Cross Meets Crescent: An Interview with Kenneth Cragg

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Cragg, who passed away in November of 2012, dedicated his long career to bringing Muslims and Christians together at the deepest level of their contrasting faith journeys.  The article linked below is an interview he did in 1999 which should be read by all wanting to understand the foundations of the current crisis in Muslim- Christian relations as well as positive ways forward.




You’ve said that Christians and Muslims should be trying to work for religious ecumenism. What does ecumenism look like from a Muslim perspective?

It depends on which Muslim you ask, of course, as it would depend on which Christian you asked. The word ecumenae means the whole inhabited world. But we seem to have limited it to Christian togetherness, to Christian mutuality. Couldn’t we have an ecumenae of religions?

The ecumenical movement has adopted the position that “whatever is Christian I will try to belong with, in some sense.” Can we go on to say, “I will try to belong with anything that is religious”? That, obviously, is vastly more difficult. But a good example of this happened at Temple University, where the Journal of Ecumenical Studies is produced. The journal started out dealing only with inter-Christian issues. Then the editors said, “Why not include Jews? They’re part of the ecumenae of Abraham. Why not Muslims?” If you begin thinking that way, soon you ask, “Why not every religion — Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism?”

The difficulty is that religion is such an omnibus term. Michael Ramsey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, once said, “Not everything religious is desirable.” Would we want to align ourselves with the Hinduism that undergirds the caste system or the Hinduism of Gandhi, which repudiates the caste system? To which Islam can Christians relate — the Islam of Afghanistan’s Taliban or the Islam of academics living in the West? But with due circumspection, I think it’s possible to relate to those of other faiths. We must do so with patience and modesty, with the honest recognition that the degree to which we can be together is partial, and that each faith has distinctive aspects which can’t be reconciled. If we agree to agree, we must at the same time agree to disagree. Otherwise, we may be heading only for some kind of gooey sentimentalism.

In the U.S., there always seem to be far more Christians than Muslims involved in Islamic-Christian dialogue groups. Are Christians more open than Muslims to this kind of encounter?

Even those in the two faiths who are articulate and ready for dialogue do have a different kind of calendar. Christianity has had a longer confrontation with modernity than has Islam. Our experience or awareness of the issues now facing us is, consequently, different. Christians are more aware of the need to respond to pluralism.

We have to be patient until Muslims feel they are more ready for dialogue. What I often find is that the Muslim participants in dialogue groups will make a kind of set statement reiterating how they see things. You get the impression that they haven’t really taken in the things the Christians have said. But at least they have been willing to respond. Many of the same issues face people of all religions — ecology the environment, population. In all these spheres we can, to an extent, cooperate. And religions need the criticism that those of other faiths can bring.

Aren’t many Muslim countries trying to shut themselves off from the West and the West’s religion?

There is a very deep-seated resentment of Western power, especially of American power. It’s a love-hate relationship, because these countries need Western technology and expertise. People come to the West for education, and some nations, such as Egypt and Jordan, are sustained by American aid. If you feel your culture is under threat, however, or is going to be swamped by what you regard as alien influences, or if you want to have some control over the degree to which another culture influences yours — then you may develop a mentality of resistance. We see an extreme form of this in Afghanistan. The more people see old securities threatened, the louder they tend to shout. So in that sense, fundamentalism is itself an index of the degree of inevitable change.



Muslim, Christian Scouts come together to foster friendship, understanding

girl scoutsA beautiful event unfolded recently at the Islamic Center of Naperville, where two Girl Scout groups met for an interfaith event that paved the way for a lifetime of understanding and friendship.

We should all be more like Girl Scouts.

Heather Mieloszyk, a troop leader for her second- and seventh-grade daughters, was inspired to educate herself and her Scouts on the Islamic faith after some of the elementary students she teaches brought treats to school to celebrate Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast daily from sunrise to sunset.

The students’ parents put Mieloszyk in touch with Saima Hasan, a program director for the Girl Scouts troops who operate out of the Islamic Center of Naperville. Hasan and her fellow troop leaders got to work planning a day of fun and fellowship.

The Daisies (kindergarten and first-grade Girl Scouts) greeted each visitor with a flower. The girls shared snacks (cupcakes and dates) and created pins with different colored beads to swap with one another. The visiting girls learned to write their names in Arabic and received bookmarks with Arabic phrases of goodwill translated into English.

“Today’s youth should serve as tomorrow’s ambassadors of peace in a troubled world,” Hasan told me. “They would use their positive experiences with various cultures, religions, races and ethnicities and build a world of understanding, which in some way will contribute to the healing and prosperity of this great nation.”


Islam and Christianity stand for peace, harmony and human development, says Imam

imageBlaming religion for the actions of terrorists has to be contested, one of Ireland’s leading Muslim voices has said.

Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council and imam of the mosque at Blanchardstown in Dublin, has pointed out that “all religions promote love and discourage violence”.

Islam and Christianity “both stand for peace, harmony and human development”, he said, and he prayed “that the new year may bring healing and peace to our suffering world”.

The dream of global peace “will never come true unless followers of both Islam and Christianity, which together make up well over half of the world’s population, come forward in a spirit of co-operation, respect and goodwill to play their due role to promote peaceful coexistence”.

The “hollow notion of a clash of civilisations’ needs to be replaced with ‘dialogue among civilisations’”, the imam said. Enhanced engagement among different religions especially Islam and Christianity would serve to “build bridges and demolish walls that separate us”, he said.


Christians and Muslims are bound by history

itavy0glihwni4u6a56823d1ade29fMany commonalities between Muslims and Christians call for cohesion among followers of the two faiths.

When 10-year-old Muhammad (PBUH) was walking in a caravan accompanied by his uncle AbuTalib, Bahira of Busra, a Christian monk, predicted from observations and knowledge in divine books that the boy was to be a great person but with many enemies.

The monk advised Abu Talib to return his nephew to Mecca for fear that he might be noticed in Syria and be harmed. The point here is that a Christian monk showed his concern for the safety of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) before the time he was pronounced to be.

Another aspect of historic nature that unites the two is the statement given by Waraqa, who adopted Christianity and studied religious books of the past, to Khadija the wife of the Prophet (PBUH) assuring her that her husband was going to be the Prophet (PBUH) and that she had nothing to worry about his experiences at Cave Hira where Muhammad (PBUH) first received divine revelation.

These two events are well documented in Muslim classical books on biography of the Prophet (PBUH) and authenticated and both involve Christians well versed in its doctrine concerned about the well-being of the Prophet (PBUH)and his mission before it took off.

Although these narrations may not be supported by Christian sources, the fact that Muslims in general believe in them demonstrate the historic link between the two religions. Islam also mentions Jesus, his mother and disciples highly.

When the Prophet (PBUH) himself got into trouble with Meccans who were then determined to increase pressure on the Prophet (PBUH) and his followers for them to leave their religion, the Prophet (pbuh) found them refuge in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) because it had a just king who would protect anyone within the boundaries of his land from oppression.


Crime-fighting London Jews claim model for Muslim cooperation

afp-crime-fighting-london-jews-claim-model-for-muslim-cooperationLondon (AFP) – The unusual sight of crime-fighting Orthodox Jews pounding the streets of a tough London neighbourhood after dark has captured the attention of grateful locals, but their ongoing protection of local Muslims has seen their profile go global.

The work of the 25-strong “Shomrim” even caught the eye of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who praised the neighbourhood patrol group’s “remarkable courage”.

Members of the Haredi Jewish community in Stamford Hill formed the group — named after the Yiddish word for guards — in 2008 in response to high crime levels.

Police initially feared vigilantism but now cooperate closely with the volunteers, who helped in 197 arrests last year and even apprehending the area’s “most wanted burglar”.

It is Shomrim’s role in helping protect the area’s large Muslim population, however, that has secured its place in the community and garnered international praise.

The group was called upon by local councillors in Hackney, north London, following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by Islamic extremists in the British capital in 2013.


Muslims in Kenya offer a Christmas present to the world


After a year marred by violence that has led some people to suppose that confrontation is inevitable among humanity’s religions, a busload of Muslims in northeast Kenya has given us all a gift beyond measure for Christmas and the New Year.

On December 21, when armed al-Shabab extremists halted a bus near the town of Mandera, they asked the Muslims on board to help separate out the Christian passengers for execution – a pattern of attack with which they have repeatedly traumatised Kenyans in recent years.

But the Muslim passengers threw a human shield around their Christian compatriots and told the attackers that they would have to kill the entire busload, Muslims and Christians alike. Muslim women took off their traditional headscarves and handed them to non-Muslims to wear for protection.

The gift of these Kenyans went far beyond offering protection for their Christian neighbours.

Kenyan society is predominately Christian, but communities of Muslim, Bahai, Buddhist and African traditional religion add an important cultural, economic and social fabric to its citizenry.

Organisations such as the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya – composed of a cross-section of faith-based communities – work vigorously to promote inclusion, and speak to the long-standing tradition in Kenyan society promoting tolerance and inclusion.


Christmas in Damascus: RT crew feels hope in air as Christians, Muslims join to celebrate

Reuters-Syrian-children-Santa-Claus-Christmas-Damascus-photog-Khaled-Al-HaririSyria has endured another year of devastating civil war and strife. However, thousands of civilians in Damascus have been trying to live as normal a life as possible, celebrating Christmas and giving them some respite from the chaos.

