Beyond Tolerance: Honoring the Call to Love our Neighbors

Masjid-Al-Madina-750x400Last week, members of the church where I serve in Springfield, Ohio, were graciously invited to attend a service at Masjid Al-Madina, a mosque that I have probably driven past at least a 1,000 times.

Each time I previously drove past the mosque, in the recesses of my mind, I thought, “They are in their world, I am in mine, and we have nothing in common.” It never crossed my mind that the mosque would be a place where friendships could form.

I had no idea what to expect. Inaccurate stereotypes had led me to believe that Muslims were reserved, distrustful, unfriendly, and completely uninterested in my Christian faith. To my shame, I believed these stereotypes to be true…until last week.

Prior to the events leading up to last Friday, I did not know a single Muslim with whom I could have a cup of coffee or tea and share a good story. In fact, I had never had a casual conversation with a person of Muslim faith. Never.

All of that changed dramatically for me over the last three days.

About 50 people from my church, male and female, young and old, were warmly welcomed to Al Madina Mosque for a Friday afternoon prayer service designed to help educate non-Muslims about their faith. Imam Yunus Lasania, his wife Zarina, and so many others (too many to name) extended a warm welcome. In fact, it was one of the warmest and most gracious welcomes I have ever received. They invited us back for dinner that night.

Instead of being reserved, they exuberantly welcomed us with open arms. Instead of being distrustful, they went out of their way to answer any question that we had, even hard ones about things like jihad and Sharia law. The Imam told self-deprecating jokes to put us at ease. They asked honest, deep questions about my Christian faith, and I realized that in many cases my faith was as mysterious to them as there’s was to me. We discovered areas of commonality, and we talked candidly of deep and significant differences. It was perhaps the most natural and easy conversation about Christianity that I have ever had with people who embraced a faith other than my own.

Yunus pointed out verses in the Quran that talk about the Muslim duty to protect the Christians and Jews who live in their midst. These verses come from the Ashtiname of Muhammad, a covenant signed by the Prophet Muhammad to protect Christians and Jews until the end of time. When Imam Yunus addressed members of his own congregation, he gave historical examples of times when Christians extended hospitality and protection to Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RED LETTER CHRISTIANS 

Trump’s new tune on Islam unconvincing, experts in Mideast say

usa-trump-saudi(CNN) President Donald Trump’s speech Sunday will likely be met with skepticism and frustration in the Muslim world, according to experts in the Middle East who said his sudden shift in tone on Islam was unconvincing.

Trump gave his speech in Saudi Arabia, where he ditched his hard-line rhetoric from the 2016 election campaign and instead called Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.”
Here’s what experts in three Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East thought of the speech.
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Former Jordanian Justice Minister Ibrahim Aljazy said Trump’s shift in tone towards Muslims was notable.
Trump to Muslim world: Drive out terrorists
But Aljazy said that Jordanians and others in the Muslim world had hoped Trump would deliver clearer answers on American policy in the region.
“I would not call it a constructive tone since that people in the region, particularly Jordanians, are looking for a more clear approach to the Israeli policies and an end to settlements, which may pave the way for a true two-state solution and end of occupation,” he said.
“Referencing ‘Islamic’ terrorist organizations only will not be appreciated by the vast majority of people in the region when other forces are carrying out acts of aggression, especially as Arabs and Muslims are the prime victims of these organizations,” he said.
Trump also failed to acknowledge the importance of democracy and the rule of law in putting an end to the root causes of terrorism, Aljazy said.

President Trump Tries to Engage the Muslim World

20sat1-master768No American president in modern times has disparaged Islam as much as Donald Trump. From the attempted visa ban on Muslim-majority countries to his campaign claims that “Islam hates us” to his Islamaphobic advisers, the president’s record of hostility is well documented.

So his first overseas trip as president is something of a paradox, with a first stop in Saudi Arabia — a major force in the Sunni Arab world —- that includes meetings with members of the royal family, a summit meeting with other Arab leaders and a major speech on Sunday.

Does that mean Mr. Trump has changed his stripes? Given his casual approach to the truth and his malleable belief system, it’s impossible to know his true views on Islam. What we do know is that he needs all the help he can get from Muslim countries to fight the Islamic State. If he uses the speech and the trip to set a new tone with the Muslim world, that would be greatly in America’s interest.

The Saudis, who came to loathe President Barack Obama, are falling over themselves to turn the page. Mr. Trump’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia “lays to rest the notion that America is anti-Muslim,” the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, told reporters early this month, ignoring the fact that the real issue is not whether America is anti-Muslim but whether Mr. Trump is. It was he, after all, who stoked xenophobic fires to win the election.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Rebuilding Aleppo means rebuilding links between Christians and Muslims

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The Archbishop of Armenians in Syria’s second-largest city concluded a week-long European tour with a visit to Paris on Wednesday, in which he argued that moving on from a fierce conflict meant fostering ties between communities and faiths.

Monsignor Chahane Sarkissian witnessed first-hand the Battle of Aleppo from its beginning in July 2012 to the intense fighting under siege of Syrian and Russian forces that led to its end on 22 December 2016.

