On the second anniversary of his son's death, Judea Pearl stands onstage at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, lighting a memorial candle. A larger-than-life image of the beaming Daniel Pearl appears on a screen behind him.

"You lived an extraordinary life, Danny, and you died an extraordinary death," he says, as people in the auditorium listen silently. He talks a little about his son, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in February 2002 by terrorists in Pakistan. He chants a Hebrew prayer in his warm tenor, and then translates: "Age would not slow his growth, and time will not fade his youth." He speaks of his need for "revenge" -- by eradicating the hatred that took his son.

It's a long evening, with panelists discussing Jewish identity -- "I am Jewish" were among Daniel Pearl's final words, captured on the videotape his killers made -- and then a book signing. Through it all, Pearl remains cordial, lively, greeting friends and strangers. He signs copies of I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl for someone's birthday and someone else's grandchild.

Only when the last book has been inscribed and everyone has left does Pearl sag. As though someone had switched off the current, the brightness leaves his face.

A much-honored computer scientist at UCLA, Pearl has been more accustomed to addressing conferences on artificial intelligence. Now he's on a different mission.

"I wasn't born for this," he says. "This strange mixing of tragedy and celebrity and friendship." He looks very tired.

Akbar Ahmed, on the other hand, probably was born for a high-profile public life. On an early spring day in Washington, Ahmed is in a taxi heading downtown from American University, where he holds a chair in Islamic studies, for a quick BBC interview.

Too often he has heard supposed experts on television. " 'Islam is terrorism,' 'Islam is extremism' -- they're 'explaining' Islam, and I'm telling myself, America is being misled," Ahmed complains in the cab. "It's frightening for a superpower to be so ill-informed."

Today's headlines report Pakistani troops hunting al Qaeda forces in Waziristan, the remote region where Ahmed -- who for decades balanced a high-level career in Pakistan's civil service with his academic appointments -- was once the chief administrator. If he doesn't accept media requests, will the interviewee replacing him know as much about that part of the world? Or even be a Muslim? "If I don't do it, who's going to do it?"

In the studio, mike clipped to his tie, he crisply tells an interviewer in London about the terrain and tribes in Waziristan, the potential dangers, and what he sees as the long-term insignificance of one day capturing Osama bin Laden. Minutes later, he dashes out to the waiting cab, back to campus.

At some other point in history, Ahmed and Pearl probably never would have crossed paths. Despite some similarities -- both are immigrant academics in their sixties who as children witnessed the costs of religious and ethnic strife -- Pearl was usually cloistered in a California lab while Ahmed was making himself a fixture at lecterns in London and Washington.

Yet they've become partners and, gradually, friends. Every few weeks they travel to another city for an event with a title like "Towards Interfaith Understanding: A Journey Through Dialogue."

It's a low-tech communications medium: two chairs on a stage, two mikes, two men talking about their religions and the misunderstandings and tensions between them, while several hundred people listen. It can seem a paltry effort in the face of the unceasing violence in the Middle East and the accompanying rift between Judaism and Islam. Yet Ahmed and Pearl are a hit, with organizations around the world begging the interfaith roadshow to stop in their towns.

It was supposed to be a one-time event in Pittsburgh last year, until the participants grasped that a lot of people wanted to hear what Daniel Pearl's father had to say to a Muslim intellectual who grew up in the city where his son died -- and vice versa. So, although they've also learned that merely sharing a stage is a controversial act in some quarters, their public conversation continues.

"The world must be in worse shape than I thought," Ahmed says, "if just two old men talking gives people hope."

IT'S LATE EVENING before Ahmed can settle into an armchair. He and his wife, Zeenat, have led a peripatetic life; this brick colonial in Bethesda is the first house they've ever owned.

A former Pakistani ambassador to Britain, he still looks the part of the dapper diplomat -- pinstriped suit, tonsorial fringe of gray hair, lots of eye contact. He sounds like one, too, with his British-Asian accent (schedule becomes "shedyool"), his impressive memory for names, his trove of stories.