Things have not been easy for Christians living in Syria over the last five years since the outbreak of war. Persecuted like other religious groups by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Christians in Damascus have been able to put the troubles to the back of their minds for at least one day, as they celebrate Christmas.

Tens of thousands of people took part in the celebrations and one of them was RT’s Murad Gazdiev, who took a walk round the streets of the Syrian capital and found an overall feel of hope that things will take a turn for the better in the near future.

“I feel great, I feel safe here thanks to the army and the police that my family can walk the streets in peace,” said one man, who was taking part in the Christmas celebrations.

“Things are changing and I think that this year will be better for us all,” said another bystander.

© RT

Hundreds of thousands of Christians have sought refuge in Damascus from religious persecution in other parts of the country and the locals feel for their fellow countrymen and women who have been forced to uproot from their homes in search of safety.

“I feel sorry for all those who were forced to flee their homes, but I have hope for Syria,” a Damascus native told RT.

Christians, Jews and Muslims come together to help others on Christmas Day in metro Detroit

Muslim__Jewish___Christian_volunteers_ba_0_28978418_ver1.0_640_480DETROIT (WXYZ) – Metro Detroit’s Christians, Jews, and Muslims banded together to bring Christmas joy to families in need on Christmas Day. They gathered early in the morning and, with Santa’s help, delivered personalized bags of gifts to hundreds of families in southwest Detroit.

The Christmas gift-giving is part of the Jimmy’s Kids Christmas morning program. The program was started by Jimmy Touman in 1988. Today, he expected to have the help of 2,000 volunteers.

One 12-year-old boy, Jeremy Jenkins raised more than $1,600 and used the money to make more than 150 blankets that were given out today.

It was part of his bar mitzvah project and it was something inspired by his experiences doing this on past Christmases.


What’s it like to be Muslim in America, post Paris


DECEMBER 19, 2015 – FREDERICKSBURG, VA – Sanaa Soliman, sits in the living room of her home in Fredericksburg, Va. Soliman’s children bought her pepper spray to protect herself in public after they heard about something called the hijad challenge where someone will try to rip off muslim womens’ head scarves.

For the first time in her life, Yazmin Ali is afraid to leave her house. Unlike most neighbors in her family’s cookie-cutter subdivision outside Fredericksburg, VA—where homes have Christmas wreathes on the front doors and cars have American flag vanity plates—she’s Muslim, and she wears a hijab.

It doesn’t matter that Ali, 34, was born and raised in Florida, that her mother is an evangelical Christian Cuban-American, that she a masters degree from Auburn, or that she only learned Arabic through a State Department scholarship in Jordan—when it was raining at her kids’ bus stop recently and she offered to let other parents shelter in her car while they wait, she says, they said no.

Dirty looks are nothing new—she’s been tripped before at the mall—but events in the last month have taken a sobering turn. Four days after the ISIS attacks in Paris, her mosque, the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg, held a long-planned meeting to share plans for its new building with the community. A protestor started shouting, “Every Muslim is a terrorist!” Soon after, ICF hosted a coat drive for Syrian refugees with a neighboring church, and a man with a confederate flag showed up with a sign, “No refugees in VA.” After the San Bernardino shooting, Ali started disguising her hijab under a winter hat and scarf. “I had a really long, good cry,” she says. “Because I have kids, I’m fearful of something happening to me.”


Muslim-Christian unity on display during Christmas in Kashmir


Choir members from the Holy Family Catholic Church of Srinagar in northern Jammu and Kashmir sing Christmas carols. (Photo by Umer Asif)

The parish was closed last Christmas, after devastating floods hit the state in September 2014, killing over 300 people, and causing extensive damage to the church.

Choirs comprising eight to 10 children have been practicing before Christmas and are now visiting homes for singing carols.

Maryam Shammi, a parishioner and choir member, said it excites her to invite Muslim friends for Christmas celebrations. She says it’s also exciting to invite them to her home for  Christmas lunch, an event her family was forced to skip last year due to floods.

“This year, I will invite all my friends and we will spend Christmas together,” she told

There are just 650 Christians living in India’s only Muslim-majority state. As the Christian community is least talked about and remains generally away from the public gaze, Christmas celebrations present a good opportunity to practice interreligious harmony.

Muslim neighbors typically participate in Christmas celebrations, exchanging gifts and greetings.

Lila Richard, an 82-year-old parishioner and a retired teacher who taught at a Christian missionary school in Srinagar, said Christians and Muslims have been living in harmony for decades in the Kashmir Valley.

“As far as I can tell you, we haven’t faced danger of any sort since Christians have never been involved in any upheavals that have engulfed the region over the past two decades,” she said.