Only about a third of the 45,000 Armenian Christians lived in the city before the conflict began remain today, and Sarkissian described how those who stayed are rebuilding their lives and encouraging others to return.

“We are trying our best to open the schools and then the small and medium businesses to give the Armenian community the possibility to continue there, instead of leaving as refugees to other places, including other parts of the world,” he said.

“We are the people of this country, not just as Christian communities at an ecumenical level, but also with the Muslims. The majority of the population of Syria is Muslim, but we live with them, and we hope to continue our life inside the city and the country.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RFI

Muslims and Jews Break Bread, and Build Bonds

13DINNERS-2-superJumboFlorence Nasar kept checking her phone. She was at an interfaith dinner last Sunday aimed at building friendships between New York Jews and Muslims, and the guests, all in their 20s and early 30s, sat on couches around her, sharing stories about their religious practices, their pasts and their quests to define who they are.

Ms. Nasar, a Syrian Jew, was actually living those themes. Her secret Muslim boyfriend was on his way.

She had not told her family about him, she explained to the other guests, because in the insular community in New Jersey where she was raised, intermarriage is forbidden. But Ms. Nasar, 27, an artist and a dancer, no longer lived at home.

She has recently been hosting interfaith events between Syrian Jews and Syrian Muslim refugees, eager to explore their shared heritage. Out of her own interest in understanding people, she had met someone.

 Ms. Nasar was one of about 100 guests at a series of intimate Jewish-Muslim dinners that took place last weekend around Manhattan and Brooklyn to build interfaith understanding. Lonnie Firestone, a modern Orthodox Jew and freelance writer from Brooklyn, came up with the idea for dinners after President Trump’s victory. She wanted to bring Muslims and Jews together in a spirit of friendship, so they could work together against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

UN religious freedom expert hails Albania interfaith harmony

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The U.N. expert on religious freedom has praised Albania’s interfaith tolerance, considering it to be an example for other countries.

Ahmed Shaheed says that Albania is a model for interfaith harmony, with a Muslim majority, and Orthodox and Catholic communities among its 3 million people.

The communist regime banned religion from 1967 until its collapse in 1990, turning churches, mosques and other places of worship into shopping centers, sports halls and theaters.

Shaheed ended an eight-day trip to Albania on Wednesday to prepare a report on its policies and practices on religion, including unresolved issues or new challenges.

“Freedom of religion or belief is a practical reality in Albania, and there is much the world can learn from the Albanian experience in respecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief and achieving inter-religious harmony,” said Shaheed.

Post-communist Albania made “a rapid reconstruction of the religious infrastructure and the revitalization of spiritual leadership.”

Shaheed had learnt only three cases of religious discrimination and considered their solution “a healthy response.”

Shaheed said in his preliminary finding that such a “unique co-existence and mutual respect between and among various religious groups should not be taken for granted … (as) the situation could change more quickly and unexpectedly than many think.”

Mainstream religious leaders also have urged believers not to join rebel groups but scores of Albanians are believed to have done so.

Preliminary data shows that no one from Albania has joined any extremist group in Syria and Iraq recently.

“The problem of ‘extremist’ or ‘radical’ religious groups now appears effectively to be under control,” he said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ABC NEWS 

Young Iraqi Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis are the seeds of dialogue in a Land broken by the Islamic State

6606442621494827991ERBIL: In order to overcome the murderous madness of the Islamic State, which has covered with blood a land already brutalised by years of wars and violence, it is necessary to start with “a plan of dialogue and outreach at the local level”, involving first of all children and young people, the new generations, “who will be tasked with building life together” beyond their respective religions.

Starting from such premises, Fr Samir Youssef, pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (Iraqi Kurdistan) who has long been on the frontline of the refugee emergency, is promoting a project to transform “young Muslims, Christians and Yazidis” into “seeds of dialogue ” to breathe new life into Mosul, the Nineveh plain, and Iraq as a whole.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the priest mentioned an initiative that is in its initial stage, but one that has already garnered “the enthusiastic participation” of some thirty of kids, aged 10 to 16, from various religious background. “We started with a group of about 30-35 kids,” Fr Samir said, “but we want to increase the numbers for the summer, involving young people from high school and university.”

The aim is to find youth “eager to talk, communicate, and bear witness” that living together is possible and that from this, a model can emerge applicable across the country, and beyond.

“We have already started to meet,” he added, “although getting the first results will take some time. At the moment, the first group, the base on which to start working, has been found. It includes a dozen Christians, eight Muslims and seven Yazidis. There are also Sabians and Turkmen.”

As parish priest in the diocese of Zakho and Amadiya (Kurdistan), Fr Samir is responsible for about 3,500 Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi refugee families who fled their homes and property in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain to escape Jihadis. Since the summer of 2014 and the start of the emergency, the clergyman has played a key role. Working with him and Iraqi bishops, AsiaNews has recently renewed its Adopt a Christian of Mosul campaign to provide refugees with kerosene, shoes, clothing, and school material for children.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HERALD (MALAYSIA)