Three books offer hope-filled views on Christian-Muslim relations

Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus” by Rachel Pieh Jones. Plough Publishing (Wal-den, New York, 2021). 264 pp., $ 17.99.
“Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and Do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination” by Jordan Denari Duffner. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2021). 243 pp., $22.
“A World of Inequalities: Christian and Muslim Perspectives,” edited by Lucinda Mosher. Georgetown University Press (Washington, 2021). 253 pp., $34.95.

I recommend all three of these timely books for anyone who wishes to understand the history and present reality of Christian-Muslim relations both within this country and around the world.

The title of Rachel Jones’ “Pillars” echoes the five basic pillars of Muslim faith: There is no god but God, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage.

The book is a personal journal, organized in five sections reflecting the pillars, of the author’s life in the heart of Africa, Somalia, where she and her husband moved to take part in a humanitarian effort to help the local Muslim inhabitants to learn more and achieve a better lifestyle.

She and her family endured many difficulties, from being looked down upon and excluded to fears of the violence that killed three of her Christian friends. But Muslim women come to her aid, teaching her how to interact with Muslim women and men, and bringing her family into their homes so she could better understand.

Jones and her Muslim friends journey together through the Muslim year, learning about each other through dialogue, listening to each other and, hesitatingly, praying together to the one God whom Christians and Muslims both worship.

This very personal story will introduce readers to Muslim religious traditions and, more importantly, to people with whom readers can relate and learn from.

“Islamophobia” details the present-day reality of a negative and largely false set of ideas about Muslims and Islam that has been part of Christian culture since at least the Crusades.

Ignoring what the holy book, the Quran, which is largely based upon the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, actually states, Islam is portrayed as a religion that sees itself as having replaced Christianity and Judaism and is aimed at their destruction and creating a totalitarian structure to take over and rule the world.

Muslims are depicted as anti-women’s rights, as racists and evil slaveholders, as if Christians never “owned” slaves. While some Muslims might hold such views, and some Muslim societies have reflected them, this is not what the Quran teaches.

We Catholics, and Christians in general, have equally been guilty of such departures from the teachings of Jesus. So we must learn not to scapegoat Muslims by blaming them for the faults of our own history, and to a sad extent, the present.

The final third of the book, “Crafting a Christian Response,” provides the reader with a number of things Catholics and all Christians can do today to break the cycle of fear/hate of Muslims, both individually and communally.

Author Jordan Denari Duffner notes the good things that the Holy See has done but argues, correctly in my view, that more can and should be done.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC SENTINEL

Promoting Peace Between Christians and Muslims In Ghana

IT SEEMS to me that neither science nor religion is good or bad in themselves. It is people who make good use or bad use of them. Thus, the goodness or badness of science and religion depends upon the goodness or badness of humans who use them to solve or create life’s problems.

The Bible advocates peaceful coexistence as it exhorts believers in these words, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbour…You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18). The Lord Jesus emphasized that loving God and our neighbours is the greatest commandment.

Prophet T.B. Joshua teaches that a person’s neighbours include those who do not share the same faith with him or her. This means differences in faiths should not serve as catalyst for religious conflict or oppression. Ghana’s Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, a Muslim recently expressed delight over peaceful Christian-Muslim relations in Ghana, describing it as enviable religious tolerance.

The Vice President was speaking at the commissioning of the National Mosque in Accra recently. The 5000-capacity Mosque complex described by Mrs. Gina Blay, Ghana’s Ambassador to Germany as hybrid in her Twitter post, was funded by the Turkish Government. Surprisingly, however, the imposing Muslim edifice was commissioned by a Christian.

FULL ARTICLE FROM MODERNGHANA.COM

Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi to open in 2022

The cultural landmark in the UAE capital, which includes a synagogue, a church and a mosque, is meant to be a beacon of understanding and peaceful coexistence, inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity.

By Robin GomesThe Abrahamic Family House, which encloses a synagogue, a church and a mosque in a single complex, and which is scheduled to be inaugurated in 2022, is 20 percent complete, the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity (HCHF) said in a statement on Tuesday.  The  Committee, which is also supervising the project , said it is inspired by the 2019 Document on Human Fraternity.  Constructed on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, the project is closely followed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb of al-Azhar, who endorsed the design, the HCHF said.

The  Abrahamic Family House derives its name from the Old Testament biblical figure, Abraham, who is recognized and greatly revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Shared values
The Abrahamic Family House’s design, by architect Sir David Adjaye, captures. the values shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, through three main buildings, including a mosque, a church, and a synagogue in one place. “As such, the complex innovatively recounts the history and builds bridges between human civilizations and heavenly messages.”

