Laughter rings out in the salmon-colored living room of the
parsonage at First Church in Cambridge, Mass. More than a dozen
women - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim - are sharing insights
garnered from "Gilead," a 2004 novel about the faith and struggles
of a Christian minister in Iowa.
The easy camaraderie as they discuss their distinctive approaches
to prayer reflects three years of monthly meetings of the Daughters
of Abraham, as they call themselves. The book club has explored the
realms of the three monotheistic faiths - and blossomed into
comfortable relationships that reach into each other's daily lives.
"My hope was we'd come to know and respect the other two faiths
while deepening our commitment to our own," says the Rev. Anne
Minton, a retired college teacher and Episcopal priest. "What I
didn't anticipate was the deepening of relationships in the group."
In fact, 10 of the 18 members traveled together to Spain last
January, where they explored sites of the medieval golden age of
Muslim-Christian-Jewish coexistence, which spawned an intellectual
flowering. They are planning a trip to Jerusalem next May.
The club's origin, however, lies in the immediate anguish of
Sept. 11, 2001. That night, an interfaith service hastily called by
the minister at First Church (United Church of Christ) packed the
"The service was powerful and people were crying; there were
women in head scarves sitting next to me," recalls club founder Edie
Howe. "I had this strong thought of how we were all the children of
Abraham, and how unnecessary and tragic it was. I thought, 'What can
I do about this?'"
Her answer was to start the women's book club as a first step
toward improving understanding. To ensure a joint commitment, she
sought out Jews and Muslims who might share her interest and held
planning discussions. A group of 18 met for the first time in
September 2002 and has been meeting ever since. Though expectations
vary, all share an interest in how other faiths are expressed in
"I wanted the benefit of how to guide my reading on this," says
Rona Fischman, a real estate agent active in a local synagogue. "In
light of what's going on in the world, it just wasn't acceptable for
me to be ignorant of Islam. It's not acceptable for Muslims to have
little idea of what Jews are about. Or for Christians, either."
Keeping a booklist, they vote on priorities and read a book a
month, alternating among the three religions. Tastes range across
novels, history, poetry, memoirs, and religious philosophy. During
their summer hiatus in 2004 - after the group had developed a level
of trust - they read books on the history and politics of the Middle
"The Crusades Through Arab Eyes," was particularly informative,
says Ms. Fischman, because of its non-Western vantage point.
"One book that really struck me was 'The Rock,' a historical
novel by Iraqi author Kanan Makiya about the building of the Dome of
the Rock in Jerusalem," says Ms. Minton. "The book quotes
extensively from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sacred texts but
doesn't give you the footnote on the page. …