3 scholars gather for a female-led interfaith conference in the NC mountains

Three scholars, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim, will gather to discuss breath and the way it connects body and soul.

(RNS) — Summers have long been a time for camp meetings and religious revivals, a week of preaching, singing and soul-saving in the great outdoors.

That tradition has faded some over the years, but a form of it still exists on a western North Carolina mountain off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Wildacres, a scenic retreat at an elevation of 3,300 feet, has always combined a bit of rustic Appalachia with a progressive religious streak.

This year it is breaking ground again as its Interfaith Institute, a 40-year-old summer tradition, convenes a three-day meeting beginning Monday (Aug. 1), led entirely by female scholars — a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim.

The Interfaith Institute, which has long been hosted by the Greater Carolinas Association of Rabbis, was initially intended as a summer retreat where rabbis, ministers and priests could learn more about other traditions in a relaxed setting.

Increasingly, it is attracting lay people and this year is scrapping the traditional lecture format for a more relaxed conversational workshop in which scholars interact with participants.


RELATED: Interfaith Trolley offers inspiration and a whirlwind tour of religion in America


Wildacres Retreat, located near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Wildacres Retreat

The theme this year is breath, and the three scholars will explore it beginning with the Genesis creation story where “God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (The Quran includes two related passages.)

“When we gathered on Zoom to plan it, one participant said, ‘I just want time to catch my breath,’” said Amy Laura Hall, associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School and this year’s program director for the Interfaith Institute. “We kept gravitating back toward that as a theme.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

Interfaith summit dreams of America as a potluck, not a battlefield

Hundreds of interfaith campus leaders gathered in Chicago to reimagine America as a potluck, where everyone is welcome — rather than a melting pot.

CHICAGO (RNS) — Amaris DeLeon grew up in a religious home but no longer identifies with any particular faith, calling herself “spiritual but not religious.” But she recognizes that religion can still play a role in bringing people together, especially in times of tension and conflict.

“People are desperate for a place to talk about things like politics where it’s not going to get too aggressive,” said DeLeon, a student at the University of North Florida, where she works with the school’s interfaith office. “Everyone has morals, everyone has these codes of value. And I think there’s so much more similarity than difference. We just have to look for it and be intentional about it.”

DeLeon was one of about 360 students and educators from 90 colleges and universities who gathered in Chicago over the weekend (Aug. 12-14) for Interfaith America’s annual leadership summit. Held in person for the first time in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was a chance to connect with other interfaith leaders and receive training on how to help students from different backgrounds work together.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

Ashura Signifies that Truth Will Never Die

(Note: Ashura is a day holy to Shi’a Muslims memorializing the death of Ali’s son, Hussain, in battle in Kerballa, Iraq in 680 CE. which also has spiritual significance related to his martyrdom. This article references a Lebanese Christian scholar who interestingly ties Hussain’s martyrdom to the suffering of Christ)

George Zaki al-Hujjaj made the remark in a forum recently held by IQNA under the title of “Imam Hussein’s (AS) Depiction in Christianity”.

Syrian thinker, author and media activist Antoine Barbara and Lebanese scholar and researcher Luis Saliba were the other Christian figures addressing the forum.

Hujjaj said Ashura is the day in which blood gained victory over sword and the truth overcame falsehood.

He said Imam Hussein (AS) was an absolute hero who remained steadfast and never bowed to oppressors.

“(Imam Hussein) fought to the last drop of blood and with his martyrdom, created an epic of bravery and defending the truth.”

Hujjaj added that in this era humanity needs the likes of Imam Hussein (AS) to remain unwavering in defending the truth and justice and stand up to oppressors.

In his address, Saliba said what happened to Imam Hussein (AS) is something that brought Shia Muslims and Christians closer together.

He referred to contemporary Christian figures like Gibran Khalil Gibran, Mikhail Naimy, and George Jordac as only some of the Arab Christian figures who have written about AHl-ul-Bayt (AS).

Calling for dialogue among Christians and Shias, he said there are many commonalities between followers of Jesus (AS) and followers of the Ahl-ul-Bayt (AS).

He said there is also much similarity between the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS) and what happened to Jesus (AS) as well as between Hazrat Zahra (SA) and Mary (SA), the mother of Jesus (AS).

Saliba said dialogue between Shias and Christians will promote Islam-Christianity dialogue and enhance peaceful coexistence among the followers of the two faiths.

FULL ARTICLE FROM IQNA (IRAN)

In Tbilisi, the Peace Project rises as a home for Christians, Jews and Muslims under one roof

Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili is all too familiar with the criticisms of interfaith dialogue, especially as his Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, moves toward completion of a facility designed to host Christian, Jewish and Muslim worship and promote stronger relationships between the three Abrahamic faiths.