The names of the three separate iconic houses of worship in the Abrahamic Family House complex are officially unveiled as “Imam AlTayeb Mosque,” “St. Francis Church,” and “Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue”.   Moses ben Maimon was a prolific and influential Sephardic Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages.

Interfaith harmonious coexistence
Besides the 3 places of worship, the site includes a cultural center that aims to encourage people to exemplify human fraternity and solidarity within a community that cherishes the values of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, while the unique character of each faith is preserved.

The design of the Abrahamic Family House was first unveiled by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, at a global gathering in New York in 2019, during the 2nd meeting of the HCHF. IT said the design was also presented to Pope Francis and the Grand Imam during a meeting with them in November that year.

“The Abrahamic Family House epitomizes interfaith harmonious coexistence and preserves the unique character of each religion,” said Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture Abu Dhabi and an HCHF member. He said, “It personifies Abu Dhabi’s vision for human fraternity and embeds coexistence into the already diverse cultural fabric of the UAE. Overseeing the development of this iconic project is inspiring and reflective of the UAE efforts in realizing the values of the Document on Human Fraternity and fostering its lofty principles.” 

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HERALD MALAYSIA

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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM KENTUCKY.COM

PEACE FEASTS: A NEW CONNECTION FOR MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN COLLEGE STUDENTS

Marquette University senior Anna Buckstaff said she appreciates opportunities to meet Muslims and Christians who are interested in connecting around common core values.

The Catholic from Palatine, Illinois, who attended the Lenten Peace Feast in February with Muslims and Christians, said the experience helped her reflect and deepen her understanding of her own faith.

“I really appreciated how the faiths share an emphasis for tradition and value the time spent with family and loved ones,” she said. “I have really enjoyed being exposed to different approaches to care and value God’s creation.”

She is looking forward to the Ramadan Peace Feast, online from 2 – 3:30 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 18. College students and young professionals are encouraged to participate. Registration is now open.

Peace Feasts, new interfaith meeting experiences, offer Muslim and Christian college students in Wisconsin a chance to learn about each other’s sacred seasons, as well as to connect and build trust. The idea is for young adults of each faith to invite each other to their holiday feasts—this year during the Christian Lent and Muslim Ramadan.

The program is free to participants through financial support from Interfaith Youth Core, described on its website as “a national non-profit working towards an America where people of different faiths, worldviews and traditions can bridge differences and find common values to build a shared life together.”

IFYC was founded by Eboo Patel, a Chicago-based author, speaker and educator who said he was “inspired to build this bridge by his identity as an American Muslim navigating a religiously diverse social landscape.”

What to expect

The Ramadan Peace Feast is the second of a series. Young adults who would like to join in are welcomed, whether they attended Part I or not, said Rev. Nicole Wriedt, San Diego program director of Peace Catalyst International, who with Milwaukee-based PCI program director Steve Lied, is the Christian co-organizer for these events. They collaborate with the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition’s president Janan Najeeb.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WISCONSIN MUSLIM JOURNAL

Much gained from interfaith dialogues

Brookings has been home to an interfaith dialogue group for more than a decade. Participants gather monthly during the school year to meet, greet, eat and discuss topics of mutual concern. The first few times the group gathered, people were on their best behavior, avoiding any hint of provocation and being unusually polite. But as people got to know each other better, as ignorance and misunderstandings disappeared, serious dialogue and deeper relationships developed. No question or topic was off the table.

Known now as the Brookings Interfaith Council, one can access their information and schedule on their web-site. Like many similar community groups, the pandemic has curtailed activities. But when they resume, the group will continue to be an asset to students of world religions at the university and in the larger community.

It’s always a delicious meal. Eating together is a time-tried way of bringing disparate peoples together in a welcoming atmosphere. And where else can one find in South Dakota a room where there may be Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’i, Unitarians, Atheists; all interested in learning from the other?

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BROOKINGS (SOUTH DAKOTA) REGISTER

Interfaith prayer marked by respect, not relativism

Pope Francis recently completed an apostolic visit to Iraq. Any journey of a pope is newsworthy, but this trip captured the hearts and imaginations of many. It was the first visit of a pope to Iraq.

Iraq is a country that has been the center of the world’s attention for decades, being the site of several recent wars. It is the country where the biblical city of Ur is located, the ancestral home of the Patriarch Abraham, who is revered by three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Pope Francis, like his predecessors St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, each have embraced the moral imperative to reach out to people of good will across the religious divide and work for understanding and peace.

