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

ABTS (Lebanon) peace-building initiatives promote understanding between Christians and Muslims

Lebanon (MNN) — The more tragedies and hardships that hit countries and cities, the more communities splinter, drawing dividing lines and focusing on themselves. But even during trying circumstances, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) looks to build bridges and foster friendship between Christians and Muslims through its Institute of Middle East Studies’ (IMES) peace-building initiatives.

Chief academic office Martin Accad explains that these peace-building initiatives remain distinctive because they put faith at the center.

“The purpose is to allow your faith values [to] inspire living together across faith traditions and working together towards the common good,” he says.

Reconciling Communities

Included in these initiatives is the Friendship Network of Church and Mosque Goers. For the past two and a half years, IMES has worked to build a network of leaders across Lebanon that can bring people of both faiths together.

“With this group of 25 to 30 people, we explore themes around friendship,” Accad explains.

The pandemic meant these groups had to stop meeting, but the health crisis combined with a severe economic downturn means unity and cooperation are more important than ever. Accad says the friendship network is using relief funds to help both communities. The network has had Christian and Muslim leaders take food packs to families together.

“We want to demonstrate that in times of crisis, faith leaders, out of their values, are able to think beyond the wellbeing of their own community,” he says.

Accad also explains delivering these food packages serves two important purposes.

“We will have an impact in certain families that we are reaching out to, but most importantly, we will be demonstrating that people of faith can collaborate together toward the common good,” he says.

“It doesn’t mean that all religions are equal. It doesn’t mean that we are trying to say that there are no differences. On the contrary, true dialogue and peace building is based on the recognition that we are different, and we can collaborate together despite our differences.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MNNONLINE.COM

Faith and Values: ‘Interfaith’ work means everyone gets a seat at the table

I recently had an exchange with someone who was concerned about my approach to interfaith work.

As the executive director of SpokaneFāVS, my job is more than religion reporting. Through our journalism, commentary and the FāVS Center (our 1-year-old faith and nonfaith community center), our goal is to foster community dialogue and educate people about the beliefs that make up this great city.

One of the glorious things about Spokane is its religious diversity. Besides hundreds of Christian churches, we have two Sikh gudwaras, and strong Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i and Hindu communities – to name a few. We also have an increasing number of atheists, agnostics and nones (those with no affiliation).

To me, interfaith work means bringing all those voices to the table.

The term ‘interfaith,’ though, has become loaded because many seem to associate it only with progressives.

And that’s where the above-mentioned exchange comes in. This person couldn’t understand why we would have conservatives and/or Evangelicals sitting at our table – people who saw LGBT issues and Black Lives Matter differently than them.

On the flip side, I’ve also had people question why we have atheist writers. My argument to them is the same.

I reminded them that interfaith work (or faith and nonfaith, as I prefer) can’t be exclusive. We can’t preach inclusivity, and then leave groups out who have different views from us. (Extremists would be the exception).

FāVS has worked hard to become a gathering place for all beliefs, which of course means not everyone sees eye to eye.

And I think that’s wonderful.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

Racial Justice and Interfaith Cooperation

Another opportunity for an interfaith coalition to come together and move forward together for a just world.

Eboo Patel July 14, 2020

Recently, my Muslim family joined a Hindu family and a Jewish family at a protest for racial equity near our home on the North Side of Chicago. A couple of days ago, my older son and I went to an event on the near South Side with fellow Muslims. As we talked about the verses of the Qur’an and the values of Islam that inspired our involvement, I made sure to point out the people wearing crosses around their necks, the clergy with collars or kippahs, the religious scripture prominently displayed on several signs. On the way back, I talked about how Sikhs were setting up makeshift kitchens to feed protesters, a sacred practice called langar. 

I want my kids to know from an early age that racial equity is an interfaith movement. It is imperative across religious traditions, and therefore a site where people from different faiths meet, get inspired by one another, deepen their own convictions and advance a cause that we view as a sacred command. 

