But Nashville’s interfaith culture has not always boomed. The rise of interfaith efforts only emerged in the last 15 years, and has flourished even more recently, according to members of the local faith community. It’s a development that has united people of different faith backgrounds and, as a result, helped to repair the damage from religious tension.
Interfaith work’s entrance
Lifelong Nashvillian Rashed Fakhruddin witnessed his father help found the Islamic Center of Nashville in 12 South in 1978. Today, Fakhruddin serves as president of ICN, and his long-term involvement with the mosque allows him to observe the overarching trends that have defined his congregation and others surrounding it.
Fakhruddin tagged the early 2000s as the beginning of interfaith work’s development. He said he saw a rise in the frequency of interfaith opportunities in those years — in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, religious organizations rarely broke boundaries and coordinated. As the opportunities increased, however, the ICN community was also more prepared to represent themselves.
“All of the sudden in the early 2000s, a lot of people started recognizing who we are, where we were,” Fakhruddin said. “We had more people in leadership that were engaged and could take on more interfaith roles. It’s been wonderful.”
To illustrate this growth, Fakhruddin pointed to a rise in exchange visits between houses of worship, in educational events like panel discussions and in multi-faith collaboration on service projects. All of this, he said, began to emerge around 2010.
Along the western banks of the Jordan River, the place of Christ’s baptism and today known as Qasr al-Yahud, numerous churches and monasteries of different religions sit vacant and silenced due to the dangerous landmines that lie beneath them.
For almost 50 years, Qasr al-Yahud has been empty due to the landmines installed during the 1967 Six Day war between the Arabs and the Israeli people.
Halo Trust, a nonprofit organization, has worked to remove the landmines in the Qasr al-Yahud area since 2012. The group is dedicated to providing save environments for those living in areas surrounded by landmines through landmine removal, as well as assisting in local community rebuilding in the aftermath of war.
Their work has brought together various religious denominations in efforts to preserve the sacred churches, such as the Coptic church, the Franciscan church and the Syrian church, that all sit on the site of Qasr al-Yahud.
“We’ve got agreements with the eight churches, we’ve got agreements with the Israeli government, and we’ve got agreements with the Palestinian authorities,” said Adam Jasinski, executive director of Halo Trust, in an interview with Catholic News Service July 15.
Jasinski spoke about the Jordan River landmine removal in a seminar at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America as part of its fourth annual Holy Land Festival held July 15.
The festival cultivates a conversation of hope around the Holy Land, with many groups coming together to engage visitors with the situation of Christians and of peace in the Holy Land.
Father Jim Gardiner, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement as well as a member of the Holy Land Committee of the Archdiocese of Washington, spoke to CNS about how the festival brought together so many different groups of people.
“Nobody knows who is Christian, Muslim or Catholic,” Father Gardiner said.
The interdenominational environment at the festival was a mere taste of what takes place at Bethlehem University, the first Catholic university in the Holy Land. Two Bethlehem University students, Lela Abu Ayyash and Lara Kasbari, spoke about their experiences living and going to school in Palestine during the Holy Land festival in a seminar.
Before we get into what the interfaith dialogue entails, let me start by making it clear what interfaith dialogue is NOT about. Interfaith dialogue is not intended for converting people to your faith!
This is a question that so many people, Muslims, and people of other faiths have asked me when I invite them to be part of the interfaith dialogue in their communities. They sometimes ask, “how many people have you converted to Islam in your years of working on interfaith issues?
My answer surprises some while disappointing others. I have converted exactly zero people to Islam as an interfaith worker. I have very likely changed the perception of Islam and Muslims for thousands of people, but have not ‘converted’ anyone. Would you consider this a ‘failure’? I certainly don’t feel it that way, simply because that is not the objective of interfaith dialogue.
What else is interfaith dialogue NOT about?
It is not about telling who is right and who is wrong.
It is not about agreeing or accepting everything about the other faith traditions (but it does involve respecting others’ views despite the disagreements. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree but in a civil manner)
CAIRO (Reuters) – In a display of communal solidarity defying the sectarian violence of Islamist militants, Egyptian Christians in Cairo organize daily meals for Muslim neighbors who must fast from dawn to dusk during their holy month of Ramadan.
Such intercommunal meals are held every year in Egypt, whose Copts are the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they took on more resonance this year after a spate of Islamic State attacks on Copts meant to stoke sectarian divisions.
Dawoud Riyad, a middle-aged Christian man, set up tables in a street near his Cairo home last week, serving free home-cooked meals to hungry passersby when it was time for them to break their fast for the Iftar evening meal.
“They invited me and my kids, and I was surprised. They laid the table out on the street with no difference between sheikhs, Christians or Muslims – they pulled everyone to the table to break their fast,” said Tarek Ali, a Muslim resident.