During all three of these papacies there have been people that are skeptical of such outreach, mainly due to fear of “syncretism.” That is the amalgamation of different religions that can appear to be a sort of “melting pot” of religions. Each faith tradition that engages in syncretism gets added to the mix, and a new synthesis emerges, related to the component parts yet changed and different. There is a legitimate concern that this could happen in interreligious dialogue.

Vatican II in the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) recognized the pluralistic world of today and reflects that the Church “in her task of promoting unity and love […] considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship” (NA §1).

The misperception between dialogue and syncretism resulted in a message of clarification 35 years later with Dominus Iesus, which clarified that engagement in dialogue does not mean surrendering the truth of the Gospel. It particularly warned against relativism, which some had inferred from dialogue that all religions are the same or are simply alternate roads to achieve salvation.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CATHOLICPHILLY.COM

Amid COVID-19, we stand to benefit from interfaith dialogue

Genrietta ChurbanovaDecember 1, 2020 | 6:52pm EST

Spontaneous interactions are rare during the COVID-19 era. Our conversations, except for those that occur with the people we live with, are decidedly deliberate. College publications ranging from The Harvard Gazette to The Daily Princetonian have highlighted college students’ loss of impromptu conversations and casual community during the pandemic.

The loss of one particular type of on-campus exchanges, however, deserves special attention: interfaith interactions.

Although Princeton is a secular institution, and many Princeton students do not identify as people of faith, the University’s campus is conducive to interfaith interactions. Princeton students come from a wide variety of faiths, including Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, among many others. Official data about Princeton students’ religious affiliations is not readily available, but the recent frosh survey from the ‘Prince’ provides a glimpse into the Class of 2024’s religious composition. Of the 713 first-years who disclosed their religious affiliation on the survey, 38.3 percent identified as Christian, 8 percent as Jewish, and 4.9 percent as Hindu. For comparison, in the United States at large, 70.6 percent of individuals identify as Christian and 5.9 percent as holding a non-Christian faith. For students hailing from religiously homogeneous communities, their first meaningful interfaith interactions may well occur at Princeton.

Unfortunately, informal interfaith settings are difficult to recreate online. Take the Center for Jewish Life’s Shabbat dinners, which Princeton’s Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Julie Roth, called “one of the high points of the week at the Center for Jewish Life.” According to Rabbi Roth, last academic year, from September to March, one thousand students attended a Shabbat dinner. Approximately five hundred of Princeton’s undergraduates are Jewish. These dinners, which were fruitful sites of interfaith dialogue, have been suspended during the pandemic, as have many other interfaith events. As Rabbi Roth noted, “we can’t really replicate that Shabbat dinner experience online.” She further explained that “the Princeton-affiliated chaplains still meet on a monthly basis, but we haven’t had as much interfaith programming in this Zoom environment.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DAILY PRINCETONIAN

St. Francis and Egypt’s Ruler (Part 1)

The painting of St. Francis embracing Egypt’s Sultan Malik al-Kamil is on the first page of my website. It graces my Twitter handle. After nine years, I finally get to explain it, and this with the help of acclaimed 2009 book by journalist and professor of journalism Paul Moses, The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace.

I’ll do this in two installments. Here, I lay out the story according to the best historical sources, mostly uncovered and critically evaluated in the 20th century. Next, I’ll take us on a short historical journey to illustrate how religious narratives are driven by people with power, and in this case, by popes who were determined to continue the Crusades against the Muslim Other and crush dissenting voices.

Francis of Assisi’s conversion

Francis’s father, Pietro di Bernardone, a wealthy silk merchant from Assisi, Italy, was in France where he conducted much of his business (his mother was a French noble woman from Provence) when his son Giovanni was born. But Pietro called him Francesco (“Frenchy”) from the start. French troubadours’ songs and chivalry were popular in his family.

FULL ARTICLE FROM HUMANTRUSTEES.ORG

Pope, Religious Leaders Pray for Peace and Greater Care for Each Other

Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Muslim, Jewish and other religious leaders attend an encounter to pray for peace in Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome Oct. 20, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

ROME (CNS) — The only way to end war and ensure humanity’s survival is “through encounter and negotiation, setting aside our conflicts and pursuing reconciliation, moderating the language of politics and propaganda, and developing true paths of peace,” Pope Francis said.

The pope, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and an international array of other Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist leaders gathered on Rome’s Capitoline Hill Oct. 20 to affirm their community’s commitment to peace, dialogue, fraternity and assistance to the poor and needy.

Before coming together to make their peace pledge, the religious leaders gathered with members of their own faith families to pray, focusing on the theme, “No one is saved alone: Peace and fraternity.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BOSTON PILOT