But Songulashvili said neither his nor the other congregations involved in the Peace Project are seeking to water down or merge their spiritual traditions, as some critics claim.

The mosque inside the Peace Project under construction.

“This project will respect the liturgical integrity of each community, each in their own space, but there will be a fellowship hall where Muslims, Christians and Jews can come together for meals and food. We do not encourage or approve of some sort of religious syncretism.”

Founded originally as First Baptist Church in Tbilisi, the Peace Cathedral is the oldest Baptist church in the Republic of Georgia and a partner of the U.S.-based Alliance of Baptists. It is known as a champion of interfaith cooperation, religious freedom and social justice throughout the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Its embrace of gender equality and LGBTQ rights, and its practice of ordaining women, often have resulted in harassment from both political and religious authorities, including other Baptists.

That experience helped inspire the Peace Project, which will combine in one facility separate worship spaces for Christians, Jews and Muslims who also will share combined accommodations for fellowship, study and interfaith relationship building. The anticipated completion date is Pentecost 2023, depending on the availability and cost of construction materials.

A summary provided by the cathedral said the initiative will include adult and children’s libraries and an interfaith dialogue center “designed to create a spiritual home for Abrahamic faiths, including both Sunni and Shi’a Muslim communities. The Peace Project is envisioned to be a profound example of what the world can be, and should be, in cooperation and respectful unity.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM BAPTIST NEWS

Study document on antisemitism, Islamophobia advances

The report is billed as a practical guide to repairing relationships with Jews and Muslims.

Moderator Frances Lin (standing) speaks with resource staff for the Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky – The Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement Committee of the 225th General Assembly today recommended that the assembly receive a study document denouncing antisemitism and Islamophobia and distribute it throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for “study and reflection.” The vote was 25-2.

The study document – which is not PC(USA) policy – “is designed as a practical guide to repairing our relationships with Jews and Muslims,” said Whitney Wilkinson Arreche, a member of the denomination’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations (CEIR).

“We address antisemitism and Islamophobia in a single document,” Wilkinson Arreche continued, “because of our singular commitment to repent of and make repair for harm we have caused both communities.”

The study document builds on the “Interreligious Stance” adopted by the 2014 General Assembly, which states that “many things draw us together in respect for those who have religious commitments different from our own, including the example and person of Jesus Christ, the evident need for religious peace, the necessity of meeting human needs in a world of poverty or want, and the biblical call to solidarity amid our diversity.”

Antisemitism “exists on multiple levels,” the study document states, “ranging from consistent, low-level aggression and negative stereotyping, to significant acts of violence against Jews, their religious communities, and their property.” All of these forms of antisemitism are on the rise, the document asserts, fueled in part by White supremacy. “Addressing the long history of antisemitism, and our current complicity in it,” the document continues, “requires study, confession and repentance.”

The document includes two definitions of antisemitism – from the 2021 “Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism” developed by a group of scholars in Jewish, Holocaust, Israel, Palestine and Middle East studies; and from the Anti-Defamation League.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PRESBYTERIAN OUTLOOK

A Muslim ‘bridge-builder’ started interfaith work in his basement. Now he has programs on hundreds of campuses.

Eboo Patel began his efforts to bring people of different faiths together for dialogue and service projects in a basement office on the Northwest Side.

He kept his day job and piloted a practical Chrysler Cirrus sedan through the streets of Chicago, delivering high school kids to meetings where they engaged in spirited discussions and packed meals for homeless people.

“I was like a Cub Scout leader,” Patel said with a chuckle.

What a difference 20 years makes. Today Patel, who comes to interfaith work from a Muslim perspective, helms a nonprofit with a staff of 54, a budget of $14 million and programs on hundreds of college campuses. Interfaith America has advised presidents and helped Starbucks develop religious diversity education for employees.

In his new book, “We Need To Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy,” Patel pushes for a broader vision of American religious values that acknowledges not only Christians and Jews, but also Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians and nonbelievers, among others.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Christians And Muslims: Agreements And Disagreements On God And Christ

When various Christians try to engage Islam, pointing out that despite the various (and significant) differences which exists between the two faiths, they still worship the same God, other Christians quickly speak up and say it is impossible because of those very differences. It is as if they believe God is created by one’s own thoughts about God, justifying Feuerbach and others like him in saying God is created in the image of humanity instead of humanity in the image of God. If mere opinion about the various characteristics of God establish belief in a different God, no two people will worship the same God, as no two people have identical notions about God. However, God is beyond us, and our opinions about God do not form or shape who God is but only reveal what we think about God. Those differences can be important as bad ideas about God can lead to all kinds of terrible actions by those who believe them, and for this reason arguments concerning which representation of God best exemplifies the divine nature can matter, but they do not matter in relation to the question of whether or not people are seeking after and believing in the same God. Christians and Muslims share God in common, and indeed, believe many of the same things about the divine nature, including elements which come from revelation (and so not reason alone):

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.[1]

FULL ARTICLE FROM PATHEOS BLOG

In Muslim-majority UAE, an interfaith beacon is found

Rabbis expect a new interfaith complex will further promote cross-religious dialogue

Though the United Arab Emirates is famously known for its luxurious malls and towering Burj Khalifa skyscraper, a diverse interfaith project may soon become one of the nation’s most notable structures.

