Muhamed Jusic was quiet throughout much of our journey and we only learned afterwards why. He had his own story to tell. From the Kenyan mall massacre and the Boston Marathon to renewed violence in Iraq, Muslim extremists capture the headlines. Yet between the grim captions, there are other stories and there is hope. We, a Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Jew, know this firsthand.
We experienced an unprecedented, some even called it an historic trip, that involved 12 influential Muslim imams, professors, and business leaders from around the world. These Muslim leaders agreed to travel with us, some against the opinion of family and friends and with safety concerns back home. Why? Because the trip was to Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland and the Holocaust is commonly misunderstood and misused within the Muslim world to foment anti-Semitism and anti-West hate. These leaders felt obligated to bear witness to the truth. They then took home what they saw and condemned anti-Semitism in all forms.
Among them was Muhamed Jusic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country with its own atrocities and rise of evil. “I could not stop comparing horrors of Holocaust with my own experience and childhood memories of ‘ethnic cleansing’. It was very hard to put into words all my overwhelming feelings and thoughts while visiting actual places where people became the victims of the biggest atrocity in European history. I feared I might sound pathetic, after all, what could I possibly say that was not said by so many before me? How can I possibly make some sense out of it all when the greatest minds in human history cannot explain to us what happened to humanity? My own story haunted me during trip. But I did not have courage, unlike many of the Holocaust survivors we met, to openly share my story with the others.”
A few months back, I opened the door of my new apartment in Amman, Jordan to find my new landlady, a mother of four and a grandmother of one, holding a plate of sliced watermelon. “Here,” she said, her headscarf pinned below her chin. “It’s hard for you to buy and carry a whole one yourself, so I cut it up for you.” Later that week, her son knocked on my door, offering a bag of purple grapes he’d picked off the family tree outside.
My blonde hair and American heritage gave away my Christian identity, a fact that bore no special bearing on their generosity. These gifts of fruit were simple but profound signs of welcome from my Muslim neighbors.
That same week in September, just 135 miles north of my new home, local Christians in Maaloula, Syria opened their doors to find hostility from some of their Muslim neighbors. Members of the rebel and extremist al-Nusra Front murdered at least 10 Christians, and the rest of the population fled this historically Christian town as a fierce battle between Syrian loyalist and rebel forces raged.
Reading daily about Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle East while living here on a year-long research grant, I’ve been struck by the contrast between the hospitality I have received and the hostility faced by other Christians in the Middle East. My experiences of Muslims’ generosity doesn’t align with images of violence in the news. Christians and Muslims coexist quite peacefully in Jordan, but in some surrounding states the persecution of Christians is a harsh reality.
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – A Christian, a Muslim and a Hindu walk into a university together. And what happens next, according to community leaders, is no joke – walking together can build a more harmonious, more creative, more inspiring place to live.
“Representatives from Christianity, Islam and Hinduism will clarify their deepest treasures at the heart of the paths they follow and identify the principles and practices that can be used to promote harmonious community,” Broyles said. “Each presentation will pursue harmony by looking at principles and practices that promote unity and generational wisdom that can be passed on to our families and children.”
Kaduna — Christians in Kaduna State yesterday joined their Muslim neighbours in a feast to mark the Eid-el-Maulud as hundreds of adherents of both religions gathered at the Conference Hall of the Arewa House.
The event brought together, men, women, the young, old, community leaders, Islamic scholars, community youth leaders and pastors.
There were interactions, eating and drinking in the spirit of oneness. President of the Peace, Revival and Reconciliation Foundation, Pastor Yohanna Buru, who organised the gathering, said the essence was to bring Muslims and Christians together in unity, love and mutual understanding in order to promote peaceful co-existence.
“During the Christmas celebration, I invited my brothers, friends, neighbours and my fellow Muslims, and they came to Sabon Tasha which is considered by most people as a no-go area for Muslims but they came in hundreds, in fact almost a thousand people were present for the celebration. So, I thought it wise to also celebrate the Eid-el- Maulud with my fellow Muslims to mark the birth of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). They showed me love, they believe in Jesus Christ as I believe in Him and as it is said that you do unto others as you want them do unto you, so I decided to celebrate Maulud with the Muslims as a friend and brother,” Buru explained.
