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Faithful build bridges with books

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"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 East.

"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. The quotes are so similar you can't tell where they come from without looking them up in the back."

From Islamic poetry, to a mystery involving the ritual baths of Jewish tradition, to C.S. Lewis's exploration of good and evil in "The Screwtape Letters," the varied choices spur conversation on the commonalities and differences in beliefs and practices. And sometimes they reveal surprising similarities.

Sepi Gilani, a Muslim physician and mother who is a member of one of two spinoff book clubs (a third is planned for next year), says that "Lying Awake," a novel about an American nun in Los Angeles, resonated for her. The nun's devotional experiences reminded her of her grandmother in Iran, who after her husband's death, spent her time focused on prayer, reading, and worship. But it also rang a bell with her own life in the United States.

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