Religions can be part of the solution for peace, not the problem, faith leaders say

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VATICAN CITY (RNS) — When John Lennon wrote his hit song “Imagine,” eliminating religions and the divisions they entail was in his view a necessary condition for “living life in peace.” A meeting of religious representatives in Rome this week made the case for shifting that paradigm.

The Abrahamic Faiths Initiative group united 25 religious leaders representing millions of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faithful to discuss practical ways of promoting peace and fraternity at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome Jan. 14-16.

Attendees included Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies; Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome; and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and all Palestine.

Many peacemaking efforts have failed because they didn’t consider the religious implications of their initiatives, according to Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, who also attended.

“I think the world is crying for this movement,” Brownback told Religion News Service in an interview on Thursday (Jan. 16), adding that even though the world might not want to talk about religion, the matter cannot be ignored.

“If we’d involved the religious actors 30 years ago in the Middle East peace negotiations and discussions, saying ‘OK, this is what we are thinking about, what do you think? Help us build the peace,’ we might be somewhere today,” he said.

“We still don’t have peace in the Middle East and the prospects don’t look particularly good.”

Brownback underlined that Christian, Muslim and Jewish faithful all source back to Abraham, creating a communality that can be built upon. “I just think the people who would divide have gotten out ahead of the people who would unite. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” he said.

In its final statement Thursday, the AFI members vowed “to seek to serve those of other faiths and no faith” and condemned those who “use the name of God, or the teachings of Abraham, to incite bloodshed or to oppress others.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

At Christmas, Christians and Muslims take time to talk about loving Jesus, and each other

GettyImages_460629094.6(RNS) — In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections, when we felt the country needed a message of unity and hope, the Rev. Andy Stoker, of First Methodist Church in Dallas, and I released a video on Facebook about our friendship called “An Imam, A Pastor, and A Dream,” in hopes that it would inspire others.

It spread rapidly online, with millions of views within the first few days. Those who commented saw in that five-minute clip the type of connection they wished to see in their own communities.

Little did we know just how far it would reach. Shortly after its release, I got a phone call informing me that ISIS had made a video about our video. In theirs, they referred to me as “the Apostate Omar Suleiman” and called for their followers to assassinate me [dfw.cbslocal.com].

I was unnerved by the news, but I knew I had to tell Andy what had happened before he found out through some other source. When I called, he not only didn’t shy away, he began the conversation that led to our next effort together. We decided in the wake of ISIS’ threat that we weren’t going to let any fools stop us from being brothers. Not here, and not thousands of miles away.

That spring of 2017, we began offering a month-long class about Jesus in Islam and Christianity. For four weeks, our Christian and Muslim communities came together to discuss Jesus in our respective faiths. The pews at First United Methodist were full, according to the Reverend Andy Stoker.

The tranquility and bonds formed over that month had captivated us all. At the end of our last session there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.

Rev. Andy and I had started with the birth of Christ, then went on to his life, ending with our differences on the meaning of the crucifixion, then finally came to Jesus’ second coming. In the first two weeks, we found little difference in how our two faiths viewed Jesus in birth and life.

Jesus is no ordinary figure to Muslims. He is one of the highest prophets and messengers of God, born of a virgin, chosen as the one to restore justice to this earth in its final days, and distinguished in the hereafter with a special place in paradise. He is mentioned in the Quran 25 times, with an entire chapter named after his honored mother, Mary.

Muhammad said about his relationship to him, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

Global Muslim leader brings push for peace and tolerance to meeting with top LDS leaders, other Utah officials

J6QV5WTYZFAW3KHPFKZVRWVP44Every time there has been a terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims anywhere since 9-11, many Americans demand to know why Islamic moderates don’t condemn such killings by fellow believers.

Of course, Muslim leaders in Utah, across the United States and in other countries repeatedly do decry these acts, but they can’t represent the 1.8 billion adherents on the planet.

Now there’s the Muslim World League, a pan-Muslim organization committed to moderation and nonviolence. It opposes all forms of extremism and the so-called “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West, and works to build bridges with other nations.

The league’s secretary-general, Mohammad Al-Issa, was in Utah this week, meeting with religious leaders, including the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After his conversation with top Latter-day Saint officials, Al-Issa visited with apostle David A. Bedner and then headed to the church’s Welfare Square west of downtown Salt Lake City.

“What I’ve seen here is a great example of the true meaning of mercy and love to humanity,” the Muslim said in a church news release. “We, all around the world, need to follow this humanitarian [approach] exactly. Also, the whole world needs to get exposed to and learn from these efforts and projects.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE 

13th-century encounter points way to greater Christian-Muslim understanding

st fracisWASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi took a risk when he crossed the battlefield between Crusader and Muslim forces near Damietta, Egypt, desiring to meet Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil and preach his faith in Jesus Christ.

At the time – 1219 – Christian forces were in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, which was eventually repelled by the sultan’s superior army near the town that was a center of trade and commerce on the Nile River where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

The future saint readily put his life on the line so he could witness his faith to the famed Muslim sultan, and in doing so both men came away with a new respect for the faith of the other, Franciscan Father Michael Calabria told a conference on that encounter with “the other” Nov. 7 at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

A rabbi, a pastor and an imam walk into a … dialogue about shared values

ANTHONY SOUFFLÉ • STAR TRIBUNE

Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie and Imam Jamal Rahman, who call themselves the Interfaith Amigos, spoke recently at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.