His family lived near Delhi, he says, and, as Muslims in India, confronted a stark, sudden choice when the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947: to remain in Hindu India or to depart for the new Muslim nation, Pakistan. His parents had 24 hours to decide whether to leave their elegant home and, if they chose to relocate, pack a few suitcases and find space on outbound trains so overcrowded that passengers huddled atop the cars.

"There was widespread rioting," Ahmed recounts, blending childhood memories and family lore with history learned later. "Muslims were being killed in India, Hindus and Sikhs were being killed in Pakistan, a general state of anarchy." Trains carrying refugees between the capitals, Delhi and Karachi, were being stopped, passengers slaughtered. "Very often they'd leave the driver, so when the train pulled in, you had a whole trainload of dead bodies."

Ahmed's father opted for Pakistan, whose founder hoped to forge a modern, democratic Muslim state, and wangled passage for his family. The frightening journey to Karachi was made more ominous by the fact that they'd let an earlier train go -- Ahmed's mother wasn't quite ready to leave -- and then learned that its passengers had been murdered. Who knew what might happen?

"I have a very faint memory of a compartment," Ahmed recalls. "Greenish light. When the train slowed down you were supposed to switch off the lights, so as not to attract attention." As they felt the train stop, the children, warned to keep silent, hid by sliding beneath the sleeping berths. Nothing was stranger, for a 4-year-old, than to see his peaceful father clutching a pistol in the dimness.

No one boarded the train, as it happened. But more dislocation awaited in Karachi, where Muslim refugees soon poured into their home, set up tents on the lawn. "In the corridor, there was a huge tin trunk and on top of it, a young man used to sleep," Ahmed remembers. "He must have lost his entire family in the partition, because he was all alone. He never talked or interacted with anyone. He lay on this trunk like a corpse, with a white sheet over his head."

For years afterward, as Ahmed excelled at elite schools and English universities and became an anthropologist, the refrain stayed with him: Hindus had done this. If you saw a snake and a Hindu, you should kill the Hindu first; the snake was less dangerous. Perhaps his desire for interfaith dialogue first germinated in London, where he was shocked to meet Hindu classmates raised on precisely the same bitter accusations about Muslims -- down to the snake.

Instead, he put his energies into writing well-received anthropological books and into his civil service career in Pakistan, until a couple of events changed his course.

His father, "the one person in the world I felt really understood me," had been urging him to write about Islam, but he'd resisted. "Look, Daddy, I'm not an Islamic scholar; I'm a scientist," he argued. "Let the mullahs talk about it." But in 1981, when Ahmed was at Princeton, he called home and heard "the most unexpected news of my life": His father had died. When a colleague wandered into his campus office and asked what he was working on, Ahmed replied in a daze: a book about Islam.

"You're not an Islamic scholar," she protested.

"I'm becoming an Islamic scholar."

The result, Discovering Islam, was published in 1988, just as Ahmed arrived in the United Kingdom to teach at Cambridge, and just as the fatwa against Salman Rushdie created a sudden demand for someone articulate and urbane to explain Islam. A few years later, the book became a BBC series that Ahmed hosted, making him something of a celebrity -- "probably the world's best-known scholar on contemporary Islam," the BBC said last year.

And then, if one believes in a guiding hand that causes odd confluences of events (Ahmed does), consider this one: After years of interfaith activity in Britain, after leaving his ambassadorship ("all diplomats have to get up and, in a very smooth and charming way, tell lies") and resigning from the civil service, after another year at Princeton, he accepted an offer to teach at American University -- and arrived in the U.S. capital weeks before September 11, 2001. "Since then until today," he says, "I don't think I've had a peaceful 24 hours."

By now, his life is an interfaith dialogue. He's perennially maneuvering disparate people into the same room by, say, accepting a speaking engagement at a tiny Iowa college ("I was the first Muslim they'd ever seen") or bringing South Asian Muslims from a State Department seminar to a Passover seder. It requires faith in small victories.

At 61, Ahmed remains the cautious diplomat, but it's clear that he's appalled by the consequences of the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq; every bomb that falls on Muslims, he says, strengthens the appeal of Osama bin Laden. As a South Asian, he's avoided wading squarely into the Arab-Israeli conflict but laments the way it's damaging relations between Islam and Judaism. Nothing he sees on CNN makes him sanguine.

But a letter from Britain's chief rabbi, praising his latest book, does. "We have trouble, we have hate, and then we have these wonderful moments that really make us human, that inspire us," he exults, showing off this prize.

"Dr. Pearl is one of those wonders."

JUDEA AND RUTH PEARL are sitting in their garden in suburban Encino on a day when the sunshine splashing down on lemon trees is a potent reminder of why people move to Southern California. It's also reminiscent of Israel, where they met as engineering students.

All these years later -- he's 67 -- Judea retains an Israeli informality. With an undisciplined beard and lively eyes behind utilitarian glasses, he's wearing a T-shirt and sweat pants. He sounds Israeli, too, his swallowed-R accent still strong, though he's lived in the United States since graduate school and became a citizen in 1971.

His grandparents helped found a sandy little village near Tel Aviv called B'nai B'rak. Family legend says that his grandfather, assaulted by thugs in Poland, announced to his family, "Start packing, we're going home." In the last moments of his life, Danny Pearl volunteered his family connection to B'nai B'rak -- proof, to his father, that he was speaking of his Jewishness not under duress but with defiant pride.

Judea dislikes discussing the details of what he usually calls "the tragedy" or "the disaster." It's intensely painful, and it focuses attention on how Danny died when the family's goal -- since establishing the Daniel Pearl Foundation within days of his death -- is to talk about how he lived. Still, even when no one is asking, the grief and the questions persist.

"How brave do you have to be to kill a single noncombatant?" Ruth Pearl demands, pondering anew why extremists targeted her son.

Judea shrugs. "The more cruel you are, the more powerful you are perceived to be."

As a child in what was then British Palestine, Pearl remembers Jewish and Arab kids playing together in the orchards and fields. Yet he also recalls air raid sirens sounding as intense violence erupted after the establishment of the new Jewish state in 1948. Soon the Arabs, "all our friends who used to come to the village with their donkeys and their fruits, they simply disappeared, overnight." Within a few years, Pearl was in the army, patrolling the Gaza border. He considers himself lucky that he used a weapon only once -- and that the nighttime intruder, subsequent investigation showed, was a fox.

Such war-and-peace issues receded for several decades, though he still had family in Israel and visited frequently, as he pursued a career in the sciences. His wife and children understood that, while he won top prizes for work on probability and causality, Dad wasn't likely to notice when the car needed servicing.

A towering figure in artificial intelligence, Pearl posted a sign on his office door: "Don't Knock: Experiment in Progress," a fib meant to dissuade interruptions. "He wanted to spend his professional time on research; everything else was a distraction," says his UCLA colleague Richard Korf. At a Seattle conference in 1987, a rising computer executive wanted to meet him, but Pearl -- who had never heard of this guy Bill Gates -- blew him off.

He had hoped that Danny, also a gifted scientist and violinist, would follow him into computer science or study music; journalism, Judea thought, meant being "an ambulance chaser, a stenographer." But he changed his mind as Danny began traveling the world for the Wall Street Journal.

Naturally, the family worried. Though cautious about his safety, Danny often operated in dangerous regions. "He had this illusion that journalists are somehow protected," Judea says now, grimly. His parents were relieved, in late January 2002, that Danny and his pregnant wife, Mariane, were about to leave unstable Pakistan.

In his last phone conversation with his parents, Danny was exultant over the news that the baby was a boy. The next communication from Karachi was a call from Mariane: "Something bad happened to Danny. He didn't come home. He's not answering his cell."

