated member of Beth El.

“It was very educational,” Tilghman said. “Everyone was engaged and learned a lot, and felt it was very rewarding.”

An easing of the pandemic allowed for limited in-person gatherings. This included an event at the Islamic Society of the Washington Area (ISWA), who invited members of College Park United Methodist Church and Chizuk Amuno to help them prepare the mosque’s community garden for winter.

“Our project definitely opened my mind to the possibilities of working together across faiths. My experience with ISWA was so welcoming. I have learned a lot about hospitality from them,” said Rev. Amy Caruso, pastor of College Park United Methodist Church. “Our partnership will continue in the spring when ISWA will help us with our community garden that we are starting.”

Members of the Islamic Society of Northern Baltimore joined with Chevrei Tzedek to cook and serve food to the homeless men, mostly veterans, of The Baltimore Station. 

“It was a powerful event whereby two different faiths came together for the greater good of helping those in need and building much-needed bridges at a time of social and political upheaval,” said Omer Awan, M.D. of the Islamic Society of North Baltimore. “It has created much more mutual understanding and camaraderie between the two congregations.”

Members of St. Matthew Catholic Church and Bolton Street Synagogue got down to some serious dialogue, but through a fun activity: Spiritual Speed Dating. Participants sat facing one another in concentric circles, and within a five-minute time limit traded answers to some probing questions, such as “What do you pray for?” Then the circle shifted for a new question and new partners. Later, they studied texts from the Christian and Jewish traditions on love.  

Many entered as strangers, but left feeling strengthened in the relationship with fellow parishioners and those from a different faith tradition,” said Rabbi Andy Gordon of Bolton Street Synagogue.

Several of the congregations are making plans to meet in the coming months, even though their cohort has formally ended. “This initial event will form the cornerstone of future collaborations,” said Marc Wernick, a lay leader from Bolton Street Synagogue. 

He believes the experience of the Congregational Leaders Fellowship will help his own congregation in the long run. 

“I also think the work the three participants have done as a group will bring a set of skills as Bolton Street Synagogue interacts, not only with the broader communities of faith but also as we explore our voice and participation in the Jewish community,” he said.

For more information on the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship, contact Alisha Tatem, program director,

A Deeper Understanding of the Common Ground

Having studied Comparative Religion as my major in undergraduate studies at George Washington University, I have always had a profound respect and appreciation for all religions, particularly the monotheistic faiths. However, I have never interacted with the other faiths as intimately as I have this last year through ICJS’s Congregational Leaders Fellowship. This experience has had an enormous impact on me as a Muslim, a student of religion, a citizen, an American, and a father.

This fellowship gave me the opportunity to really build bridges and meaningful relationships with fellow Jewish and Christian citizens. Through regular monthly virtual meetings, I got to hear firsthand views on common themes such as dignity, respect, spirituality, the Divine presence, and social justice; and how they fit into the various understandings of different faiths. This dialogue left a permanent imprint on my soul, and fostered a deeper understanding of the common ground that all three monotheistic traditions share with respect to the integrity of the human spirit, with man’s role as vicegerent on this Earth.

These relationships of community, brotherhood, sisterhood, and understanding are so central to develop given all the political, social, and racial turmoil that has plagued America in the last year or so. Through dialogue and mutual understanding, we come to realize the true value of religion, and the common themes of humanity, love, and dignity that permeate all religious traditions. This fellowship could not be more relevant than in the confusing times we find ourselves in.

Specifically, having had the chance to participate in a Jewish congregational activity was very instructive for me as a Muslim. I learned quickly how devoted the congregation was to their love of God. Just by listening and observing, I saw the outpouring of love they all showed to each other and me during the service. This was reminiscent of Islamic services that we offer at our congregation as part of the Islamic Society of Northern Baltimore.

I am also excited to be working with Chevrei Tzedek on a community outreach project serving food to the needy population of veterans at The Baltimore Station. This project has fostered a mutual understanding of love, respect, and community between two different congregations coming together for the sole purpose to serve others, which is such a central and pivotal dimension of all religious traditions. These bonds and ties have been created in the name of this fellowship, and for that, I am forever grateful.

I am most grateful for the relationships and friendships I have created through this fellowship, people I likely would not have ever met otherwise. I text and email with many in this fellowship, and I hope and pray these relationships develop and flourish in the future with many more meaningful collaborations where we can serve others and the communities we live in together. Creating a culture and environment of understanding, friendship, and fraternity is the true essence of this fellowship. Thank you ICJS for a memorable experience that I hope will grow for many years to come!

The ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship is a year long fellowship designed to connect local congregations from within the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith communities and expand their capacity for interreligious engagement and leadership. Throughout the year cohort members will offer reflections on interreligious leadership. Each contributor represents their own views and opinions. We welcome this diversity of perspectives and seek to foster dialogue around the topics presented.

Dr. Omer Awan is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a congregant of the Islamic Society of Northern Baltimore, and a member of the 2021 ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship. Learn more about our Congregational Leaders programs…