Muslims help to build a church in Burkina Faso

mmn-burkina-faso-Kodeni-church-rChurches were first planted around Bobo-Dioulasso, and today worship takes place in three locations, the newest in Kodeni.

It began with Ousmane Hié, a teenager from Kodeni, who was forced to end his education due to lack of family resources. He worked for two years as an apprentice to an auto mechanic.

“My wife, Claire, and I saw much potential in Ousmane, and Claire helped him get back into school,” said Siaka Traoré, who has retired from formal leadership positions with the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Burkina Faso.

Each Sunday, Ousmane and three of his siblings walked about three miles from Kodeni to attend the Mennonite church in Bobo. Claire Traoré helped them get their paperwork in order so they, too, could attend school. These four children were the beginning of the Mennonite church in their village.

Three evening meetings were held in Kodeni to celebrate World Day of Evangelism in 2016. Because of this outreach, more than 50 children gathered for worship and Sunday school in a classroom of a nearby public school. This church plant is led by Samuel Traoré, a Bible school student from the Bobo congregation.

Believing this new congregation would soon outgrow a classroom, a plot of land was sought. As soon as the land was purchased, people from the church visited those living in the neighborhood. All Muslims, they extended a warm welcome and began giving valuable building tips.

“Each time we visited our new plot of land, we first visited our neighbors, especially the family of the imam whose property adjoined our church plot,” Traoré said. “God seemed to precede each encounter and soften their hearts so that they were friendly toward us, even though there is much distrust and persecution between Christians and Muslims in our country.

“Because of our good relationship with the imam’s family, we asked if they would guard our construction materials — cement, boards, shovels and wheelbarrows — against theft.

“What is even more remarkable is that when our church members have work days, Muslim youth come and help us build our church.”


At Christmas, Christians and Muslims take time to talk about loving Jesus, and each other

GettyImages_460629094.6(RNS) — In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections, when we felt the country needed a message of unity and hope, the Rev. Andy Stoker, of First Methodist Church in Dallas, and I released a video on Facebook about our friendship called “An Imam, A Pastor, and A Dream,” in hopes that it would inspire others.

It spread rapidly online, with millions of views within the first few days. Those who commented saw in that five-minute clip the type of connection they wished to see in their own communities.

Little did we know just how far it would reach. Shortly after its release, I got a phone call informing me that ISIS had made a video about our video. In theirs, they referred to me as “the Apostate Omar Suleiman” and called for their followers to assassinate me [].

I was unnerved by the news, but I knew I had to tell Andy what had happened before he found out through some other source. When I called, he not only didn’t shy away, he began the conversation that led to our next effort together. We decided in the wake of ISIS’ threat that we weren’t going to let any fools stop us from being brothers. Not here, and not thousands of miles away.

That spring of 2017, we began offering a month-long class about Jesus in Islam and Christianity. For four weeks, our Christian and Muslim communities came together to discuss Jesus in our respective faiths. The pews at First United Methodist were full, according to the Reverend Andy Stoker.

The tranquility and bonds formed over that month had captivated us all. At the end of our last session there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.

Rev. Andy and I had started with the birth of Christ, then went on to his life, ending with our differences on the meaning of the crucifixion, then finally came to Jesus’ second coming. In the first two weeks, we found little difference in how our two faiths viewed Jesus in birth and life.

Jesus is no ordinary figure to Muslims. He is one of the highest prophets and messengers of God, born of a virgin, chosen as the one to restore justice to this earth in its final days, and distinguished in the hereafter with a special place in paradise. He is mentioned in the Quran 25 times, with an entire chapter named after his honored mother, Mary.

Muhammad said about his relationship to him, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”


Jihad a misunderstood concept

Ramadan26-1In the Islamic tradition, jihad has several different components, including personal struggles

By Sheikh Muhammad Ali Waiswa

As we conclude the year 2019, one out of many that we celebrate and applaud are the interfaith relations under the umbrella of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), which has culminated in many achievements, especially national dialogue process, which President Yoweri Museveni gave a blessing.

In order to enhance that spirit of peaceful co-existence, I wish to address one of the misconceptions in a bid to strengthen the appreciation of diversity.

Politicians and anti-Muslim activists frequently take to audiences and websites to criticise the term jihad as a form of Islamic supremacism, oppression and violence. Muslim extremists, on the other hand, argue that jihad refers to a “holy war” against non-Muslims. Viewing the term jihad through these frameworks alone, however, would be playing into the hands of extremists, who forego the other elements encompassed by the term jihad.

In the Islamic tradition, jihad has several different components, including personal struggles, such as the fight against an addiction; social struggles, such as the struggle to become tolerant of others; and occasionally a military struggle, if and when necessary, but only in self-defence.

When asked, “What is the major jihad?” Muhammad replied: “The jihad of the self (or the struggle against the personal self).” Contrary to the rhetoric and misinformation about jihad in anti-Islam networks, Muhammad did not say that the violent struggle was the most important form of jihad.

The hysteria in the western world and other non-Muslim countries over jihad has brought me to consider the term through a Christian perspective. In this article, I hope to explore how forms of jihad are presented in Islam and Christianity. This exercise can help to find common characteristics of jihad so that Muslims and Christians can build bridges of mutual understanding and tolerance.


