Interfaith Dialogue: Another Perspective

downloadWhile perusing the online December 31, 2018, issue of the Fillmore County Journal, I read the commentary by Aaron Schwartzentruber in which he contends that interfaith dialogue compromises the Gospels of the New Testament, especially if dialogue is between Christians and Muslims.

My personal experience with interfaith dialogue began very early in life when, growing up in Fillmore County, I was a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant community. Our interfaith community was one of neighborliness and of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). These formative experiences have been helpful in my interfaith dialogues with Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Zorastrians, and Baha’i. I’ve learned that meaningful interfaith dialogue is based on mutual respect, healthy curiosity, and sincere desire to learn and understand. It is not proselytizing. It does not condone, in any way, denigration of any faith tradition or followers. It is not a contest in righteousness, nor right vs wrong. In these days of Islamophobia, too little effort is made to become informed about Islam with sources other than mainstream media.

For anyone who chooses to move beyond ignorance and the fear that ensues, I suggest starting with What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, an easily readable book by John Esposito, a Christian professor at Georgetown University. A source that specifically addresses the commonalities between Islam and Christianity is A Common Word, Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor, which is available as a book and online: It has become part of religious studies curricula and has served as the basis for multiple international interfaith conferences to study and expand its content. It is enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of religious and governmental leaders from every part of the globe. The foundational principle of “A Common Word” is that Muslims and Christians (and Jews) believe in the commandments: 1) Love of God and 2) Love of Neighbor (Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:35-39; Luke 10:25-27). Muslims and Christians (and Jews) share not only these two great commandments but also the same God. Yes, they worship the same God. These three monotheistic Abrahamic religions refer to God as Yahweh (Jews), Arabic name of Allah (Islam), and Trinitarian God (Christian). Jesus (Isa in Arabic) is among the greatest of prophets in Islam. Muslims, like Christians, believe in His virgin birth.



Towards A More Comprehensive Interfaith Dialogue


In an age where religious persecution is spreading at speed, it is crucial to consider steps which need to be taken to prevent further acts of religiously motivated violence. If it is not possible to prevent this altogether, then we must, at least, consider how we slow it down. Engaging in political dialogue and stressing the need to adhere to international legal standards and states’ international law obligations is not nearly enough.

If we take into consideration the fact that in most states, it is predominately religious minorities that are being persecuted, it becomes clear that the only way to prevent religious persecution is to ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief for all, whether one belongs to the majority or minority groups. The majority group plays a critical role in addressing the persecution of minorities. Their influence on the situation for minority groups cannot be downplayed. Hence, today, more than ever, it is crucial to open an interfaith dialogue.

Interfaith dialogue, which refers to an exchange among religious communities on issues of mutual concern, explores the “engagement of the world’s religious traditions around theological questions and in their efforts to collaborate on questions of peace, human rights, and economic and social development.”

Actors which are often neglected in these debates are businesses. Businesses should have, at the forefront of their corporate governance policies, an acute focus on adherence to human rights (including the right to freedom of religion or belief for all) in states where they manufacture, buy or sell their goods. They must maintain an open dialogue with local and national authorities about the need to adhere to human rights standards. Similarly, they must require their local partners to comply with the internationally recognized standards. 


Muslim group launches effort to show faith’s regard for Jesus


What do Muslims think of Jesus? It’s a question Dr. Sabeel Ahmed said he gets often.

To help educate people on the significance of Jesus in Islam, Ahmed’s group, The Humanitarians, a Muslim interfaith organization, is launching a monthlong campaign that includes billboards along high-trafficked areas in Arizona along with radio ads.

Ahmed, the group’s founder and outreach coordinator, said the intent is to highlight similarities between Islam and Christianity and bring people together during the holidays.

“We want to educate people on who we (Muslims) are and who we are not and show people that there are more similarities between the faiths than differences,” Ahmed said Tuesday during a news conference at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe.

Jesus in Islam

Ahmed said Muslims recognize Jesus as one of Allah’s prophets. His mission, Ahmed said, was to invite people to worship God.

He said there are six articles of faith in Islam that include believing in all of God’s prophets. That includes Jesus, he said.

“If you don’t believe in Jesus, then you cannot be Muslim,” he said.


Does Friendship Between Christians and Muslims Require Agreement?

By Kevin Singer and Chris Stackaruk

Screenshot-2018-11-30-07.32.28A 2016 op-ed from the Huff Post recently re-emerged after it was retweeted by a renowned sociologist at Rice University, Dr. Craig Considine, who has a robust 53,000+ Twitter followers. The piece — written by Ian Mevorach, who identifies himself as a theologian, spiritual leader, and activist — argues that “peacemaking Christians” should accept Muhammad as the “Spirit of Truth” whom Jesus speaks of in John 14-16, effectively transforming Muhammad from historical figure to ultimate prophet in Christian theology. He argues this to be a solution to Christian Islamophobia: “Changing our view of Muhammad—so that we recognize him as a true prophet rather than discredit him as a false prophet—would effectively inoculate Christians against Islamophobia and would help to establish a new paradigm of cooperative Christian-Muslim relations.”

Mevorach rightly notes that some of the most revered Christian theologians in the history of the Church, including John of Damascus, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Nicholas of Cusa, and Martin Luther, would find Mevorach’s conclusions deeply troubling. Yet, he feels that his argument will “transform the way Christians and Muslims see and relate to each other.”

