Continued from page 3

“A few days into it, I remember thinking that I had huge respect for a billion people in the world who do this,” he recalled. “It was the first time I had not drunk anything from dawn to dusk.”

He kept e-mail contact with two Muslim friends during those four weeks, “which certainly enriched our friendship,” he said. “For Christians who are interested in building interfaith relationships, this would be a wonderful step.

“What many Muslims feel about many Christians is a lack of piety and self-discipline,” he noted. “When we want to build a bridge, we have to show some good faith.”

Seminary courses

Sometimes evangelicals and Muslims come together for a common cause, as happened in September when about 3,000 Muslims showed up on the Mall just west of the Capitol for a Friday afternoon prayer rally. While most evangelical outlets disparaged or ignored the gathering, the National Clergy Council, the Richmond-based Hillside Missions and the Christian Defense Coalition teamed up for a news conference to celebrate it.

“Our whole purpose,” said Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, “was to say Christians are not the enemies of Muslims and that the heart of Christ reaches out to all groups. We also want to celebrate the wonderful traditions of America that say no one — regardless of their faith — should be persecuted and harassed by the government.”

Numerous Christian groups were invited to participate in the news conference, he added, but none came.

“People make the mistake of thinking interfaith outreach is going to the lowest common denominator,” said Kristopher Keating of Hillside Missions, “but it’s every person freely worshipping God according to their own traditions.”

One of the clergy at the FaithHouse gathering, Rabbi Justus Baird, directs Auburn Theological Seminary’s Center for Multifaith Education. He said work with other religions needs to begin at the seminary level, where would-be clergy would be trained on how to interact with members of other faiths. Although some seminaries have put up barriers because of the extra course load, a number of them offer courses in other religions, according to a survey of 150 seminaries completed last fall.

The survey, conducted by Auburn Seminary, found that 49 percent of the surveyed schools offered five or more courses while 29 percent offered two or fewer. Islam and Judaism were the most studied religions. The leading institution, Luther Seminary in Minnesota, offered 43 courses.

Course titles ranged from “God and the New York Times” offered by Wake Forest University Divinity School in Winston Salem, N.C., to “American Buddhisms: An Experiential Introduction” offered by Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.

“The narrative that America is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world,” Mr. Baird said, “is taking hold.”