Lebanese Shiite leader launches interfaith dialogue

Shiite cleric Ali Fadlallah (R), son of“God taught us how to converse with all people. There are no sanctities when it comes to dialogue. God Almighty himself spoke to the devil. Are there people like the devil? Also, the Quran is a book of dialogue with polytheists about the unity of God, and with infidels about the existence of God and the prophecy of Muhammad.” This is how the late Lebanese Shiite cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah responded when asked about the increased talk of interfaith dialogue in the 1990s.

The occasion to talk about the late Fadlallah today, and about his call for dialogue with the “Other” — especially with other Christian and Islamic sects — is an initiative launched by his son, the scholar Sayyed Ali Fadlallah. The latter established the “Religions and Cultures Forum for Development and Dialogue,” in which 50 different personalities participated, including Muslim and Christian clerics and intellectuals from Lebanon and other countries of the Arab and Islamic world.

This forum was announced by Fadlallah during a ceremony held in Beirut on Tuesday, Oct. 30, attended by MPs, politicians, party leaders, intellectuals and media figures. The most prominent attendees included the head of the Loyalty to the Resistance (Hezbollah) Bloc, MP Mohammad Raad; the head of the Islamic Group in Lebanon’s political bureau, Azzam Ayoubi; a representative of former Lebanese President and Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel; and delegations from the Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party.

A number of religious leaders were also in attendance, including the Rev. Fadi Daou, a representative of Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara al-Rai; Rev. Sulaiman Wehbe, a representative of the patriarch of Antakya, Alexandria and Jerusalem for the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Gregory III Laham; a representative for the papal ambassador to Lebanon; Archbishop Daniel Sukkar, a representative for Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas; and a number of Sunni, Shiite and Druze religious scholars from Lebanon and the Arab and Islamic world. The most notable among the latter were the General Secretary of the Supreme Islamic Legislative Council Sheikh Khaldoun Oraymit, and Sheikh Sami Abou al-Mona, who represented the spiritual leader for the Druze sect Sheikh Naim Hassan.


Christians and Muslims Mingle in Bethlehem

2013-11-12-RS13Summer_0930Both of my Palestinian guides helped me understand that here in the Holy Land, “religion” is a matter of both faith and culture. Muslims, Jews, and Christians who don’t practice their family’s faith still embrace that tribe or clan as an identity. Even non-practicing Christians wear a cross to indicate their culture (not their faith). And it can be devastating for a young person to marry out of their faith. On the other hand, someone told me, “I’m a Christian. My friends are Muslim. For us, it’s cultural more than religious. When we get old and scared of death, then we become more religious.”

The whole religion vs. culture thing is interesting to me, as there are so many intersections between my Lutheran/Norwegian heritage and the Catholic/Irish or Catholic/Italian or Catholic/Filipino heritage of my friends and loved ones.

In Palestine, where Christians are an important minority, Christians tell me they don’t feel treated like a minority. Among Palestinians, one’s Arab-ness trumps their Christian-ness or Muslim-ness when it comes to identity. But in Israel, Arab Israelis report to really feeling treated as if they’re a minority.


Iran urges dialogue between Islam, Christianity

333164_Iran-VaticanIran President Hassan Rouhani has called for dialogue between Islam and Christianity as the followers of both religions share the same divine values and face a common enemy.

Rouhani made the remarks on Tuesday as he received Vatican’s new Apostolic Nuncio to Tehran Archbishop Leo Boccardi to submit his credentials. 

The Iranian president stressed the need for dialogue between Islam and Christianity as well as Shias and Catholics. 

“Today we have common objectives and enemies. Extremism and terrorism are our common enemies and, based on the divine teachings, human interactions and cooperation for the elimination of poverty and injustice are common objectives,” the Iranian president added.


The Imam and the Pastor: Cooperating for Peace Interview with Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye

imampastorOver the past two decades in Nigeria, thousands have been killed in violent clashes between Christians and Muslims. Imam Muhammad Nurayn Ashafa, a Muslim cleric, and Pastor James Movel Wuye, a Christian preacher from Kaduna State in northern Nigeria, were at first sworn enemies. Both were members of militias which fought each other in the town of Zangon-Kataf, which erupted in violence in 1992. They are now inseparable friends. They set up the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum in 1995 and also the Interfaith Mediation Centre. In 2002 they signed the Kaduna Peace Declaration with many other religious leaders. They have been awarded the Heroes of Peace Award from the New York City-based Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. They are now seeking to replicate their efforts through centers in Jos, Owerri and Lagos in Nigeria, and more recently they have conducted interfaith work in southern Sudan and Kenya. They have published a book, The Imam and the Pastor: Responding to Conflict, and a film, The Imam and the Pastor was released by FLT films in 2006. (See the trailer at: http://www.fltfilms.org.uk/imam.html)

SGI Quarterly: How did you move from hating each other to working together?

Pastor Wuye: I am a primary victim. It took me three years to forgive the Muslims for the hurt done to me. I had this ambition to retaliate for the hand that I lost in the conflict. Now, I have found strength to forgive them, through the inspiration I had from the Holy Bible and the Christian texts.