Lutheran pastor, Muslim doctor discuss common ground in ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ conversation in Willmar, Minnesota

122419.N.WCT.LoveThyNeighbor.0062WILLMAR — While there are unarguably many differences between Christianity and Islam, the overarching message of the interfaith dialogue last week Willmar was there is more common ground than one might expect and the differences should not keep people apart.

“It is OK to be friends and neighbors with people that are different than you,” said the Rev. Mandy France, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Bird Island. “It is OK to be in a relationship with people who don’t believe what you believe.”

France and Dr. Ayaz Virji, of Dawson, conducted their 26th “Love Thy Neighbor” event Dec. 20 in front of a crowd of about 100 people at the Barn Theatre in Willmar. Virji and France have for a couple of years now been giving these talks, based on Virji’s book “Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America.”

The duo started them following the 2016 election, when Virji and his family started to experience a significant rise in Islamophobia in their home of Dawson, where Virji is a family practice physician.

“After the election, things did change, for whatever reason,” Virji said.

At the start of the Willmar presentation, they made sure to let people know they had no other agenda beyond starting a conversation.

“We are not here to argue or debate anyone. We are not hear to convert anyone,” France said. “The religion or whatever you walked in with, you are going to walk out with.”

During the two-hour presentation, France and Virji shared their stories about how they came together to give these presentations across the country. Virji shared information about Islam, and the two questioned each other about their respective religions. There was also a short question-and-answer segment with the audience toward the end.

Virji and his family had moved to Dawson in 2013, when Virji felt a calling to practice medicine in rural America, where there is a shortage of physicians. The treatment his family was receiving following the election made him start to rethink that mission. His family, including his young children, were called suicide bombers and terrorists to their faces, and Virji regularly receives hate mail.

“This is nonsense,” Virji said and he was thinking of leaving it all behind. While he accepted a position with New York University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Virji continues to live and work in Dawson for part of the year.

France, who in 2016 was an intern pastor, talked Virji into giving a presentation about Islam in Dawson, to teach people and show them there is nothing to fear.

“The message of the Bible is love. It was really conflicting to me,” France said of the treatment she witnessed Virji and his family receiving and the comments she heard from people who identify as Christian.

For Virji, Islam is a religion of peace and love and it’s just as much about good deeds as belief.

“Faith is a verb, you have to do it,” Virji said.


Ayatollah Urges Christians, Muslims to Follow The Teachings of Jesus and Confront The Tyrants

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged both Christians and Muslims to follow the teachings of Jesus by “confronting the Pharoahs and tyrants”, state media reported.

Trqi6fo2In a Christmas Eve address, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader advised all followers of Jesus to adhere to his lessons in “their lives and deeds”, according to Tasnim news agency.

Christians believe Jesus to be the son of God, with millions around the world celebrating his birth on Wednesday. Muslims also believe in Jesus and the virgin birth, but consider him to be a prophet rather than the child of God.

“The honor Muslims attribute to Jesus Christ [peace be upon him] is no less than his position and merit in the eyes of the Christian believers in Christianity,” Khamenei said in a tweet accompanied by a photo showing him next to a small but festive Christmas tree decked out with Santa Claus and reindeer decorations and twinkle lights.

“Today, many who claim to follow Jesus Christ take a different path than that of him. The guidance of Jesus, the son of Mary (peace be upon our Prophet and her) is guidance towards worshiping God and confronting the Pharaohs and tyrants,” he said.

Following Jesus instead requires “adherence to righteousness and abhorrence of anti-righteous powers”, the ayatollah explained.

“It is hoped that Christians and Muslims in every part of the world will adhere to this great lesson from Jesus [peace be upon him] in their lives and deeds,” he said.


Muslims love Jesus. So why does everyone think we hate Christmas?

34b8035e7caa68a058fe5fc77d4a0a7dWhile most British Muslims might be indifferent to the celebrations underway this season, perhaps we can play a small part in reviving the generosity, kindness and true Christmas spirit associated with the holiday


It’s Christmas time and so it hasn’t taken long for a national newspaper to run a feature implying British Muslims are poorly integrated for “refusing to celebrate a Christian holiday”. The irony of this pernicious Islamophobia, feebly hiding behind the banner of defending the Judeo-Christian values of our country, is that it is bereft of any meaningful understanding of Islam.

You see, the thing is, Muslims love Jesus.

In fact, the Prophet Muhammad said: “The dearest person to me in friendship and in love, in this world and the next is Jesus, the son of Mary.”

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that Jesus is mentioned in the Quran over 100 times, while the Prophet Muhammad, by contrast, is mentioned just five times. Described as the best woman ever to have set foot on earth, there is a whole chapter in the Quran named “Mary” and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the holy book.

It’s not just that Muslims love Jesus – we believe him to be one of the greatest messengers of god. We believe in his miraculous birth. We believe that god gifted him with the ability to bring the dead back to life, heal the leper and bring sight back to the blind and, like Christians, we believe in his second coming back to this world.


How to survive Christmas as a Muslim

L5N5LEVFKQPB7GE4L55NNWOEAII grew up trying to avoid the American Christmas celebrations all around me.

Celebrating Christmas wasn’t allowed in my house. My family is Muslim, the kind that thought saying “Merry Christmas” meant accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. So when we got together as a family during those precious days off from school and work, finding things to do that didn’t involve that fat burglar with the beard was the mission.

My parents had both immigrated from Egypt in the 1970s, where, I should note, Christmas is very much a thing, except Egyptians celebrate it on Jan. 7, as Eastern Orthodox Christians do, with the big trees and everything. But in raising their American kids, they were deathly afraid that they would fail to pass down their own Muslim traditions. They went all out. They enrolled us in an Islamic school where we had days off for the Islamic holidays, too. They enrolled me in Islamic karate classes. And when Christmas time rolled around, they taught me to make the most of my days off by doing absolutely anything except celebrate the reason for them.

It turned into a kind of game. When we watched TV, we’d strategically change channels to avoid Christmas commercials. When we strung lights in the house, back when Ramadan and Eid were around Christmastime, we avoided the green and red combo. When Christmas carolers would show up to our front door … just kidding, there were never carolers in my tough Newark, N.J., neighborhood. But had there been, we’d have shut off the lights and pretended no one was home.



Christmastime means good spirits for everyone. Even a secular Muslim like me.

Here in Belgium, people do not traditionally set up their Christmas trees until after the chocolaty feast of Saint Nicholas, or as he’s known in Dutch, Sinterklaas, who mutated to become the American “Santa Claus” in the melting pot of New York (formerly New Amsterdam). Not being one to stand on ceremony, my wife, who is Belgian, suggested we put out the Christmas decorations early this year to help ease the blues of our first full winter back in Europe after several years in the Middle East.
When the saintly gift-bearer (whose existence my 10-year-old son is beginning to doubt) arrived in early December, as he does in Belgium, for what might be his final visit to our house, he must have been confused to find it all done up with a Christmas tree already. On deeper reflection, I am aware of the glaring contradiction between parents telling their kids never to accept anything from strangers and then pretending it’s okay for a mysterious old man to enter their homes in the dead of night to leave treats behind.

In our multicultural, irreligious household, where we encourage our son to celebrate his dual European-Arab heritage, Christmas is the favorite festival. With how secularized it has become in the West, it is more fun than the Islamic feasts we also mark.


How the rise of individualism is upending the Middle East

LEBANONThe protests that have swept the Middle East in the past two months share a number of underlying causes: Oil prices are soft. Unemployment is high. Citizens have had their fill of corruption and dictatorship. The demonstrators in Beirut, Baghdad, Tehran and Algiers can add complaints that are distinctive to their nations, too. In Iraq, citizens object to the power of Iran and its proxy militias; in Algeria, citizens complain that the ruling gerontocracy has failed to deliver promised reforms.

Yet there’s a deeper sociological phenomenon that underpins all of this unrest: Individualism is accelerating in the Middle East, upending societies that had relied on people to know their place and respect authority. Arab societies have long depended on hierarchical networks of trust that encompass families, villages, tribes and other associations — networks that ultimately reach up to the national leadership. Young people, though, increasingly complain that these networks don’t serve them, and growing urbanization and the spread of technology make it far easier for them to opt out. In some cases, voluntary friendships and connections that people embrace in lieu of tribe and family provide their own sources of strength. But in a region with such a strong tradition of hierarchy and mutual obligation, it is hard to overstate how destabilizing the rise of individualism can be.

These countries are Westernizing socially, even as they maintain distinctive cultural and political identities. They are shifting toward the more atomistic social organization that has long characterized Europe and the United States. People are more mobile, families are more scattered, and economic rewards come as a result of what you do, not who you are. Yet partly because of the rapidity of the change, and partly because it is occurring in much more traditional societies, the decline in “social capital” that the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam identified as a problem in the United States two decades ago, in his book “Bowling Alone,” is arriving even more abruptly in the Arab world. Loneliness and detachment are breeding social volatility.


India Steps Toward Making Naturalization Harder for Muslims

merlin_162829869_4b541001-12a7-41b2-abf3-a3b90a4a5a11-superJumboHYDERABAD, India — India took a major step toward the official marginalization of Muslims on Tuesday as one house of Parliament passed a bill that would establish a religious test for migrants who want to become citizens, solidifying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda.

The measure would give migrants of all of South Asia’s major religions a clear path to Indian citizenship — except Islam. It is the most significant move yet to profoundly alter India’s secular nature enshrined by its founding leaders when the country gained independence in 1947.

The bill passed in the lower house, the Lok Sabha, a few minutes after midnight, following a few hours of debate. The vote was 311 to 80. The measure now moves to the upper house, the Rajya Sabha, where Mr. Modi seems to have enough allies that most analysts predict it will soon become law.

Muslim Indians are deeply unsettled. They see the new measure, called the Citizenship Amendment Bill, as the first step by the governing party to make second-class citizens of India’s 200 million Muslims, one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, and render many of them stateless.