The Pearls' response was methodical, relentless activity. Judea spoke with the State Department and the FBI; he lobbied prominent Muslims like Muhammad Ali and Louis Farrakhan to make public statements. "Two or four o'clock in the morning, his time, Judea would be on the phone," recalls John Bauman, then U.S. consul general in Pakistan. With camera crews, satellite trucks and squadrons of reporters encamped outside the house, nobody slept much anyway.

What's striking, in retrospect, is how optimistic they felt. Four days after his disappearance, Danny's captors sent e-mail to news organizations, appending photographs. The Pearls and their younger daughter, Michelle, alerted to expect the images, gathered around Ruth's computer, waiting, watching. When they saw the photos -- in one, a revolver was held at Danny's head -- they wept not in horror but with "elation": He was alive. "They made some demands!" Judea says. "They didn't want to kill him. They wanted to get something."

Besides, the Pearls were certain that if any of his abductors could speak even a little English, Danny could forge a connection. "He could charm people; he could communicate with people of all levels," Judea says. By now, they told one another as time passed, Danny was probably organizing a backgammon game.

For 30 days, they waited for a ransom demand, more photos, any news at all. They tried to imagine what the terrorists were thinking, "to put ourselves in their minds," says Judea. Even a series of nerve-racking false alarms helped stoke hope. Four times, the family was told that Danny was dead, then that he wasn't. "The longer it went on, the more convinced we were that he was alive," Ruth says.

They were also convinced that Danny's Jewishness, if it became known, could doom him. Like most Israelis, Judea considers himself "a secular Jew," identified with Jewish history and culture but without much interest in religious observance. "I do not believe that there is some entity up there that writes down what you do and what you think, and punishes and rewards accordingly," is his take. But that would hardly matter to Danny's kidnappers, the family thought. So news organizations quoted statements by "his parents" without mentioning their Hebraic first names; Michelle Pearl even re-recorded their answering machine message to eliminate their accents.

Still, an Israeli reporter learned the truth and called Judea to say he was about to publish. "I pleaded with him, 'Don't do that.' He said, 'Why?' " -- pointing out that Israeli records already documented Danny's background. "The excuse I hate the most," Judea says. "You're pouring oil on the fire and it doesn't matter, because there's already a fire." Michelle, hearing her father's end of the conversation, began to scream, They're going to kill him. They're going to kill him. "You are really playing with life and death," Judea told the reporter. In the end, the newspaper held back.

But it didn't matter. Daniel Pearl was already dead, though it was late February before the authorities learned this from a ghastly videotape.

Consul general Bauman broke the news to Judea.

"Is he dead?"

"Yes," Bauman said.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." There was a video, Bauman explained. "Do you want me to describe it to you?"

"Tell me one thing: Did they cut his head?" It was the one act that couldn't be faked on video, Judea thought, proof of death.

Yes, Bauman said, Danny had been decapitated. "Should I go on?"

"No. It's enough."

At a trial in Pakistan that summer, Sheik Omar Saeed, the British-educated mastermind with a long terrorist history, was sentenced to death, and three others were given life sentences. But two years later, their appeals have yet to be heard, other suspects have yet to be charged, and the Pearls are losing hope, fearing that the perpetrators will find a way to freedom. Anyway, Judea says, "What is hope in this case?"

He quickly channeled his fury, however. "I'm driven by pragmatics," he says. Even if he could retaliate against the murderers, "What do I achieve? There will be 100 more." True revenge, he decided, meant taking aim "at the whole ideology that created the madness." So when he tells audiences that he's offering a "weapon" -- a little intake of breath generally follows -- he explains that he wants to "tame that hate."

That's what the still-fledgling Daniel Pearl Foundation, with Judea as president, works toward. The foundation brings journalists from Muslim countries to work in American newsrooms; it organizes hundreds of concerts around the world on Danny's birthday to promote tolerance; it sponsors cross-cultural programs for young people. And it supports this Muslim/Jewish dialogue.

