Ramadan, Passover and Easter overlap, highlighting challenges, common ground

On March 29, the kitchen and dining room at Quinsigamond United Methodist Church filled with warmth of friendship, laughter, and Brazilian-style cooking, including canjiquinha, a national dish including grits, pork, and seasonings.

Members of the local Berean Baptist Church, a Portuguese-language church hosting the meal, urged visitors to eat. 

The occasion was the fifth and last night of a weekly interfaith supper and prayer service, “Living Our Discipleship,” organized by the Quinsigamond Village/South Worcester church collaborative. 

Children perform a song after the opening prayer at Quinsigamond United Methodist Church during the 2023 Mid-Week Lenten Series "Living Our Discipleship" on Wednesday March 29, 2023.

Berean Baptist Church members Pamela Lima and Gil Aguiar said their congregation rents space in the Methodist church.“We like to unite the whole community in the name of Jesus Christ,” Aguiar said. “We’ve got the same God, who founded the same faith.”

After supper, the gathering moved to the sanctuary for a Portuguese-language service led by the Berean Baptist Church Pastor Antoniel Neri, with music and English-language translations by church youth. 


Dems, GOPers, Muslims and Christians: Attacks On Any Religious Freedom Is Wrong

A rare glimpse of bipartisanship in the volatile political atmosphere  of Washington D.C.  kicked off the International Religious Freedom (IRF)  Summit 2023 Tuesday, setting a tone of cooperation and mutual understanding for the event.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee  joined Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat, on the stage at the Washington Hilton as part of a panel to  address why international religious freedom is key to U.S. foreign policy.

The panel followed a welcome by IRF Summit Co-Chair Ambassador Sam Brownback who declared the coalition’s mission was “religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time.” The two day summit brings together a broad coalition “that passionately supports religious freedom around the globe.” Patheos, the world’s homepage for all religions, is a summit partner.

McGovern and McCaul both agreed that religious freedom remains under assault around the world. While acknowledging the panel usually “wouldn’t even agree on lunch,” McGovern touted the work both men have done to promote religious freedom including introducing legislation to promote a peaceful resolution to the Tibet and China conflict.

McCaul highlighted the continued need to address religious freedom abuses in China, Afghanistan, Iran, Nicaragua and Israel, particularly against women.

“To all those listening, we stand with you,” McCaul said. 

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee joined Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, speaks as Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, listens at e International Religious Freedom (IRF)  Summit 2023. (Travis Henry)

McGovern noted that as a practicing Roman Catholic he knew his religious freedom depended on the same freedoms for his Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim neighbors.

“Unless freedom of religion belongs to everyone, it doesn’t truly belong to anyone,” McGovern said.  

Political diversity gave way to a faith kaleidoscope later in the afternoon when some of the world’s most preeminent religious figures joined a panel session on equal citizenship as envisioned by the Marrakesh Declaration. 

The distinguished panel included:

  • Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, President of the Abu Dhabi Peace Forum
  • His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem
  • Imam Mohamed Magid, Co-Founder Multi-Faith Neighbors Network and Executive Imam, All Dulles Area Muslim Society
  • Pastor Bob Roberts Jr., Co-Founder of Multi-Faith Neighbors Network
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center Director Emeritus and Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy


Muslim and Non-Muslim Relations Reflections on Some Qur’anic Texts


Humanity lives today in a “global village,” where no people or nation can live in isolation from and indifferent to what goes on elsewhere. Our world is so interdependent and so interrelated that peaceful dialogue has become an imperative. In spite of the general erosion of commitment to “religion,” however interpreted or misinterpreted, religion still plays a pivotal role in shaping people’s attitudes and influencing their behavior. In spite of serious instances of abuse of various religions by some of their claimed followers so as to justify or instigate acts of brutality and bloodshed, there are positive and helpful common themes in these religions. Therefore, peaceful and candid intra-faith and inter-faith dialogues are important tools in working for such goals. This paper is a humble contribution to that dialogue from one perspective within a major world religion that is the professed faith of nearly one fifth of the human race; one that is more misunderstood than any other faith, sometimes, even, by some of its followers. This paper examines the nature and parameters of the normative relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is based mainly on an attempt to understand the Qur’an in its own textual and historical context. To do this, it is necessary to begin with the methodology and assumptions that underpin the paper.


The basic methodology and assumptions of this paper are summed up as follows: As a religious faith, normative Islam is not identical with the actions of its “followers.” Like other religions, followers or claimed followers are imperfect, fallible human beings. There are times when their actions conform, in various degrees, to the normative teachings of their faith. But there are also times when their actions are either independent of or even in violation of such normative teachings.


Get Jews, Muslims and Christians talking and maybe they won’t want to stop

One hundred and forty Jews, Christians and Muslims will sit down together next month to discuss human dignity and how it is exemplified in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran for “Peoples of the Book,” the third in a series of interfaith events. This will be the first time Jews are taking part.

The first two events created by the Crosier Fathers and Brothers, a Roman Catholic religious order, and the Sema Foundation, a community service non-profit founded by Turkish Americans, were “Friends of Mary” and “Jesus: Word and Spirit of God,” and focused on theological considerations between Christians and Muslims.

Jewish partners were not included, but organizers said welcoming Jews at some point was a long-held desire.

Rabbi Debbie Stiel of Temple Solel was the first Jewish clergy member to join the group and she felt a warmth from the others right away. Each event had a different configuration of planners, so it was easy for her to enter the group on equal footing without the sense of being late to the game.

“I felt immediately there was a curiosity and an interest from them in learning more about Judaism,” she said. “It felt great to join and do some teaching — as well as some learning.”

Interfaith dialogue is often held up as a good way to engender understanding, tolerance and even friendships. Leonard Swidler, Khalid Duran and Reuven Firestone in their 2007 book, “Trialogue: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue,” stated its importance even more starkly:

“We human beings today face a stark choice: dialogue or death!”

However, pulling off a meaningful interfaith dialogue event is challenging and can take long periods of detailed planning. Indeed, for this particular series, every event required several months of meetings.

But it was sparked by a simple inchoate desire to make a connection.

In the summer of 2019, Crosier Rev. Bob Rossi shared the iftar, the meal Muslims eat after sunset during Ramadan, at Sema’s community center in Chandler. During dinner, Rossi recognized a need for some kind of formal interfaith dialogue between Catholics and Muslims.


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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.