Imam Ashafa: The essence of Islam is faith, tradition, to shift people from hate to love, from hate to cooperation. It started from Muhammad in Mecca when he insisted that there are no slaves and no masters, we are all equal before God. When he had victory over Mecca, instead of transferring hate, he transferred love to the people of Mecca. Instead of vengeance, he transferred the hand of cooperation. And that was the spirit I later discovered in the close reading of Islam. Sincerely speaking when I tried, it was difficult. Pastor James’s groups were the ones that killed my spiritual teacher, and some of our brothers. I was very sad about it

SGIQ: Is achieving peace and reconciliation easy or difficult?

Imam Ashafa: For me, building a culture of peace is a very difficult challenge. There are many walls that prevent this. For me there was the fear of the unknown and of another culture. But religion has the culture of creating an alternative to violence. If only one person is able to see the light and influence one person, then we are already creating ripples. To go beyond our fear as Muslims is to go beyond the law of reciprocity. To do for others because we are trying to get to the others’ need, across the line, across the border, because we feel it is divine to do so.


Christians, Muslims meet at the crossroads of Mary

house-of-virgin-mary-interior1The three Abrahamic faiths have all sorts of things in common, in addition to their significant differences. But the unique meeting point for Islam and Christianity may be their shared memory of a Jewish peasant girl who gave miraculous birth to Jesus.

That common ground isn’t solely theological. In Turkey, just outside the ancient site of Ephesus, stands a stone house where hundreds, even thousands of Muslim and Christian pilgrims visit daily. Both Christians and Muslims believe this is the home where Mary spent her last years on Earth.

In Christian tradition, Mary was brought there by the Apostle John, to whom Jesus entrusted His mother from the cross.

Tradition attests that John established and led the Christian community in Ephesus. Perhaps the strongest evidence that Mary lived there is that the first church built in Ephesus, dating from the second century, was named not after St. John but after Mary. In those early years of Christianity churches were generally named after saints who had lived in the area.


Do Muslim Women Need Saving?

INDIA_(F)_0304_-_VeiledMuslimWomen452A moral crusade to rescue oppressed Muslim women from their cultures and their religion has swept the public sphere, dissolving distinctions between conservatives and liberals, sexists and feminists. The crusade has justified all manner of intervention from the legal to the military, the humanitarian to the sartorial. But it has also reduced Muslim women to a stereotyped singularity, plastering a handy cultural icon over much more complicated historical and political dynamics.

As an anthropologist who has spent decades doing research on and with women in different communities in the Middle East, I have found myself increasingly troubled by our obsession with Muslim women. Ever since 2001, when defending the rights of Muslim women was offered as a rationale for military intervention in Afghanistan, I have been trying to reconcile what I know from experience about individual women’s lives, and what I know as a student of the history of women and of feminism in different parts of the Muslim world, with the stock images of Muslim women that bombard us here in the West. Over the past decade, from the girls and women like Nujood Ali, whose best-selling memoir I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced was co-written, like so many of the others, by a Western journalist, to Malala Yousafzai, they have been portrayed as victims of the veil, forced marriage, honor crimes or violent abuse. They are presented as having a deficit of rights because of Islam. But they don’t always behave the way we expect them to, nor should they.


Turkey, religious freedom and Christian-Muslim dialogue

Turkey0438_resize-LBy: Victor Gaetan


Thankfully, there are places where the simple coexistence of faithful Christians and Muslims is a joy to witness.

In a peaceful grove of trees overlooking the ancient city of Ephesus stands a dignified one-story stone abode called Mary’s House, widely considered to be where the Virgin Mary lived her last years.

Pilgrims — including Muslims, for whom Mary is honored as the virgin mother of Jesus, a great prophet — visit, pray and light candles. In fact, Mary is the woman most frequently mentioned in the Quran and the only one referred to by name.

Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in front of the house on his pilgrimage to Turkey in 2006. Pope John Paul II came in 1979, as did Pope Paul VI in 1967.

The last papal visit underscored the Catholic Church’s hope that Turkey, an emerging economic geopolitical giant — not to mention a massive land bridge joining Europe to the Middle East and Asia — can model positive dialogue between the world’s two global religious powers: Christianity and Islam.

Even faced with the suspicious murder of several clerics, the Catholic Church has forged ahead with dialogue. Most chilling, in 2010, Bishop Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia and President of the Turkish Bishop’s Conference, was beheaded by his driver as he prepared to meet Pope Benedict the next day on the island of Cyprus.

So how is Turkey progressing, and what are the Church’s current expectations for a country known as Asia Minor in the New Testament and the birthplace of St. Paul?

A Franciscan friar, hesitant to be named, who lives near Mary’s House, reflected on the Turkish state of affairs: “Few Catholics live in Turkey, and Christians overall live on the margins. But look, here, this shrine is beautiful, and we’ve been allowed to develop it, enhance it. Everyone watches Prime Minister [Recep] Erdoğan intensely for signs of progress.”