"We want to recognize those who are dedicated to making a difference by teaching acceptance of the other," said Borowsky before a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim community activists and students during an event marking the 55th annual National Day of Prayer. Similar events took place all over the country on May 4, including one at the White House; Philadelphia's was held at the National Liberty Museum in Old City.
"We are really not that different from each other, especially the children of Abraham," Borowsky, the museum's founder, told the more than 100 people in attendance.
Borowsky said that the prizes would come in the amount of $25,000, but did not provide further details in his short speech. A spokesperson for the museum said she could not provide more information on the fund, including who would be eligible for the awards or how the selection process would work.
'Dialogue Is a Gift'
But Borowsky's appearance was just the conclusion of the "Three Faiths, One God: Practicing Dialogue" event, which was organized by the Philadelphia Dialogue Forum. Founded in 2003 by members of the area's Turkish community, the group aims to encourage inter-religious discourse between Muslims and non-Muslims. A Turkish buffet dinner followed the affair.
"Dialogue is a gift to each other," said Mehmet Dundar, president of the dialogue forum.
The National Day of Prayer was established by a joint resolution of Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman in 1952; it's celebrated the first Thursday in May.
In addition to offering music drawn from various spiritual traditions, including a cantor who sang a medley of Hebrew peace songs, the Liberty Museum event featured three speakers: a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim, each of whom spoke about his or her faith tradition.
Zedi Saritoprak, an Islamic scholar at John Carroll University in Cleveland, argued that the Koran encourages Muslims to respect Jews and Christians.
"The Koran praises people of the book for their good deeds and their faith in God," said Saritoprak. Although Islam's holy text occasionally criticizes the religious practices of Jews and Christians, he went on, it does so only from a position of friendship and not scorn.
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, a faculty member at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, said that various faith communities should work together on public-policy issues, such as improving health care.
Ingrid Shaffer, an Austrian-born Catholic who teaches religion and human relations at the University of Oklahoma, discussed how coming to grips with the legacy of the Holocaust had shaped her worldview and religious outlook.
"I can do nothing about the past, but maybe, maybe, I can do something about the future," said Shaffer, who filled in at the last minute for a Temple University professor who fell ill. "That is one of the purposes of my life."
During the question-and-answer session that followed, an audience member suggested that people would be better off if they gave up organized religion and embraced rationalism.
Fuchs-Kreimer pointed out that the exact same position had been argued by Sam Harris in his book, The End of Faith. She just happens to disagree heartily with Harris' ideas.
"We appear to be God-seekers," she said, adding that people cannot simply toss aside their religious impulses and convictions.
"We are seeking a just and loving God – not a violent one," she stated. "We can't give up."