We co-direct an organization, Neighborly Faith, that equips evangelical Christians to be good neighbors to people of other faiths—especially Muslims. Over the last four years, we have built an expansive network of everyday evangelicals and their leaders across many churches, colleges and vocations with which we promote Christian friendship with Muslims. Putting the theological cogency of Mevorach’s argument aside, we can say with assurance that his argument would not “make peace between our communities” as he proposes. In fact, we believe it does the very opposite.

Mevorach injects urgency into his argument by noting that “the majority of Christians still maintain a fundamentally Islamophobic position on Muhammad,” and that “our planet simply cannot afford another century of misunderstanding and violence between these two communities.” Yet, the issue with his argument is that he correlates Christian opinions about Muhammed with their feelings about Muslims.

If we have learned anything during years of promoting real, on-the-ground engagement between Christians and Muslims it is that, (1) theological disagreement is not what causes conflict, and (2) theological agreement is not a viable means for reconciliation.

His arguments demand that Christians overturn centuries of belief, which will not be remotely compelling to the Christians he describes. Rather, an argument like this only makes Christian-Muslim friendship more out of reach for most Christians, who are not willing to sacrifice core tenets of their faith.

We have unfortunately seen this habit among many progressive thinkers in North America and Europe who, from the best of intentions, wish to be bridgebuilders and peacemakers. Mevorach and others like him contrive expedient solutions to “the problem of belief,” but never take into consideration whether the people who presumably need to change would find their arguments compelling. Unfortunately this is the case for Mevorach’s essay: His solution is laughably idealistic.


I am better for having the Jewish friends I have made since moving to Texas from the Middle East

fbd1ad48522fa7e93f1e54649736c224I migrated to America from the Middle East more than 26 years ago. A Muslim woman by birth, I became American by choice. Having been raised in a culture dominated by political conflicts between Arabs and Jews, I never imagined back then that one day I would actually have a comfortable dialog with a Jewish person, and I certainly never expected to become friends with one. The mercy and grace of God had a different plan for me, one that helped me grow as a person, a citizen, as well as a believer.

My first encounter with a Jewish person started through a Texas based interfaith group, Daughters of Abraham, where women from the three Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) come together. We meet monthly while alternating among our three places of worship. We drink coffee and hot tea and eat lots of snacks while having a dialog about our shared spiritual heritages and experiences. This fills our spirits with love and gratitude.


Interfaith dialogue really is relational, accessible

There is a particular urgency for Catholics to become participants in dialogue with Muslims

By Jordan Denari Duffner
162 pages; Published by Liturgical Press

Earlier this year while on a train in Europe, I sat down across from an Arabic-looking man who began reading the Quran. My immediate first reaction was apprehension and fear. My immediate second reaction was to check my implicit yet real bias for what it was, Islamophobia.

Most striking to me was this incident happened just a few days after I had finished a book on Muslim-Christian relations that addressed these implicit biases to which Catholics like myself are prone. It is precisely because these biases are so ingrained and because Islamophobia is on the rise that Finding Jesus Among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic by Jordan Denari Duffner is such an important and timely resource.

Written primarily for a Catholic audience, the book explores present relations between Christianity and Islam. It does so, however, through the lens of Duffner’s lived experiences with Muslims and the ways in which encountering Islam has helped her find Jesus anew. She never intends the book to be a comprehensive analysis or work of systematic theology. Rather, in her words, Finding Jesus Among Muslims should act as a “facilitator of dialogue.” The book raises more questions than it answers, encouraging readers to go forth and learn more. The author’s rich commitment to Muslims and demonstrated courage in entering vulnerable, liminal spaces inspire readers to become active participants in dialogue.


Muslim, Christian leaders share story of interfaith friendship

At the back of a banquet hall in New Hope Presbyterian Church beneath an illuminated stained-glass window, Dr. Bashar A. Shala brought his hands together in prayer, looked to the ceiling, spoke quietly and then knelt, bringing his head fully to the floor.

Shala recited in Arabic a verse from the Quran and then translated to a room of bowed heads. Pastor Steven Stone followed him with a Christian prayer, asking God to bless those gathered.

Shala, president of the Memphis Islamic Center in Tennesseee, and Stone, senior pastor of the Christian Heartstrong Church, also of Memphis, led the Castle Rock churchgoers in prayer during a lunchtime gathering following New Hope’s usual Oct. 14 service, then took questions from congregation members.

Both men have been awarded the Freedom of Worship Award from the Roosevelt Institute, the nonprofit partner of America’s first presidential library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, and have been featured in national media outlets. Their mission, they said, is to encourage people throughout the U.S. to see past cultural and religious differences, to foster more curiosity between groups and diminish fear within people hesitant to build such relationships.

It’s a lesson they’ve preached for years through their own story of friendship.

Becoming, and loving, thy neighbor

Stone, Shala and their respective organizations built a national platform starting roughly nine years ago, as their relationship was first forming.

It began when Stone read a local media report about a group of Muslims who had purchased land to build an Islamic center across the street from his church, which he founded and has pastored for nearly 20 years.

Stone’s first reaction was rooted in fear and ignorance, he said. He didn’t know a single Muslim. He didn’t know if he should be concerned about another religious group so close by. So, he prayed.

Shala was among a committee and board searching for land to build a home for the Muslim community in Memphis — a place where they could worship and socialize.

“It was a post-9/11 world,” Shala said. “There were some struggles.”