There were times, early on, when both Ahmed and Pearl felt uneasy about it. Ahmed worried that nothing he could say about the compassion in Islam would outweigh people's horror at Danny's murder.

Judea Pearl, for his part, felt somewhat inadequate. Because the world remembers his son's murder, people will listen to him. "I must call it an 'opportunity,' even though that sounds ridiculous," he says. "I see doors opening to me that were not open before and are not open to everyone."

If only a door had opened to someone with more political savvy, greater organizational skill, he thinks. "But it happened to me. Me with my shortcomings, with my not speaking Arabic, with my imperfect knowledge of Islam," he says. "To me, not Henry Kissinger. So I have to do the work."

HISTORICALLY, SCHOLARS POINT OUT, animosity between Islam and Judaism, two "Abrahamic" faiths (after the patriarch they -- and Christianity -- share), makes little sense. They have a great deal in common, "the same history, the same personalities and the same values," says Tamara Sonn, past president of the American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies. Judaism and Islam coexisted for centuries with comparative tolerance, even friendship. Islam's Golden Age in medieval Spain was a 500-year joint venture among Christians, Muslims and Jews. For centuries afterward, every Muslim capital -- Baghdad, Istanbul, Damascus -- included a flourishing Jewish community. Jews generally fared far worse under Christianity.

Even the wounding violence in the Middle East was couched, until very recently, in nationalist, not religious terms: a territorial and political struggle between Israelis and Arabs, not a religious dispute pitting Judaism against Islam.

Now, however, extremists on both sides wield religious imagery to justify their actions. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the suicide bombers they recruit cite the Koran; Israel's religious ultranationalists, like Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, invoke the Old Testament. This marks the "religionization" of the conflict, says Mumtaz Ahmad, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics at Hampton University, and, thanks to the growth of extreme Islamist movements and to globalized communications, its bitterness has spread around the world.

Ahmad collects militant publications from Muslim countries and finds them "almost entirely based on religious idioms of conflict with the Jews." That old anti-Semitic hoax The Protocols of the Elders of Zion circulates in Pakistan; it also transmuted into an Egyptian television series. Many non-Muslims' equation of Islam with terrorism has further poisoned the relationship. Muslim/Jewish dialogues have cropped up in some Western cities, but they're mostly small, sometimes fragile efforts.

Such was the discouraging state of affairs when discussions about a dialogue in Pittsburgh began last year. A retired businessman attracted to public affairs, Lewis Jaffe, happened to see Ahmed on a news show, tracked down his phone number and called, saying, "I've found the right Muslim." Then he asked Pearl (another complete stranger) if he'd join Ahmed for a public discussion. Both parties cautiously agreed.

One measure of the suspicion and sensitivity between Muslims and Jews was the extreme care taken in organizing the first dialogue. Although the local American Jewish Committee was its sponsor, everyone nixed the idea of staging the event at a synagogue, opting instead for the neutral University of Pittsburgh in October. Ahmed, they agreed, should speak first. "If somehow this program was perceived as being about Judea Pearl and Akbar was secondary, many Muslims would see that as a slight to Islam and him as a tool of American Jews," explains David Shtulman of the AJC.

The Q&A session would limit audience responses to two minutes. "If some radical gets up and starts ranting," was Shtulman's thinking, "it only happens for two minutes."

Despite some doubts on all sides -- the two dialoguers had met just once before, briefly -- everything went off without a hitch. Almost 500 Christians, Jews and Muslims turned out. Pearl and Ahmed, determined to avoid a warm-and-fuzzy exchange, tackled some pointed questions. A member of the Pakistani National Assembly, invited by Ahmed, even humbly offered Pearl the first public apology from anyone in the Pakistani government. Nobody got insulted, ignored or drowned out.

"In the car on the way to the airport," recalls Shtulman, who was driving his two guests, "we said, 'This may really have legs.' " They soon decided, as invitations streamed in, to take the dialogue to Philadelphia in January and then to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

Though much of their early trepidation has eased, some remains. Pearl, who's been reading the Koran and receiving tutorials in Islam, frets about whether he's being effective, whether as a "proud Zionist" who favors both a Palestinian and a Jewish state in the Middle East (as does Ahmed), he can tackle such "hot issues" without appearing to be anti-Muslim.

