JEDDAH: The Secretary-General of the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muammar, affirmed the center’s commitment to enhancing the role of dialogue in combating violence in the name of religion.
Muammar was addressing an audience at the International Conference on “Tackling Violence in the Name of Religion” held in Rome on Saturday, in the presence of a number of religious, political and intellectual leaders from around the world to discuss best practices to activate the role of individuals, leaders and religious institutions in this field.
He pointed to the importance of the Vienna Conference, which was organized by the center under the title “United against violence in the name of religion,” explaining that the outcomes of that conference were the basis of the center’s future strategy and played an important role in the formulation of the United Nations Plan of Action for the year 2015 to combat violent extremism leading to genocide.
Mummar added that the center’s strategy of activating the role of religious individuals, leaders and institutions is based on making them key partners, working side by side with policy makers in effectively addressing the multiple threats to peaceful coexistence and tolerance that extremist groups are involved in.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the next few postings we will be publishing articles written for Fuller Theological Seminary’s ground breaking initiative on bringing Muslims and American Evangelicals together in dialogue. This first installment was written by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and author of several books on Islam. It first appeared in the 2016 edition of Fuller’s Journal.
I appreciate the invitation to this important gathering of Evangelical and Muslim leaders who are committed to combatting human hatred and Islamophobia in particular. In the name of the one God that we both—Christians and Muslims—worship, recognize, and submit to, we beseech God to bless and guide us and to inspire us with God’s wisdom, compassion, love, mercy, and the ability to overcome the satanic or demonic forces that have created so many problems both within and between our faith communities.
To begin, I first say that, unless we understand a problem and fully fathom it, there is no way we can solve it. One of the most important lessons I have learned came from a teacher who said, “Understanding a problem is 90 percent of solving it.” Part of the problem that I believe has happened in this country, certainly before 9/11 and in its immediate aftermath, is that many of the people who are responsible for shaping American policy did not fully understand the problem that they were dealing with. This is particularly an issue for numerous members of our leadership, including many members of Congress, which has been most frustrating to me and others who are trying to help the situation.
As we all know, the prime reason for hostility in much of the Muslim world toward America has nothing to do with American values or American business—much of which is very popular throughout the Muslim world and in the majority of Muslim countries. The hostility is completely due to the very heavy footprint of American foreign policy, including its military power that the United States has in various parts of the Muslim world.
“It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God,” Pope Francis said early in his pontificate. “But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people.”
Many U.S. Catholics have not only ignored their Muslim brothers and sisters but harbor discriminatory views about Muslims at alarming rates.
Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, “a multi-year research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square,” released a report in 2016 that documented how U.S. Catholics view Muslims. America’s national correspondent, Michael O’Loughlin, reported then:
When asked, “What is your overall impression of Muslims?” 30 percent of those Catholics polled said they held unfavorable views, 14 percent said favorable and 45 percent said they held neither favorable nor unfavorable views… Forty-five percent of Catholics said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions while 24 percent said it encourages violence as much as other religions.
Jordan Denari Duffner, an associate at the Bridge Initiative and author of the new book, Finding Jesus Among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic, joins us on this week’s episode of Jesuitical. Jordan discusses why she felt called to work in Catholic-Islamic dialogue, and why it’s an essential part of the Christian vocation.
Jack, a sixth-grader from Chicago’s Bernard Zell Jewish Day School, threw himself like a rag doll onto the rubber gym floor of the Muslim Community Center Academy in Morton Grove Thursday, pantomiming a Christmas tree being felled by a gang of Irish-dancing squirrels.
The 11-year-old’s theatrics drew giggles from the dozen other pre-teens in his group — some wearing hijabs, others plaid skirts — who were brought together by the Olive Tree Arts Network and tasked with combining their imaginations into a single, wacky story.
Jack’s group was among 150 students brought together by the network’s Poetry Pals program, which every year has students from Catholic, Muslim and Jewish Day schools participate in a shared curriculum focused on creative expression and cultural learning.
Getting the students to act out fantastical stories based on their religious customs is a subtle way of building tighter bonds across faiths, according to Ilene Siemer, director of the arts network.
“This is a really important stage in kids’ lives, because they don’t really have pre-seeded notions of each other yet,” Siemer said. “So we’re able to effectively convey how much we all have in common without having to deal with any of the baggage that many adults may carry.”
Earlier this year, students from Bernard Zell and the Muslim academy visited St. John Fisher School in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood, where students led presentations on Catholic rituals and beliefs.
On Thursday, it was the Muslim students’ turn to educate their peers.
Pasadena’s Fuller Theological Seminary has received a $250,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for a three-year research-to-resources project that aims to shape public discourse about people of other faiths and witness, “so that such discourse is characterized by convicted civility, not fear and rancor.”
With special focus on Islamophobia and migration in a global society, this will be joint project between Fuller’s Schools of Theology and Intercultural Studies, according to a Fuller Seminary news release. The project will explore how the relationship between American evangelicals and those of other faiths has long been a tenuous and delicate one.
“We live in a divisive era, increasingly so since last year’s presidential election, with heightened displays of xenophobia, especially among evangelical Christians,” says Dr. Yong, director of the Center for Missiological Research and professor of theology and mission at Fuller. “In the latter half of the second decade of the 21st century, evangelical churches across North America remain in need of developing theologies of other faiths and cultures, and practices for relating to and interacting with members of such groups, that are more welcoming than alienating.”
Principal investigators in the project include President Emeritus Richard Mouw, professors Amos Yong, William Dyrness, Roberta King, Ryan Bolger, and Kirsteen Kim, and PhD candidate Matthew Krabill.
Another terrorist outrage has rocked the United States, this time New York City. American Muslims denounced the attack. The international press registered their distress.
And headlines, like this one in England’s Independent, state the obvious: “New York Suspect’s Muslim Neighbors Express Their Disgust: ‘We Have Nothing To Do With This Guy.'”
Of course they don’t. Nor has genuine Islam anything to do with Sayfullo Saipov’s terrorist ideology. God proclaims to Muslims, “I have made you a moderate people (ummatan wasatan)” (Quran 2:143). The Prophet himself warns against extremist religiosity. But is anyone who needs to hear this listening?
All Muslims need to know, but especially those tempted by terrorism, that America is already a deeply religious country in ways that Islam unequivocally affirms.
America has its own Muslim-friendly answer to terrorist violence. It’s to see the world from God’s perspective. That’s a move that beats terrorist ideology at its own game. It outdoes all false religiosity. But to convince the potential terrorist of that, all Americans need to remember God’s perspective.
Whether we’re religious or not, God’s lookout places us high above the fray. We’d be like the astronauts who take the earth in whole from their orbit above. Viewed from space, the Earth is one. So are its inhabitants.