ReNewing a Book for Rosh Hashanah: "The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope & Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims"

In 2004, as religious animosities worsened around the globe, I joined with Sister Joan Chittister, a world-renowned Benedictine nun, and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti (Neil Douglas-Klotz), a Muslim Sufi who has written a remarkable series of books on Aramaic, Gnostic, and Sufi spirituality --


You can order the book and get a 20% discount from the regular price by going to --   and inserting the word "tent" (with no quote marks) when it asks for a code.

We sent the manuscript to Karen Armstrong. She was so excited by the book that she wrote a Preface for it.

It was (June 2006) published by Beacon Press and won an enthusiastic "Starred Review" from the Library Journal. That review and others are below.

As we once again approach Rosh Hashanah and prepare to read once again the troubling stories of the expulsion of Hagar & Ishmael from Abraham's family and Abraham's binding of Isaac for an offering to  God, we might see this book as a spur to deeper spiritual reflection on these stories.

The review just below appeared on the Web in August 2006. As you'll see at the end of the review, it especially praises the "fascinating" last chapter of the book, "Why Hagar Left." It does not mention that this chapter, and an essay on "How to Pitch the Tent" –- suggested approaches for how to bring together an interfaith gathering in depth, connecting in all Four Worlds -- are by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.

 Review by Carl McColman

Given the insanity currently going on in southern Lebanon (not to mention similar, underreported violence in Gaza), this book could not be more timely.

Three American authors — a Benedictine nun, a rabbi, and a Sufi — joined forces to write this hopeful book which teases out the story of Abraham, his two sons and their mothers, in an effort to look at how the disparate cultures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam can somehow come together in our day to foster real peace in the middle east (and beyond).

The book is a celebration of story and hermeneutic as much as it is a call for peace, as it teases out the many layers of meaning in the Abraham story (as well as considering how the story has been told and retold in different ways within the different faith communities).

The authors begin by simply retelling the story, each from the perspective of his or her faith tradition. Naturally, the Jewish tradition focusses on Sarah and Isaac, while the Arab/Muslim tradition prefers the perspective of Hagar and Ishmael. The authors not only consider the canonical stories as found in Genesis and the Quran, but also look at midrash, folklore, and commentary as it has enlarged our understanding of the story down the ages.

Thus, the terror of Abraham, who essentially turns out to be a threat to the life of both his sons, is faced honestly; much is made of the scriptural tradition that the two sons came together after the father's death to bury him — and then to settle down together.

At its heart, this book simply asks Rodney King's question: why can't we all just get along? If Isaac and Ishmael are brothers, and if whatever enmity that existed between them was more their parent's doing (and was put aside at the time of the father's death), then shouldn't that be the blueprint for creating a world where Jews, Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully and with honor and respect for one another?

While the book with its American authorship and liberal publisher may suffer the fate of reaching (and preaching) only to the choir, its message remains powerful in its simplicity and deserving of as wide a readership as it can possibly find.

Each author brings a wonderfully unique perspective.

Rabbi Waskow goes right after the hard questions as he deconstructs the story's layers of terror — but always with an eye to finding a hope which transcends the traditional ways in which Abraham has been used as a focus of tribal (rather than global) identity.

Sister Chittister situates her understanding of the story within her life experience as a peacemaker who has worked extensively with both Israeli and Palestinian women.

Finally, Chishti (who may be more familiar to some readers by his Anglo name Neil Douglas-Klotz) brings a Sufi's mystical sensibility to the story, considering how each of the five principle characters live within all of us as dimensions of our individual souls.

Rounding out the book is a brief section of essays considering ways to foster peace: through creating interfaith forums where we may greet our long lost "cousins" and hopefully build relationships, along with suggestions for shared holidays, particularly this year and in 2007 when the sacred months of Ramadan and Tishrei coincide.

The final chapter may be the most explosive. It's a retelling of the story of the circumstances by which Hagar and Ishmael left Abraham, told from the perspective of the women (both Hagar and Sarah) and suggesting that the enmity between the women as reported in the old stories may have been fabricated by the women themselves in an effort to protect the children from Abraham's misguided zeal.

Could the story of Hagar's and Ishmael's banishment actually be history's most long-standing cover-up? In exploring this question, what emerges is a fascinating new telling of the tale, with polyamorous overtones even as it challenges the dangers of religious fanaticism.

If you have any concern for peace (particularly in the middle east) or for interfaith work (particularly among the three Abrahamic faiths), The Tent of Abraham is a must-read. But as soon as you're done with it, give it away or loan it out. It needs to reach as many people as possible.


The Library Journal said:

"The Palestinian/Israeli conflict has elicited many books exhorting political and religious peace in the Middle East, but none has appealed to individual minds and hearts quite like this one. …

"[The authors] use Abraham's tent, which opens in four directions, as a symbol of an all-inclusive approach to religion. … Delicate in telling but bold in message, this book encourages every reader to take an inner pilgrimage to understand better others' viewpoints, pointedly asking, "Have the families of all the earth been blessed by the behavior of the family of Abraham?" For all libraries and readers."

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism; Rev. Bob Edgar, head of the National Council of Churches; and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, head of the Islamic Society of North America, each wrote strong supporting comments for the back cover. (Below you can read their comments and those of Claire Gorfinkel, writing for a West Coast Jewish paper.)

Though the Library Journal focused on how the book addresses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the three of us actually had in mind a broader concern: creating a way to deepen Muslim/Christian/Jewish understanding

In recent years there has been an explosion of curiosity and debate about Islam and about the role of religion. The numerous books published on these questions speak to issues of politics, history, or global security. None speaks to the heart and the spirit, and yet millions of people experience these issues not as political, economic, or intellectual questions but as questions of deep spiritual, emotional, and religious significance.

The Tent of Abraham provides readers with stories that can bring all the faiths together in spiritually rooted conversation. The book explores in accessible language the mythic quality and the teachings of reconciliation that are embedded in the Torah, the Qur'an, and the later traditions.

It can be used next fall during the confluence of holy days -- Ramadan, the High Holy Days, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, Worldwide Communion Sunday – for shared multireligious study and reading.

It can be used throughout the year in adult and teen study groups in synagogues, churches, and mosques. One essay called "How to Pitch the Tent" can be used to bring together your own group of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to share prayer, life-journeys, and action.

These are excerpts from Claire Gorfinkel's review, which called The Tent of Abraham "extraordinary."

"Starting from the Hebrew Bible [“Old Testament”] account of Abraham’s origins, his rejection of his father’s idol worship, his relationships with Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac, the three authors offer us a series of stories and teachings that are simultaneously –

• personal: about themselves and challenging us as individuals;

• spiritual: about God, issues of faith and the parallels among the core texts of the three traditions;

• and political: from welcoming the stranger to challenging the materialism of the dominant culture to valuing the natural environment to seeking a just peace in the Middle East.

"These are “Stories of Hope and Peace.” They are stories about the authors’ personal struggles but they are also stories about the value of stories themselves and about the ways that by re-telling our stories – and listening to others’ – we can glean new meanings from them. They help us see how we can change our lives and the world around us.

"This book is wonderfully accessible and at the same time deep. Most of the essays are only a few pages. One can read them in sequence or randomly and many are worth re-reading several times.

"Like the best family stories, we get to hear some of them told more than once, and thanks to the authors’ different perspectives, experiences and faith traditions, we get to see our own stories in a surprising new light."

Review by Rabbi Elliot Dorff: “We have seen all too much evidence of how the three Western faiths can be used to foment hatred and bloodshed. People really must read this book, for the choice of interpreting our three faiths as the grounds for war or for peace is nothing less than a choice between life and death.”

Review by Rev. Bob Edgar: "The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah, open on all sides, and a tent of welcome to the ‘other,’ is an image critical to our fractured time. The stories of our common ancestors told in this book with such creative imagination inspire all of us to build community across the walls that normally divide us. The process that the authors have engaged in, to listen to the old stories with new ears, provides us new handles to engage with others. This book is an inspiration for those who engage in such an exciting journey."

Review by Dr. Sayyid Syeed: “When we share our spiritual journeys, even when the stories of our lives are different from each other, we often find their source in the Compassionate One who calls on us to be compassionate. So it is when we share the stories of our great family, the Family of Abraham, peace be upon him. This book shares our different stories in ways that beckon us toward peace and toward the One.”


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