Others worry about him, too. "You represent this horrible story," says Mariane Pearl, who understands the psychological difficulty. "You have to embrace other people's emotions." It entails, she says, "a certain loneliness."

But the greater risk may be to Ahmed. In some countries, Muslim academics perceived as too Western, too critical of religious or political leaders, too sympathetic to Jews, have been arrested, deported, even murdered. In Britain, Ahmed's calls for understanding generated flak from militant Muslims, who denounced him as a naive "apologist," an Uncle Tom. He continues to get nasty e-mail in this country, too, from mistrustful Muslims ("How can one shake hands with someone firing a gun at you?") and angry non-Muslims ("Does your culture BUILD anything, or just blow things up?").

Being in America doesn't ward off acrimony. Three years ago, an explanatory book about Islam, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, was assailed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and a Jordanian cleric branded its author -- Khalid Duran, then at Temple University -- an "apostate" whose blood should be shed. A few years earlier, University of Virginia professor Abdulaziz Sachedina faced a heresy trial in Iraq after publishing books and articles advocating religious pluralism. The resulting fatwa (which he ignores) forbids Sachedina to speak to Muslim gatherings anywhere in the world.

So Ahmed is careful with his words and assiduous about cultivating allies -- but he is also fatalistic. "When you take the middle position, you are attacked from both sides," he says, sounding untroubled. "But I am dragging people along."


"Welcome, welcome, dear friend," Ahmed declares, flinging an arm around Pearl's shoulder when he comes downstairs in the morning. "Come sit down, calm yourself, have some coffee."

They're staying at an elegant William and Mary guesthouse.

This afternoon's dialogue will, like the others, be bracketed by a press conference and a brunch with local religious leaders. That leaves just enough time for the dialoguers and their small advisory team to map out the coming months.

Spreading their papers over a conference table, they sift through invitations. The annual meeting of human rights agencies in Chicago in August? Yes. The Islamic Society of Central New Jersey in September, their first dialogue in a mosque? Definitely. Boston? Not a priority. But Detroit, with its large Muslim population, is.

Next up, however, is London, where they're planning a week's worth of programs. "The U.K. is very volatile," warns Ahmed. The key is to avoid being drawn into others' controversies: "We're just two grandfathers on a stage, talking."

A few hours later, the two grandfathers are about to face a crowd of more than 400. Remember, Ahmed says in Pearl's ear, what Winston Churchill advised a young friend about public speaking: "Check your fly."

Onstage, Ahmed introduces his usual theme: that the merciful Islam he knows is unrecognized by the West and in danger of being usurped by some of its own angry, dispossessed believers. Pearl asks, as he often does, why Muslim leaders don't exorcise their dangerous fanatics. Ahmed acknowledges "a problem with leadership across the Muslim world" but complains that when leaders do condemn extremism, the Western media ignore them. Pearl, trying to point out that Judaism isn't the enemy, suggests that American Jews, veterans of civil rights battles, could help "our neighbor Muslims" with the legal fallout they've faced since September 11.

There are a few tense moments. "What if you were to run a poll in, say, a village in Morocco and ask them who they would choose as a role model for their children," Pearl asks, "Jinnah or Osama bin Laden?" Mohammed Ali Jinnah, everyone who knows Ahmed soon learns, was Pakistan's democratic-minded founder. But the current answer to the question, Ahmed acknowledges, is bin Laden.

"So the idea that al Qaeda represents only a negligible minority . . . that's wrong," Pearl concludes.

Not so, says Ahmed. Muslims are drawn to bin Laden "as a symbol: This man is standing up and talking on our behalf." That doesn't mean they subscribe to his philosophy. "Osama's actions, you need to know this, are not rooted in Islam," he insists; the Koran condemns the murder of innocents.

