Religions can be part of the solution for peace, not the problem, faith leaders say

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VATICAN CITY (RNS) — When John Lennon wrote his hit song “Imagine,” eliminating religions and the divisions they entail was in his view a necessary condition for “living life in peace.” A meeting of religious representatives in Rome this week made the case for shifting that paradigm.

The Abrahamic Faiths Initiative group united 25 religious leaders representing millions of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faithful to discuss practical ways of promoting peace and fraternity at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome Jan. 14-16.

Attendees included Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies; Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome; and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and all Palestine.

Many peacemaking efforts have failed because they didn’t consider the religious implications of their initiatives, according to Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, who also attended.

“I think the world is crying for this movement,” Brownback told Religion News Service in an interview on Thursday (Jan. 16), adding that even though the world might not want to talk about religion, the matter cannot be ignored.

“If we’d involved the religious actors 30 years ago in the Middle East peace negotiations and discussions, saying ‘OK, this is what we are thinking about, what do you think? Help us build the peace,’ we might be somewhere today,” he said.

“We still don’t have peace in the Middle East and the prospects don’t look particularly good.”

Brownback underlined that Christian, Muslim and Jewish faithful all source back to Abraham, creating a communality that can be built upon. “I just think the people who would divide have gotten out ahead of the people who would unite. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” he said.

In its final statement Thursday, the AFI members vowed “to seek to serve those of other faiths and no faith” and condemned those who “use the name of God, or the teachings of Abraham, to incite bloodshed or to oppress others.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

My Muslim friend Ali and my Christian commitment to his life of faith

How American hostility toward Muslims has shaped my pastoral vocation

011520faithmattersDuring Sunday worship 13 years ago, my district minister invited me to the front to bless me in my first pastoral calling. I stood with her, looking at all the faces of church members and community friends, side by side, snug in the pews. She asked, “Will you seek to be faithful in prayer, in setting forth the scriptures, and in seeking the good of this congregation?” As I said yes I glanced around the room, my eyes meeting those of my friends—people who weren’t members of the church but had come together to support me, to affirm my calling.

With my yes I made a commitment to this whole gathering, church members and others. They embodied, for an hour, a mestizaje of lives from different traditions, to borrow a concept from mujerista theologians. That congregation was an amalgamated body, a hybrid of people rooted in various communities. For my identity as a minister, the line between the church and the world has been permeable from the beginning, a calling to a congregation of mixed constitution.

Among the gathered body that day was my friend Ali. Over the years he had visited our Mennonite community for Sunday worship and I had joined his Muslim community for Friday prayers. Our communal singing captivated him; their embodied reverence mesmerized me. Once I went with him to Eid al-Fitr, the service at the end of Ramadan where Muslims come together for their salat, their worshipful devotion. That year they gathered in the main arena at the state fairgrounds. We took off our shoes and added them to the endless lines along the walls. With his prayer rug tucked under his arm, Ali walked me to the chairs for non-Muslim guests before he weaved his way through men sitting cross-legged on their mats. I watched him roll out his rug, lift his hands to his ears, drop his arms to his side, then reach his arms to hold each other across his chest. He and the others stood in silence, waiting for the imam to lead the first takbir, the invitation to call upon God.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN CENTURY 

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 [dfw.cbslocal.com].

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.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

Mohammed Al Samawi: How Interfaith Activism Became, and Saved, His Life

Sitting opposite Mohammed Al Samawi at a West Hollywood coffee shop, it’s hard to cov1-1355x858imagine the Yemeni refugee dodging bullets and squads of al-Qaida fighters to escape civil war in 2015. But then a police car, sirens screaming, zooms by. Al Samawi is shaken. He recalls his first American Fourth of July when he saw fireworks and ran, thinking it was an airstrike. And when a helicopter hovers over the café, he looks around nervously. The trauma he experienced during his harrowing escape, made possible by a collection of people he met through his interfaith work — many of them Jews — is still with him.

In 2015, the once-simmering civil war began to boil in Yemen between Houthis (Shiite rebels from the north) and President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s forces, backed by Sunni groups, including Saudi Arabia. The Sunni network also included al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Qaida squads began to target anyone they perceived to be an enemy, including Shiites in Aden. As someone from the north with a Shiite background who was engaged in interfaith activism and had dialogue and cooperation with Jews and Israelis, Al Samawi suddenly found himself the target of death threats. And the battle for cov-fox-hunthis life began. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM JEWISH JOURNAL 

Global Muslim leader brings push for peace and tolerance to meeting with top LDS leaders, other Utah officials

J6QV5WTYZFAW3KHPFKZVRWVP44Every time there has been a terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims anywhere since 9-11, many Americans demand to know why Islamic moderates don’t condemn such killings by fellow believers.

Of course, Muslim leaders in Utah, across the United States and in other countries repeatedly do decry these acts, but they can’t represent the 1.8 billion adherents on the planet.

Now there’s the Muslim World League, a pan-Muslim organization committed to moderation and nonviolence. It opposes all forms of extremism and the so-called “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West, and works to build bridges with other nations.

The league’s secretary-general, Mohammad Al-Issa, was in Utah this week, meeting with religious leaders, including the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After his conversation with top Latter-day Saint officials, Al-Issa visited with apostle David A. Bedner and then headed to the church’s Welfare Square west of downtown Salt Lake City.

“What I’ve seen here is a great example of the true meaning of mercy and love to humanity,” the Muslim said in a church news release. “We, all around the world, need to follow this humanitarian [approach] exactly. Also, the whole world needs to get exposed to and learn from these efforts and projects.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE 

13th-century encounter points way to greater Christian-Muslim understanding

st fracisWASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi took a risk when he crossed the battlefield between Crusader and Muslim forces near Damietta, Egypt, desiring to meet Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil and preach his faith in Jesus Christ.

At the time – 1219 – Christian forces were in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, which was eventually repelled by the sultan’s superior army near the town that was a center of trade and commerce on the Nile River where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

The future saint readily put his life on the line so he could witness his faith to the famed Muslim sultan, and in doing so both men came away with a new respect for the faith of the other, Franciscan Father Michael Calabria told a conference on that encounter with “the other” Nov. 7 at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

A rabbi, a pastor and an imam walk into a … dialogue about shared values

ANTHONY SOUFFLÉ • STAR TRIBUNE

Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie and Imam Jamal Rahman, who call themselves the Interfaith Amigos, spoke recently at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.

When the Rev. Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Imam Jamal Rahman walk into a room, they’re ready for the joke. But the “Interfaith Amigos,” who spoke Nov. 2 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, are serious about their mission to reject what Rahman calls “otherization.” Their path is of oneness, shining a light not on what separates Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but on core teachings that unify them. The three men bonded in Seattle in the devastating days after 9/11, meeting weekly for 18 years and presenting their interfaith message across the United States, as well as Japan and the Middle East. Co-authors of three books, they share more about their outreach and abiding friendship below.

Q: First, an introduction: Pastor Mackenzie, of Minneapolis, is retired as minister and head of staff at Seattle’s University Congregational United Church of Christ. Rabbi Falcon is a psychologist with a private spiritual practice in Seattle. Imam Rahman is co-founder and Muslim Sufi Minister at Interfaith Community Sanctuary in Seattle. So, what brought you together?

Falcon: Imam Jamal and I met when we were invited to participate on a board laying the groundwork for a university of spirituality in Seattle. When the twin towers fell and our media focused on the violent nature of Islam, I immediately called Imam Jamal and invited him to join me for the Shabbat worship that Friday evening. I believed people had to know about the true and peaceful face of Islam. Halfway through the year, we brought in Pastor Don, who was clearly our Christian brother.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE