Opinion: The Yom Kippur lesson I learned from a Muslim man

Yom Kippur begins Oct. 8. It’s the holiest day of the Jewish year, when Jews engage in self-reckoning and look for ways to fix their flaws. This year someone helped me with this. His name is Mohammed.

I showed up to my book club earlier this month to discuss Mohammed Al Samawi’s book, “The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America.” In front of a coffee table filled with the usual nuts, chocolate and cheese, a smiling, dark-skinned man was sitting on the couch.

“I’m Mohammed,” he said.

And I said, “Wow.”

I had just read his book in a gulp. It is a gripping and true international thriller that, in the end, left me teary-eyed.

His story was miraculous, sure, but what really got to me were the lessons the book offers on how to heal the divisions that plague our country, our world and, ultimately, ourselves.

Al Samawi was raised in a devout Muslim home and trained in an educational system that taught him Western culture was corrupt and Jews were evil.

“The Jews are foxes,” one of his teachers told him. “Even if they seem good, they’re always hiding something.”

But first curiosity, then doubt, crept into Al Samawi’s mind. He began seeking out Christian and Jewish texts to see for himself. This led him to the internet, where Facebook groups brought him in contact with Jewish, Christian and Muslim interfaith activists around the world.

Muslims and Christians must unite against hate

20190204T0935-1588-CNS-POPE-UAE-DIALOGUE.jpg.pngCatholics are often surprised to learn that the church has formal teaching about Christian and Muslim relations. It is set out in the Second Vatican Council’s “Nostra Aetate,” which says:

The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God…who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God…. Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

Three features of the teaching are particularly salient today.

First, Muslims worship God. Often, this is doubted or denied by Christians—even some Catholics. But the church herself unambiguously affirms it. Of course, as “Nostra Aetate” notes, Islam and Christianity differ in important ways in how they understand God. Christians believe God is a Trinity of persons. Muslims do not. Christians believe Jesus is God—the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Muslims do not. Still, the God whom Muslims (and Jews) worship is the true God.

Second, the church has esteem for Muslims. One cannot hold in contempt those for whom one has esteem. Catholics are enjoined to eschew hatred for Muslims and oppose discrimination against them. We must recognize that most Muslims are decent, honorable people. Yes, there are evildoers who claim to act in the name of Islam while committing atrocities—and they must be resolutely opposed by all legitimate means, including the use of force. But we must not tar innocent Muslims with responsibility for their crimes.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICAN MAGAZINE

Muslim leader meets Pope Francis, calls for Islam that sees no ‘infidels’

StaqufThe leader of the largest independent Muslim organization in the world met Pope Francis this week to present his vision for a more peaceful future and greater human fraternity.

Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf leads the 50 million member Nahdlatul Ulama movement, which calls for a reformed “humanitarian Islam” and has developed a theological framework for Islam that rejects the concepts of caliphate, Sharia law, and “kafir” (infidels).

The Indonesian Sunni leader told CNA that he was “thrilled and excited” when Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb signed in February the Abu Dhabi declaration on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” because it expresses the vision of  “compassionate Islam” his organization has advocated for for decades.

The sheikh has specific recommendations for concrete steps to achieve the pope’s aspirations of peace and human fraternity. He came to Rome to share them with the pope.

Staquf said that Abu Dhabi declaration requires “decisive follow-up” with actions, not just words.

Just weeks after the Abu Dhabi declaration, Nahdlatul Ulama hosted a conference in Indonesia with over 20,000 Muslim scholars in attendance. At this conference, Muslim clerics and scholars issued an “ijtihad” stating their theological reasoning for prohibting the term “kafir” meaning “infidel” to describe one’s fellow citizens.

“We cannot just pretend that there are no problems in Islamic views. There are problems there. You need to acknowledge that so that we can work for the solution. If you do not acknowledge the problem, you cannot resolve it,” Staquf told CNA.

“In Muslim-majority societies, you can see more attitudes of discrimination and persecution toward minorities … so the Islamic world needs to develop the whole religious system that will integrate the Islamic world harmoniously with the rest of the world,” he said.

Central to these proposed changes to Islamic theology is how Muslims are called to interact with non-Muslims, Staquf explained.

“We need for Muslims to view others as a fellow human being, fellow brothers in humanity. We should not attack on the basis of different identities,” he said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ANGELUS 

A Muslim and a Christian take a Muslim Roadshow to rural Washington

Story by Lilly A. Fowler | Photos by Matt M. McKnight

McKnight_MuslimRoadShow_31They’re not the sort of couple one is likely to encounter in many parts of the country: a hijab-wearing Muslim woman with a Harvard law degree and a white Lutheran pastor. Yet dozens of Washington state residents — in urban centers and in small rural towns — have witnessed Aneelah Afzali and Rev. Terry Kyllo preach together in churches. Turns out, Afzali and Kyllo have one profound thing in common: a passion to fight against Islamophobia.

