In Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, Christians, Muslims live together peacefully

SUDAN COEXISTENCENUBA MOUNTAINS, Sudan (CNS) — While tense relations between religious groups contribute to violence in many parts of the world today, Christians and Muslims in the war-ravaged Nuba Mountains of Sudan say they are getting along just fine.

For outsiders, it takes a while to comprehend.

“When I first arrived in the Nuba Mountains, I was confused. Everyone dressed the same. Women would wear head coverings, but then I saw them in church receiving the sacraments,” said Comboni Sister Angelina Nyakuru, who serves as head nurse at the Catholic Church-sponsored Mother of Mercy Hospital in Gidel.

“At Christmas, the Muslims come to celebrate with the Christians. And on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, we go to their celebrations. It’s peculiar to this place. There is peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, as well as with those who practice traditional religions. Muslim parents usually don’t object if their children want to become Christian. In fact, when they receive the sacraments, their parents accompany them to the church to support them.”

Sister Nyakuru, who has been in the Nuba Mountains since 2008, compares the situation to her country of Uganda.SUDAN COEXISTENCE

“Back home, people kill each other over religion, and people who convert have to run away for their lives. Here, families are all mixed, and no one has any problems,” she said.

Brother Isaac Kornyando was born in the Nuba Mountains and, for more than two decades, has served as an Apostle of Jesus brother, doing pastoral work in Kauda.

“You don’t know what religion people are if they don’t tell you, because we eat together and drink together and walk together,” he said. “You have to ask them what religion they profess. Then they tell you.”



Resources on Christian-Muslim Relations

A helpful list of resources on promoting positive interreligious relations from the global ministries division of the United Methodist Church:

General Books on Interfaith Relations 

beyond_tolerance.jpg Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America, by Gustav Niebuhr—In this lucid account of interfaith encounter in the US, Niebuhr presents historical and current anecdotes, highlighting the need to go “beyond tolerance.” This book is a helpful experiential examination of engagement among faith communities in this country.
517CEru1XPL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_ A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation, by Dr. Diana Eck—A professor at Harvard University and director of the Pluralism Project [], Eck writes this field standard—and eminently readable—book about the religious composition of the US today. It has been out for about 10 years, but it still timely and very helpful.
when_religion_becomes_evil.jpg When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs, by Rev. Charles Kimball—Kimball served at the National Council of Churches in the Interfaith Relations office, and is well-qualified to address the issues posed by the title of this book. Library Journal writes, “After 9/11, we all need to consider how religious practice can lead to evil. Kimball includes many religions in his discussion but focuses on Christianity and Islam because they are the largest and are both missionary religions.”



Interreligious dialogue needed to combat terrorism


Catholic bishops from Burkina Faso and Niger have called for better dialogue between Muslim and Christian communities in an effort to combat terrorism.

The bishops were in Rome May 20-28 for their ad limina visit, which Catholic bishops must make every five years to report to the pope on their respective dioceses and meet with Vatican officials.

The 21 bishops from Burkina Faso and Niger were welcomed by Pope Francis.

At the top of the list of their pastoral concerns they shared with the pope were security and interreligious dialogue.

“The Catholic Church is surrounded by Muslim populations, and in Burkina Faso, Muslims make up 60 percent of the population,” said Archbishop Paul Yemboaro Ouédraogo of Bobo-Dioulasso, president of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger.

This is why forging peaceful and cohesive relations is fundamental, he said after his audience with Pope Francis.


Jew, Christian, Muslim: ‘See the Beloved everywhere’

jew christian muslimNothing in my uber-Catholic background (weekly Mass and confession, memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, strict nun teachers) could have prepared me to participate in a zikr at which Muslim, Jewish and Christian people chanted the name of God, while the imam sang a melodic line over the chant.

Some of the women draped in scarves swayed back and forth, we all felt held by the chanting, and I began to understand why it is a component of much of the world’s worship. The dictionary definition of zikr is a form of remembrance “associated chiefly with Sufism, when the worshiper is absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of God’s name or attributes.”


Much of the imam’s initial talk resonated with what I already believed. “See the Beloved everywhere,” he encouraged. “Be so crazily in love you’re like the besotted 13-year-old who, asked about ice cream, sighs, ‘My favorite flavor is chocolate.’ ”

His words about God’s spark within being the source of human dignity touched a familiar chord — as a Catholic, I’d heard that message, named Divine indwelling, often. Muhammad said, “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.” In the Jewish kabbalah or mystical teaching, God hurled forth the holy in countless sparks at the beginning of time; it whispers to us from all created people and things. When we descend to the deepest underground stream, all religions echo similar truths.

I’ve learned this firsthand from my interfaith group of five Muslim, five Jewish and five Christian women who meet monthly, taking turns in their homes.

A typical gathering starts with a potluck of snacks and informal conversation. Then after prayer, a facilitator (a rotating role) lays groundwork for the theme of the evening. We’ve discussed threads common to all traditions, like various religious holidays, the importance of pilgrimages, communal and individual prayer, action for justice, and environmental protection. There’s strong consensus that we must, in whatever small ways we can, offset the current government’s antipathy to Islam and hostility to refugees. After both January Women’s Marches, we shared our experiences and chortled at our favorite signs.