Several Christian families in Riyad’s area pitch in daily to provide the food and drink in what he calls an effort to unite people of different faiths during a holy time of year. Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million people.
When Moroccan students got together to explore the rich cultural legacy the Jewish community contributed to the North African country, they named their association Mimouna, the name of a Moroccan Jewish tradition which marks the end of Passover with inviting Muslim neighbors for shared meals.
They never guessed they’d end up creating such meals themselves.
Together with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and Jeunesse Chabad Maroc the students provided 1,500 needy Muslim families with meals in Marrakesh to help them celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. The collaboration also included a festive interfaith dinner at the Slat al Azama synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Marrakech.
IFCJ Vice president Yael Eckstein was present at the event and stated that, since WWII, Morocco had set an example among North African societies for its treatment of Jews. She said she is honored to stand with the people of Morocco.
This is not the only example of the children of Abraham coming together around the dinner table this time of year.
In Cairo, Copts, who comprise the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, had set up tables outside their homes and invited Christians and Muslims alike to enjoy a meal as the sun sets and fasting Muslims are able to eat and drink.
Dawoud Riyad, who is Coptic, set up the tables near his Cairo home and invited Tarek Ali, a local resident, to celebrate together.
“They invited me and my kinds, and I was surprised”, said Ali, “with no difference between sheikhs, Christians, or Muslims.”
“We’re all brothers and friends”, said Riyad and pointed to another neighbor, “I’ve raised this man’s son (alongside my own son) and he’s Muslim.”
IF THE terror attack in central London on Saturday night leads to a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment, the terrorists will have won, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
“Every time a Muslims is abused on a bus or a mosque is attacked, the terrorists have taken another step forward,” Archbishop Welby said on Monday morning.
“If we attack or persecute a particular group of people on the grounds of their faith alone, the terrorists will give three cheers and say: ‘Thank you, you have done our work for us.’”
Archbishop Welby gave his warning during an interview on BBC Radio 4. He also said, however, that it was impossible to deny the connection between Islam and the massacre on Saturday evening, where three men armed with knives killed seven and injured 48 more on London Bridge and in Borough Market.
Stating that Islamist-inspired terrorism had nothing to do with Islam made as little sense as suggesting the Srebrenica atrocity during the Balkan Wars had nothing to do with Christianity, Archbishop Welby said.
“Throughout history, religious tradition and scriptures have been twisted and misused by people. If something is happening within our own faith tradition, we have to take responsibility for being very, very clear in countering it.”
But it was striking how quickly every major Muslim leader and organisation had spoken out in horror at the attack, Archbishop Welby also said. And while it was natural to be concerned about relations between faith groups after a terror attack, everyone could see London’s “extraordinary cohesion”.
“There isn’t a fundamental problem with cohesion. The vast majority of Muslims and everyone else have a single view about what kind of country they want to live in.”
The three attackers, who have yet to be named by police, are thought to have been inspired by Islamic State, which has released a statement claiming that they were its fighters. Officers investigating the attack have arrested 12 people and are searching homes in East London.
Last week, members of the church where I serve in Springfield, Ohio, were graciously invited to attend a service at Masjid Al-Madina, a mosque that I have probably driven past at least a 1,000 times.
Each time I previously drove past the mosque, in the recesses of my mind, I thought, “They are in their world, I am in mine, and we have nothing in common.” It never crossed my mind that the mosque would be a place where friendships could form.
I had no idea what to expect. Inaccurate stereotypes had led me to believe that Muslims were reserved, distrustful, unfriendly, and completely uninterested in my Christian faith. To my shame, I believed these stereotypes to be true…until last week.
Prior to the events leading up to last Friday, I did not know a single Muslim with whom I could have a cup of coffee or tea and share a good story. In fact, I had never had a casual conversation with a person of Muslim faith. Never.
All of that changed dramatically for me over the last three days.
About 50 people from my church, male and female, young and old, were warmly welcomed to Al Madina Mosque for a Friday afternoon prayer service designed to help educate non-Muslims about their faith. Imam Yunus Lasania, his wife Zarina, and so many others (too many to name) extended a warm welcome. In fact, it was one of the warmest and most gracious welcomes I have ever received. They invited us back for dinner that night.
Instead of being reserved, they exuberantly welcomed us with open arms. Instead of being distrustful, they went out of their way to answer any question that we had, even hard ones about things like jihad and Sharia law. The Imam told self-deprecating jokes to put us at ease. They asked honest, deep questions about my Christian faith, and I realized that in many cases my faith was as mysterious to them as there’s was to me. We discovered areas of commonality, and we talked candidly of deep and significant differences. It was perhaps the most natural and easy conversation about Christianity that I have ever had with people who embraced a faith other than my own.