The interfaith movement in the United States is growing. Led by organizations like the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago, the Pluralism Project at Harvard, and the groundswell movement founded by Ms. Valarie Kaur (to name just a few), more and more Americans are engaging with people of different religious and spiritual identities than themselves. The mainstream media has finally started to pick up on this trend. Major news outlets like theNew York Times, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting Service, and The Huffington Post frequently report on interreligious engagement.
As an American Muslim, I am very excited by these trends and hope to continue promoting interfaith work in 2014. However, as the interfaith movement grows, it is becoming increasingly important to discuss potential challenges of interfaith dialogue and how they can be addressed.
The first challenge is a lack of focus. For any interfaith dialogue to succeed, all parties must be clear on the conversation’s goals. This can help people decide which conversations they should join. For example, if the goal is to discuss complex theological issues, it is necessary to include scripture experts, historians, linguists, and other academics. Lay people and usually younger people may not feel comfortable in these discussions. On the other hand, conversations focused around personal values and experiences would be more appealing to people who do not fit into a defined faith or spiritual category (e.g. agnostics or atheists) or people who are less interested in theology. Academics who want to debate religious minutiae would probably shy away from these discussions. Thus, it is necessary to hold multiple different types of conversations, each geared to a different audience.
Friday is a holy day. And Friday is also soup day. Abdulkadir, Efe and Yasmin sit on their little stools and cut several orange peppers into small pieces. The menu for today is pepper-and-carrot soup with homemade bread, which they prepared the day before. Intern Ayse and kindergarten teachers Seyma and Mirela stand at the stove, where they cook broth in several large pots. Twenty-two hungry children, each between three and six years old and representing nine nations, have to be fed later in the day.
Meanwhile, a few other children sit in a playroom upstairs, where they learn Turkish. Their teacher was sent by the consulate and comes once a week to the Islamic kindergarten in Karlsruhe. She has drawn different types of fruit on large pieces of paper, which she holds in the air, asking what they’re called in Turkish. The children are enthusiastic. “Muz,” they call out in unison as the image of a banana is held up. “Elma,” they say when an apple comes next.
Muslimischer Kindergarten Porträt Mesut Palanci
“No preaching and no Koranic verses,” says Mesut Palanci, with his son Salih
Salih stands out in particular. The six-year-old playfully switches between Turkish and German. Other children here can do the same with Arabic and German. Salih’s father, Mesut Palanci, spoke only Turkish with his son until he was three years old. “So that he could speak his native language perfectly,” says Mesut in perfect German.
The 44-year-old is the chairman of the kindergarten’s support association, Halima e.V. He played a major role in the founding of the kindergarten 15 years ago. It was pioneering work at the time and above all, a fight against prejudices and distrust. Before “Halima,” there were only two other kindergartens of its kind in all of Germany. One of them, located in Munich, was shut down a few years ago for allegedly having radical tendencies.
The outgoing head of the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) says some Muslim states should broaden rights for religious minorities.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who stepped down on Monday after nine years as secretary general of the 57-country group representing the Islamic world, also said Western countries should do more to combat an increase of prejudice against Muslims there.
Concern among churches worldwide for fellow Christians in the Middle East has risen in recent years as wars and Islamist rebels have killed or driven many from their homes there.
The Jeddah-based OIC’s religious diplomacy was long focused on a fruitless effort to have the United Nations pass a global ban on insults to Islam. The fate of Christian minorities in Muslim countries rarely figured in its declarations.
“I have no doubt that there is room for religious freedom improvements in some parts of the Muslim world with regard to allowing non-Muslims to have access to their religious facilities or construction of such facilities,” Ihsanoglu wrote in response to questions by e-mail from Reuters.
Christians in the Middle East frequently complain of restrictions or bans on churches there and their leaders, alarmed by the rise of hardline Islamists in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings, have tried to emphasize their long histories in the region and have urged their communities not to leave.
At his Dec. 13 Vatican meeting with Pope Francis, Ihsanoglu said he stressed the need for “greater efforts from OIC member states to foster respect for religious pluralism and cultural diversity and to counter the spread of bigotry and prejudice”