Interfaith dialogue can become a path to enlightenment, wonder and healing

“From the cowardice that dare not face new truth,

From the laziness that is contented with half truth,

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,

Good Lord deliver me.”

—a Kenyan prayer, from “The Catholic Prayer Book”

This past weekend, I spoke via Zoom to a Lexington group called the Christian-Muslim Dialogue, which, as its name implies, is made up of Christians and Muslims who meet regularly to discuss religion and related matters.

I made a presentation to the group, and that was followed by discussion among the members and me.

I found the experience inspiring, and it reminded me why it’s important for people walking different paths to stay in touch with each other. Living in a fairly homogeneous corner of Kentucky, I don’t get to have interfaith conversations often.

In my presentation, I offered four observations about interfaith (and also interdenominational) dialogues that I think make them important.

First, if we hope to grow spiritually, it’s helpful to be able to hold more than one thought in our head at the same time. Getting to know people from other belief systems—whether we’re Muslims meeting Christians, or evangelical Protestants meeting Roman Catholics, or Mormons meeting Buddhists—introduces us to ideas, personal histories and theological traditions we might not have encountered before.


How a growing number of Muslims are making Japan their home

Migrant workers and local converts are swelling the ranks of the country’s small but significant Muslim community

There were “hardly any Arabs in the country” says Mohamed Shokeir about the first time he travelled to Japan in 1981 to visit his sister.

She was a student studying Japanese at Cairo University when she met a Japanese man, an Arabist and Muslim convert studying at Al-Azhar University. The pair married and moved to Tokyo in Japan.

Shokeir’s visit to see her was the first act in a journey that would end up defining his life; a trip that left the then-flight attendant enamoured by the country and its people.

“It was fascinating, I fell in love. The people, their attitude, their behaviour, how efficient everything was,” Shokeir says.

“And there was also a mystery about it all as I didn’t understand the language.”

Shokeir's sister Azza (far right) led the way for Shokeir (second right) to later follow her to Japan and meet his wife Yoko (centre) (Credit: Mohamed Shokeir)
Shokeir’s sister Azza (far right) led the way for Shokeir (second right) to follow her to Japan and meet his wife Yoko (centre), seen here in 1984 (Credit: Mohamed Shokeir) 

On his third visit to the country in 1983, he decided to stay and found a place close to his sister in Fujimidai, in north east Tokyo. He enrolled in a Japanese language course by day and worked for a translation company that produced instruction manuals for Japanese electrical appliances in the afternoons.

That same year, he met his future wife Yoko on a Tokyo train in the evening rush hour.

“I had taken the train in the wrong direction, I’d only been in the country a few months and my Japanese then wasn’t that good. I asked the girl who was holding the same handlebar as me how to get to my stop. She told me in good English how to get where I needed to be.”

Shokeir asked for Yoko’s number as he was impressed by her language skills and keen to make more Japanese friends. “She didn’t have a pen, and nor did I, but a fellow passenger overheard and offered his pen, so I got her number.” Five years later she became his wife.


Muslims in Germany: Religion not a good gauge of integration

A study shows that the number of Muslims in Germany has significantly risen compared to 2015 and many still face challenges in employment and education. But religion may only be a minor cause of these challenges.

“Wir schaffen das” — “We can do it.” Those were the now-famous words that German Chancellor Angela Merkel used in 2015 to indicate that Germany was prepared and able to take in a large number of refugees — ultimately around 1 million — many from majority-Muslim countries in the Near and Middle East.

Almost six years later, a study shows that there are a great deal more Muslims in Germany than in 2015 — and that the population has become less homogenous.

“The Muslim population has become more diverse in the context of immigration from Muslim-majority countries in recent years,” said the head of Germany’s bespoke ministry for migration and refugees, Hans-Eckhard Sommer, at a press conference on Wednesday.

According to the study, there are between 5.3 and 5.6 million Muslims with a “migration background,” around 900,000 more than in 2015. This makes up between 6.4 and 6.7% of Germany’s entire population. “Migration background” is a term used in German to describe first-generation migrants or the offspring of migrants.

While the largest number of Muslims in Germany are of Turkish heritage, as has been the case for decades, the countries of origin have become more diverse, most likely owing to the consequences of the high number of refugees from countries like Syria and Iraq since 2015 according to the study’s authors.

How have migrants and refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 fared?

The study surveyed 4,500 Muslims with a migration background and 500 without, extrapolating figures from this poll to the population as a whole.

Religion may not be that relevant

“The analyses show that the influence of religion on integration is often overestimated,” Sommer said.


Muslims and Christians should learn from their shared history

For the last couple of years, billions of Muslims and Christians have been enjoying religious holidays that fall at roughly the same time of year. The end of Easter has coincided with the beginning of Ramadan, and this should not surprise us at all since both great religions emerged from the same historic region and share a common Abrahamic history and culture. However, a cursory glance at social media reveals that few Muslims and Christians realize they are celebrating their holy days concurrently. It is a shame that, instead of seeking commonalities, the relationship between Christians and Muslims has often been characterized by mistrust and misunderstanding.

As the month-long Ramadan festivities near their midpoint, we ask whether it is time for a new era of peaceful coexistence and understanding between all the Abrahamic faith communities. If the answer is “yes,” the path forward should begin by gaining a better appreciation of our shared Abrahamic history and culture. Our stories are intertwined and at crucial moments we are indebted to one another for existing as faith groups to this day.