When the Rev. Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Imam Jamal Rahman walk into a room, they’re ready for the joke. But the “Interfaith Amigos,” who spoke Nov. 2 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, are serious about their mission to reject what Rahman calls “otherization.” Their path is of oneness, shining a light not on what separates Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but on core teachings that unify them. The three men bonded in Seattle in the devastating days after 9/11, meeting weekly for 18 years and presenting their interfaith message across the United States, as well as Japan and the Middle East. Co-authors of three books, they share more about their outreach and abiding friendship below.

Q: First, an introduction: Pastor Mackenzie, of Minneapolis, is retired as minister and head of staff at Seattle’s University Congregational United Church of Christ. Rabbi Falcon is a psychologist with a private spiritual practice in Seattle. Imam Rahman is co-founder and Muslim Sufi Minister at Interfaith Community Sanctuary in Seattle. So, what brought you together?

Falcon: Imam Jamal and I met when we were invited to participate on a board laying the groundwork for a university of spirituality in Seattle. When the twin towers fell and our media focused on the violent nature of Islam, I immediately called Imam Jamal and invited him to join me for the Shabbat worship that Friday evening. I believed people had to know about the true and peaceful face of Islam. Halfway through the year, we brought in Pastor Don, who was clearly our Christian brother.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

With interfaith exhibit, Boston’s Abrahamic faith groups revisit their shared roots

Sinan-Hussein-Welcoming-the-StrangerBOSTON (RNS) — Just over a year ago, the day after the deadly mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, more than a thousand locals gathered together on the Boston Common to mourn and pray.

As the Rev. Amy McCreath, dean of the historic St. Paul Cathedral that overlooks America’s oldest park, watched people of various faiths unite once again to mourn another national tragedy, she was hit with an emotional realization.

“I looked out over the crowds of people, and it was so clear that all of them really want a peaceful future,” she remembered. “We want to work together against violence, but we don’t even know each other. Unfortunately, the odds are good that something like that will happen again, and we need to be prepared to support one another and defend one another.”

That’s part of the reason the Episcopal cathedral agreed to host a new interfaith art exhibit that explores the faith and life of Abraham, the shared spiritual forefather of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions — and launched an accompanying interfaith book study to spotlight Abraham’s wives, Sarah and Hagar.

The two-year touring exhibition “Abraham: Out of One, Many,” is curated by the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler of Caravan, an international art non-profit affiliated with the Episcopal Church. After premiering in Rome in May, the show began a 20-month U.S. tour at Nebraska’s Tri-Faith Initiative this fall.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

Extremists Won’t Hinder Interfaith Dialogue

shutterstock_560746489-1In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Leonard Swidler, professor of Catholic thought and interreligious dialogue at Temple University, Philadelphia.

Interfaith dialogue is a necessity in our age. In a world suffering from armed conflicts, diplomatic standoffs and trade wars, cooperative and constructive interaction between people of different religious traditions is fundamental to solidifying peace and stability, and stemming racism, xenophobia, radicalization, violent extremism and terrorism.

Interreligious dialogue is about encounters — it drives respect, mutual understanding and appreciation for common values. Interfaith dialogue helps debunk the myths and eradicate the stereotypes about religion that politicians abuse to further their (often populist) agendas.

The 1893 Parliament of World Religions at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, is often referred to as the birth of the modern interfaith movement, even though interfaith dialogue has ancient roots. There have been notable examples of collaboration between the devotees of different religions in the far past. In the 16th century, the emperor Akbar the Great encouraged tolerance in Mughal India where people of various faith backgrounds, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity, lived.

It’s also narrated in the Bible that Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and ordered a temple to be built in Jerusalem upon a decree from God in the first year of his reign. It is for this reason that Cyrus is talked of favorably in the Bible and loved by the Jews.

While such plagues as Islamophobia and anti-Semitism continue to spread intolerance and mar relations between Muslims, Jews and Christians, faith leaders have a crucial responsibility to preach engagement, interaction and peaceful dialogue among their followers to prevent these social gaps from widening further.

Leonard Swidler is professor of Catholic thought and interreligious dialogue at Temple University, Philadelphia. He is the co-founder and director of Global Dialogue Institute and is a major figure in the scholarly study of interfaith dialogue. In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Swidler about interreligious dialogue and the major obstacles blocking successful cooperation between the leaders and adherents of the world’s many faiths.

The text has been lightly edited for clarity.

Kourosh Ziabari: What are the prerequisites of successful interfaith dialogue? What should be done before religious leaders sit together to discuss their differences and shared values?

Leonard Swidler: The essence of interreligious dialogue is to learn from the dialogue partner so we can grow — and a growth of knowledge, no matter how slight, is a growth in me, and hence a change in me. My dialogue partner is not me, and so necessarily sees reality from his or her family, gender, wealth and religious perspective, which will be the same or similar to mine, and necessarily different from mine. That combination of the livening person is what I want to learn about in dialogue so I can live more fully on the basis of the always expanding, deepening understanding of reality. In brief, as in a mantra I composed, “Nobody knows everything about anything — therefore, dialogue!”

FULL ARTICLE FROM FAIROBSERVER.COM