Although the duo has held an event in Seattle, Afzali and Kyllo have generally reserved their sermons for smaller, more conservative towns filled with voters who support President Donald Trump and who may have never personally met a Muslim. Towns like Mt. Vernon, with a population of 35,000. Situated just 60 miles north of Seattle, Mt. Vernon is the largest city in Skagit County. In last year’s presidential election, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by fewer than 2,000 votes in the county.

On a recent Monday evening in Mt. Vernon, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Afzali addressed a small crowd. She was dressed in a purple suit and hijab, and she was flanked by American flags and a Christian cross. As wind and rain pounded the chapel’s windows, she shared what had inspired her and Kyllo to organize the talks, which they’ve dubbed the “Faith Over Fear Roadshow.”

“I am so extremely bothered by what I see happening around us today, the growing divisiveness, polarization, hate and even violence,” Afzali said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FEATURES CROSS CUT 

What Americans can learn from Northern Ireland: Walls make bad neighbors

20160714T1012-4614-CNS-ORANGEORDER-IRELAND.jpgThis summer marked the 50th anniversary of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, a decades-long ethnic civil war that killed more than 3,000 people. The war lasted until 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement reaffirmed British control of Northern Ireland but offered Catholics assurances against government discrimination and the gerrymandering that had previously limited their voice in Northern Ireland’s government.

Today, Northern Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants have equal reason to regret the conflict. Thirty years of war, thousands dead and a peace settlement that cannot heal the psychological scars—why did all of this happen? Some new political science research sheds some light on this question. It may also carry lessons for Americans who worry about social divisions and violence in our own time.

Catholics and Protestants in Belfast came to adjust their daily commutes and shopping routines to avoid street interactions with the religious “other.”

Our research shows that the most diverse neighborhoods of Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast, experienced the most conflict-related deaths, a total of 1,617 within the city limits. “Interfaces,” where Catholic neighborhoods directly abutted Protestant neighborhoods, were exceptionally deadly sites.

Diversity of Catholics & Protestants, 1971 Census. “Interfaces” where Catholic (green) and Protestant (purple) neighborhoods met were exceptionally deadly places. (Map courtesy of the authors)

At first, this finding seems to support the argument for separating different ethnic and religious groups—partitioning neighborhoods, restricting immigration and hardening borders to prevent ethnic and religious “others” from entering one’s own community. (The “peace walls” built to separate Catholic and Protestant enclaves in Belfast are the physical embodiment of this strategy.) But a closer look at Belfast and a comparison with other ethnically divided societies give us reason to question the wisdom of partition.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICA MAGAZINE

Former imam wants stronger relationships between Edinburgh’s Muslims and Christians

EA5ZrdFWsAAWGdoA FORMER imam said his recent trip to Ghana has inspired him to build stronger relationships between Muslims and Christians in the Capital.

Yahya Barry, originally from The Gambia but now based in Edinburgh, spent ten days with religious leaders in the West African country.

The aim of the trip was to explore Christian and Muslim relationships as, according to Dr Barry, Ghana is rennowned for fostering peaceful and close bonds between both faiths. Since returning, he said he has felt “more inspired than ever” to bring lessons from Ghana to Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland.

“It was a really motivational trip,” he said.

“The relationships between both faiths in Ghana are established and organic. In Scotland the latest statistics show the Muslim population is about 1.45 per cent, which is a very small minority. We need to factor in that this could be because of the relationships between Muslim and Christianity. Since my time in Ghana I feel strongly about the lessons I learnt and bringing them back to this city which is investing in becoming more multicultural.”

About 77 per cent of the population in Ghana is Christian, with Muslims making up a further 16 per cent, and the two groups have better relations than in many countries in West Africa, according to the PhD graduate. He said the Brexit uncertainty and the rising nationalism in the UK could divide these two faiths.

“I am not saying that the relationships aren’t already okay,” he continued, “I just think in these times of uncertainty, there is the potential that the gap could widen.”

Having recently completed a PhD at the University of Edinburgh looking at right-wing extremism in different cities, Dr Barry found the peace and amicable relationship in Ghana refreshing.

FULL ARTICLE FROM EDINBURGH NEWS (SCOTLAND)