Myanmar protesters bridge religious divides to counter military coup

Peter, a young father, looked out at the sea of tens of thousands of peaceful protesters surrounding him in a sit-in at a market in his hometown of Mandalay, their bright red and yellow posters condemning the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar.

Moments later, security forces assaulted the crowd, firing tear gas and live rounds. “They arrived as early as possible and start brutally cracking down, shooting, beating, even firing on the street,” says Peter, using a pseudonym for his protection. “A few of our friends died, and a lot were arrested.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with the toll from violence on Saturday.


Religion has long been a divider in Myanmar – most tragically, in the persecution of the Rohingya. But the urgency of opposing a military coup has brought activists from different faiths together, protesters say.

Peter is Muslim. The friends he lost in the protest earlier this month were Buddhist. Despite Myanmar’s long history of discrimination and violence against Muslims by the Buddhist majority – tensions and fears the military junta seeks to exploit – today on Myanmar’s streets people are showing a powerful solidarity, activists say.

After the coup, different religious groups “are more unified than ever,” Peter says, speaking by phone from Mandalay.About these ads

In diverse and deeply pious Myanmar, protests by religious groups have deep resonance in challenging the legitimacy of those who hold power. Today’s cooperation among different faiths in backing a broader, youth-led protest movement against the junta reflects a decade of efforts at interfaith peace building since the country’s opening to semi-democratic, civilian rule, experts say.


France should mobilize rather than marginalize its Muslims

The egalitarian principles of the French republic would suggest that the state is blind to the creeds and private beliefs of its citizens. For the most part, this is correct. Its very particular brand of state-endorsed secularism projects a certain veneer of a republic to which all its citizens have an equal right. However, for France’s second-largest religious group, its Muslims, this blanket equality falls short. Decades of marginalization have characterized their experience, but since the government embarked on a struggle against what it calls “Islamist separatism,” many French Muslims feel that the xenophobia and discrimination they face has become mainstream.

The “laicite” (secularism) with which French policymakers are so obsessed mandates strict delineation between the state and the private sphere of personal beliefs. This wall between the two was originally meant to protect citizens from the intrusion of the state and the state from religious influence, which frequently raised its head throughout the country’s history. This arrangement has, however, come increasingly unstuck as the state seems to be involving itself more and more in the lives of its Muslim citizens.

For decades now, French presidents have stuck their noses into Islamic dress codes, dietary needs, and the plethora of religious institutions and places of worship modern France is home to. With an aging population struggling to cope with the societal transitions of post-imperial France, French leaders have sought to focus on the country’s Muslims as an electoral scapegoat in lieu of making the bold structural changes that are so desperately needed.


Muslims navigate COVID rules as they celebrate Ramadan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Muslims are celebrating their second Ramadan amid the pandemic.

But this year, they are observing the holy month at a more hopeful time in the ongoing public health crisis.

Last year, mosques closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak as the world struggled to understand the highly contagious, deadly illness. It meant many Muslims prayed and broke their daily fasts at home instead of gathering together to do so in community.

This year, mosques are open for prayers with coronavirus precautions in place and some worshipers have already been vaccinated.

Muslims are still adapting their usual Ramadan traditions as the outbreak continues and this time of prayer and fasting gets underway.

“It’s kind of like 50% going back to normal,” Hardui Adham said.

He volunteered Monday at the Salahadeen Center of Nashville, preparing the mosque for an influx of people. Traditionally, Muslims pray shoulder-to-shoulder, but not this year. Adham stuck social distancing stickers around the prayer hall, reminding everyone to stay six feet apart.


History of women’s rights in Islam

Women’s rights have been a controversial topic throughout history. In Islam, men and women have similar rights, and in some areas women actually enjoy certain privileges that the men do not. In terms of property, married and divorced women have been given rights, and in fact at each turn they have been considered and provided for as appropriate. It is true to say that Islam gave women rights that are unparalleled in the history of women.

Prophet Muhammad said, “A person who is blessed with a daughter or daughters and makes no discrimination between them and his sons and brings them up with kindness and affection, will be as close to me in Paradise as my forefinger and middle finger are to each other.”

The Holy Quran repeatedly proclaims men and women’s equality in spiritual status: “But who so does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter Heaven.” (Ch.4: V.125)

Regarding education for girls, Prophet Muhammad said: “It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge.” On the economic front, Islam entitles women to possess money, property and other assets.


Keeping COVID in mind, area Muslims plan for a safe but more communal Ramadan

Many area Muslims are preparing for their second Ramadan of the pandemic, with hope that the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting will be filled with the communal prayers and family gatherings they went without last year, as COVID-19 began to sweep the state.

Last year, there was no prayer [in the mosque],” said Ali Suleiman Ali, the imam of the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs of Detroit in Canton. “Everybody [came to] understand the importance of community, the importance [of] coming together.”Imam Ali Suleiman Ali of the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs of Detroit said the mosque will discontinue its socially-distanced prayers if necessary during Ramadan.

This year, he said, the mosque will allow congregants to partake in the optional nighttime worship that is part of Ramadan tradition, but, instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, there will be a divide of six feet between each person. Ali said the mosque will not host the evening meal that marks the end of the fast or offer additional lectures and activities as it did before the pandemic.

“All we are going to do is to pray,” he said. “After the prayer, everybody goes home.”

Even with the limited offerings, Ali said that the community would remain vigilant about the current surge in COVID-19 infections in the region, and cancel in-person gatherings if necessary.