Interfaith solidarity rising in Texas

Muslim_Sorority_TTI spoke at a public library event promoting interfaith awareness in 2012. It didn’t go well.

To be exact, the questions from the audience didn’t go well. I made introductory remarks about my religious tradition, but then the questions started pouring in from people who showed up to the session angry. The questions morphed into angry rants about Sharia and Jihad. Our mosque’s interfaith team tried its best to answer the antagonistic questioners. Nothing helped put out the fires already raging in their minds.

They came seeking validation. No lecture, event or research could change their minds.

I encounter this mindset frequently when talking with Americans of other religious backgrounds. I’m the cause of their problems, say these fellow Americans who have closed their minds to new information. The only source of trusted information, in their mind, is Fox News.

Imagine my surprise when a recent interfaith event went quite differently.

Last month, the Islamic Center of Frisco hosted our annual Interfaith Ramadan Iftar. Of the 150 Texans who joined us, approximately 90 were not Muslim. The overwhelming majority had never attended an iftar — an after-sunset dinner during Ramadan — nor stepped inside a mosque before. A wide cross-section of community leaders attended, including representatives of non-profit organizations and local school districts. Even a few of our elected leaders showed up. All accepted this invitation to learn and break bread and the fast with their Muslim neighbors. It was an evening of warmth, love and eventual understanding as they learned about Ramadan. Attendees expressed fascination at how their Muslim neighbors fast for 18 hours without food or drink.

We then had the question and answer session. Someone asked about Sharia law. A sudden wave of anxiety flooded my senses. Our mosque’s scholar explained Sharia so beautifully and ended by saying that politically, Americans are made to fear Sharia. Sharia is not political. Sharia is just the set of guidelines Muslims use to live by (ie. how to fast, how to give charity, etc.). The gentleman, surprisingly, was truly grateful for this clarification. After the call to prayer, which signifies the breaking of the fast, those of us who are Muslim prayed and then headed to dinner.

While we were serving our guests, the common response was that we need to eat because we’ve been fasting for so long. During fasting and even after, you attain this level of spirituality in which your body craves all that is good for your soul. Islam teaches us to give utmost respect and hospitality to guests — a concept with which they were not familiar.


St. Francis, sultan set interfaith model

Painting_on_wood_depicting_Saint_Francis_of_Assisi's_visit_to_the_sultan_of_Damascus cropMore than 200 Third Order Religious Sisters and Brothers met in Buffalo, New York, June 11-14 for the Franciscan Federation Conference. I was one of them. What captured my attention was the title: “Franciscans and Muslims: Lessons from the Past & Prospects for the Future.”

I was also attracted by the reputation of the presenters. Sr. Kathy Warren of the Sisters of St. Francis and Franciscan Fr. Michael Calabria have worked for many years on interfaith issues, particularly those around Christian and Muslim faiths.

Their presentation made me ask myself what my challenge is as a Franciscan, at this time when the Supreme Court is deciding on the Muslim ban and the attorney general is using Scripture to justify ripping children out of the arms of their immigrant parents.

Next year will be the 800th anniversary of the meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil during the time of the Crusades. There is a myth that Francis wanted to martyr himself for the faith, but Warren explained that the core elements of Francis’ motivation for the visit were a call to do penance and preach the Christian faith.

He also had a vision of universal kinship and felt the call to be servant and subject to all, not to engage in argument or dispute. What Francis and the sultan really did was share their faith with each other.

Francis was impressed by the prayer lives of the Muslims. They prayed five times a day — a practice he adopted for himself. Francis’ praises of God is based on the Islamic 99 names of God. Al-Kamil recognized Francis as a man of prayer and faith. Both dialogued with each other and learned to respect one another.

I always wondered how they were able to speak with each other. I assumed they used translators as they do at the U.N. Now it is believed that Francis must have had some knowledge of Arabic, because of the trading that went on between Arabs and Italians. Francis’ father bought textiles and there is some archeological evidence that he bought from Arab traders. (The speaker showed a picture of an Arabic-style textile.) It is probable that both Italians and Arabs knew each other’s language.


In blockaded Gaza, Muslims, Christians live in harmony

thumbs_b_c_7dfaf5fa79778619ce1afb811b9013f5By Mohamed Majed

GAZA CITY, Palestine

The friendship between two Palestinians — Hatim Hiriz, a Muslim, and Kamal Tarzi, a Christian — reflects the religious and cultural coexistence that has always characterized the Gaza Strip.

Tarzi, 56, accompanies his friend, Hiriz, 47, who is blind, to and from the mosque each day and helps him perform everyday tasks.

In the Gaza Strip, where Christians and Muslims have long lived in harmony, their friendship isn’t considered unusual.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Tarzi said that the two communities had lived side by side since time immemorial.

“This is always how it has been in Gaza,” he said.

Tarzi recalled how he first met Hiriz 15 years ago, with whom he has since established a strong bond of friendship.

“Hiriz, who used to work as a pharmacist, lost his sight six years ago while preparing a prescription,” he said.

“Before going blind, he used to frequently pray at the mosque, so I decided to help him,” Tarzi added.

“Now I accompany him to the mosque each day, waiting for him outside while he prays,” he said. “When he is done, we come back together.”