Perhaps there's not much expressed that people couldn't learn by reading a few books, but the interfaith roadshow is more compelling, more moving, more alive. Listeners seem touched by an uncommon response from a man who's suffered a harrowing loss; they're reassured, though also alarmed, by what his counterpart has to say. The crowd gives Pearl and Ahmed a standing ovation.

BUT HOW MUCH CAN TWO GRANDFATHERS ON A STAGE ACCOMPLISH? Can speaking to several hundred people in one Western city or another create significant change? Fifteen million people live in greater Karachi, and the roadshow -- though its participants intend to visit Muslim countries -- is not headed there anytime soon.

It's not a bad idea for Ahmed and Pearl to keep talking; this may be among the few statements the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the American Jewish Committee currently agree on. But that doesn't mean they're changing hearts and minds -- or policies.

"It's a noble attempt, but I personally don't think it's going to go anywhere," says George Irani of the conflict analysis and management program at Royal Roads University in British Columbia. Ahmed, he thinks, "should be reaching out to Islamic groups in the U.S. and elsewhere, not making it an individualist quest, but a collective quest" that reaches "from the furthest mosques in the Philippines to the closest synagogues in Brooklyn."

It's not difficult to find critics. They appreciate the effort but say that the dialogue is elitist, taking place on campuses instead of reaching into ordinary people's lives. Or that it's hit-and-run, attracting crowds and then moving on (something the dialoguers are working to address). Or that it draws the already tolerant, not the haters.

On the other hand, symbols matter. "It's in the nature of our People magazine society; personalization of the news does have an effect," says Steven Wasserstrom, a Judaic and Islamic scholar at Reed College in Oregon. "A face can make a difference." And if the dialogue has not yet traveled the world, its media coverage has: News stories and columns have appeared in Karachi, Jerusalem, Riyadh and Beirut. Pearl and Ahmed have been interviewed on al-Jazeera.

Besides, there's a certain desperation, given a steady barrage of depressing news, to do something. "It's a drop in the bucket," says Rabbi Reuven Firestone, the Islamic scholar who's tutored Pearl, of the dialogue. "But you have to keep dripping."

A STORY ABOUT PUSHING A BOULDER UP A HILL should conclude with an uplifting moment, something to hang hope on. Something like the World Tolerance Forum.

This spring, Pearl received a manila envelope, encrusted with postage stamps, from the Pakistani city of Faisalabad. Inside, he was surprised to find a magazine in Urdu commemorating Danny Pearl's death and -- intriguingly -- snapshots of a "condolence ceremony."

They showed perhaps 50 men and women gathered in a hall hung with English banners: "Peace Through Dialogue, Peace Through Discussion." Someone, adapting the international symbol of prohibition, had drawn a picture of a gun with a line through it. Mounted on the lectern, wreathed with flowers, was a photograph of Danny Pearl; before it, a young boy was lighting a candle that said "Peace and Reconciliation."

"It's what I dreamed of," Judea said, looking at the photos. How often had he spoken of his hope that one day, children in Pakistan would see Danny as a role model for open-mindedness and tolerance?

Ahmed, hearing about the photographs, was skeptical. However laudable the sentiment, he cautioned, in Islam, lighting a candle before an image would be considered idolatrous, "wrong, religiously and culturally." Perhaps the group belonged to the country's small Hindu or Christian minorities.

But no, the forum's chairman replied by e-mail: The boy was indeed a Muslim, engaged in a "unique example of paying tribute to Jewish people by the Muslim Community."

To Pearl, the photos provided one more reason to keep going. If this was indeed a Muslim group, then even this single small event meant "the hope of more." And if it wasn't, if "decent Muslims with the same sentiments" were not yet ready to publicly embrace dialogue? That just meant, he said, "that we are more needed."

Paula Span (spanp@comcast.net) is a Magazine staff writer. She will be fielding questions and comments about this article at 2 p.m. Monday on washingtonpost.com/liveonline.