The Abrahamic Family House, a religious complex which will house a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, is currently under construction in Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi.

Named after Abraham – the shared patriarch of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – this historic interfaith complex is the first of its kind in the Muslim-majority UAE, and offers a display of religious unity not often seen in the Middle East.

The structure, designed by Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye OBE, features three houses of worship composed of equal cubic volumes and exterior dimensions to ensure that no one building outweighs another.

Though the complex’s sites share these similar features, each one is completely unique – drawing on a variety of religious motifs to influence the architectural themes within.

The composition of the mosque is intended to evoke the sequences of Islamic worship, the synagogue’s interior draws from the layered leaves of Sukkot palm fronds, and the church uses light and water to pay homage to elements within Christianity.

“The design aims to both meaningfully represent, and support diverse communities… unlocking a contemporary spirit that draws from tradition but looks towards the future – a future defined by acceptance, inclusion, and peace,” the project’s website explained.

FULL ARTICLE FROM I24 NEWS

Official new pamphlet aims to help Latter-day Saints understand, treat Muslims better

Elder David A. Bednar repudiates stereotypes about Muslims. Pamphlet outlines common values shared by the 2 faiths.

A new 35-page pamphlet called “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Beliefs, Values, and Lifestyles” appeared online Wednesday on websites and apps of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Why it matters: Muslim and Latter-day Saint leaders work together across the world because of their shared values. Latter-day Saint leaders have said they want church members to better understand Muslims, work and live together with them and help root out bias against Islam.

  • The pamphlet’s publication was first announced in October at a BYU conference on Islam. Learning more about Muslim neighbors “will help us be more kind and more accurate in what we say and feel about each other,” Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said at the time.
  • Elder David A. Bednar of the Twelve used the conference to repudiate all disparaging statements made by Latter-day Saints about Muslims, including those that repeated stereotypes. He called stereotypes wrong and offensive: “Such biases cause those who feel that way to overlook the kindness and goodness of the overwhelming majority of all Muslims,” he said.
  • Elder Bednar said the booklet was produced over several years with the help of Muslim imams.

FULL ARTICLE FROM DESERET.COM

Seattle’s Interfaith Community Sanctuary includes Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus

Jamal Rahman is cofounder and Muslim Sufi imam at Interfaith Community Sanctuary in Seattle. He is a popu­lar speaker and author on Islam, Sufi spirituality, and interfaith relations. Interfaith Community Sanctuary won second prize in the 2020 UN World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize from A Common Word.

Tell us about how Interfaith Community Sanctuary became a reality. Where did the idea come from?

In 1992, I was very keen to establish community in Seattle. I left my previous career and began teaching self-development classes. I was trained in Sufism, the mystical side of Islam, so that’s what I taught. I was surprised by how many people came to take the classes.

In seven years we had a few hundred people. From there we started to ask: What does it mean to have an interfaith worship service? We were people of different religions, mostly Christians but also Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. All of us were looking for a connection to something higher and deeper.

What kind of worship could we do that unites everyone? There are a few things that transcend the boundaries of religion. One is silence. There’s no such thing as a Jewish silence or Islamic silence; it’s just silence. So, we decided, let’s just practice silence in each of our Sunday worship services.

Second, music. Everybody loves music. We had chanters from different traditions, so we added chanting. I would always quote Rumi, “Music is the sound of the spheres. We have been part of this harmony before.” And once we chant and sing and play music, it keeps our remembering fresh and it doesn’t matter what your religion is.

Food is how we came to know the other on a human level. We built that in as well. So we focused on silence, chanting, and food.

Over time, we came to say that we focus on essence, not form. We asked: What is the experience, the taste, we want? We would also say that we wanted to move from a knowledge of the tongue to a knowledge of the heart. That can come from personal relationship, connection, spiritual companions in your life, music, silence, and sharing different spiritual practices.

Every tradition says a person is to become a better human being, a more developed human being. And everyone wants to be of service to God’s creation in a genuine way. Rabindranath Tagore has this wonderful poem: “I slept and dreamed: / Life was joy. / I awoke and found life was service. / I served and lo, service was joy.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY