CAMBRIDGE — The story of the Daughters of Abraham begins with Edie Howe.
The organization is an interfaith book group made up of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women in Massachusetts and a handful of other states. About 80 members gathered at the First Church in Cambridge, Congregational on Sunday to celebrate the group’s growth since Howe founded the organization more than 10 years ago.
Howe’s daughter-in-law, Jenny Peace, recounted to the assembly on Sunday how the Daughters came to be. Howe, she said, sat in the First Church on Sept. 11, 2001, when the doors were opened to people of all faiths on the day terrorists attacked New York City, the Pentagon, and a third aircraft, forced into the ground in Pennsylvania by passengers.
A Christian, Howe was seated by a Muslim woman and a Jewish woman, Peace said.
The months that followed the terror attacks would be rife with religious discord — but in that moment, Peace recalled, Howe identified a simple problem: She had little to no understanding about the two women seated beside her.
“She had no idea how to really connect or what to say,” Peace said of her mother-in-law who died in 2008.
And thus, the Daughters of Abraham were born.
More than a decade after Howe oversaw the first meetings of the book group in Cambridge, her vision lives on in the 14 chapters in Massachusetts, and a number of others across North America .
The purpose of the book group is to help women of different faiths better understand each other’s beliefs. Members read religion-themed books, poetry, or articles and meet monthly for discussion.
Among the titles on their list are “Mere Christianity,” “The Road to Mecca,” and “Hasidism and Modern Man.”
The organization is named for Abraham, who is viewed as a founding father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by members of each of those faiths.
Several Daughters of Abraham said the book club has helped them handle religious stereotyping. Saadia Husain Baloch, 45, of Newton, said joining Daughters of Abraham forced her to study her own Islamic faith. “I had to learn more about Islam so I could knowledgeably discuss it with people who are not Muslims [and] people who are Muslims.”
Some Daughters of Abraham say using books as a platform for religious discussion helps to keep their conversations focused around a topic everyone can relate to. Anne Minton, 71, of Lowell, said the text also helps create emotional distance, so that participants can begin by speaking about characters in a book or poem, not necessarily each other.
Minton was part of the Daughters of Abraham group in Cambridge that met for the first time in September 2002.
“I’m never now in a situation where I would think, well how would a Jewish person hear this or how would a Muslim person hear this,” Minton said.