I was considerably older than my children are now when I realized the powerful relationship between racial equity and interfaith cooperation. In fact, I remember the exact moment. It was early December of 1999 and I was at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. I had gone largely for personal reasons, namely because my own spiritual journey had been deeply influenced by multiple religious traditions. But then Nelson Mandela spoke, and what he said changed everything. 

He began by pointing out into the cape, towards Robben Island, where he spent over 25 years in prison and uttered these words: ”I would still be there if it were not for the Christians, the Jews, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Baha’is, the Quakers, those from indigenous African religions and those of no religion at all, working together in the struggle against apartheid.”

Marcel Proust famously said that the true journey of discovery was not in seeing new landscapes but in developing new eyes. It felt like Mandela had given me new eyes. In South Africa, a movement of racial equity had been a site for interfaith cooperation. I had taken a range of courses on race in college, but my explorations into faith had been largely private, and mostly about my own personal spirituality. The idea that racial equality could be advanced through interfaith cooperation was brand-new and totally inspiring.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INSIDE HIGHER ED

Can Muslim college students heal divisions in the US?

Amid rising Islamophobia, Muslim students show greater tendencies towards interfaith goodwill, a recent survey suggests.

by Saba Aziz

Musbah Shaheen left war-torn Syria in 2013 to attend college in the United States.

As the then-19-year-old from Homs settled into student life at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, he was often asked about the conflict and life in Syria.

More:

The conversations in hallways, classrooms and cafeteria with professors and fellow classmates also turned into more personal questions about his faith, he said.

“The biggest challenge for me in college was navigating the assumptions that people made about my religion,” Shaheen told Al Jazeera.

Some were surprised that he did not have a beard, others that his sister did not wear a veil or that he ate meat. He felt like an outsider – misunderstood and stereotyped.

US college pluralism story

Musbah Shaheen is currently doing a PhD at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio [Photo courtesy: Musbah Shaheen] 

“I don’t want anyone to feel this way, so I engaged in interfaith dialogue as a student leader, and that shaped my entire work life after college,” the now-26-year-old said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

Towson’s Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies seeks to make Baltimore a model religious city

After listening to Dr. Benjamin Sax lecture during a mini-course entitled “Crossroads in Jewish-Christian Dialogue” earlier this month, it’s the turn of a group of mostly senior citizens to speak.

Seated around a dozen or so tables in the library of the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Towson, they are asked to discuss weighty ideas in the context of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s critique of historical religious dogma and doctrine.Ads by TeadsADVERTISING

“Spinoza opened the door to interpreting other religions individually,” Sax, the ICJS Jewish scholar, said of the 17th-century, Jewish-educated philosopher who eventually joined a Mennonite sect. “He talked about the universality of religions and about recognizing an opinion, rather than a fact.”

The attendees were urged to mull over that idea along with many others offered by Sax, with the burning question being what would happen to religious institutions if the masses, a la Spinoza’s philosophy, interpreted sacred tracts on their own.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BALTIMORE SUN

With coronavirus, Abrahamic faith practices must change. Here’s why |

The advent of the Coronavirus has compelled our three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — to rethink how to maintain our ability to come together to express our beliefs and practice our religious rituals. Through the use of online technologies and social media platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Instagram and YouTube, millions of home-bound American Jews, Christians and Muslims have been able to take part, despite the lockdown, in religious services, study sessions and celebrations of sacred and uplifting holidays — Passover,Easter and Ramadan.

Are these changes going to be temporary inconveniences or a new way for our faithful to participate?

Clearly, online religious services and celebrations will continue as a central component of our repertoire at least until a foolproof COVID-19 vaccine is made widely available. Yet it is no secret that our faithful are hungering for a rapid return to in-person services where they can experience and share their faith in ways hard to replicate on Zoom. We all want to accomplish that — the question is how to do so safely and responsibly.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NORTHJERSEY.COM