Students’ Muslim Center visit offers interfaith experience

ct-ctlfl-mgc-muslim-center-poetry-pals-3-20180117Jack, 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.



Fuller Theological Seminary Receives Luce Foundation Grant for Interfaith Dialogue Project

photo copy - Version 2Pasadena’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 Fuller-Receives-Luce-Foundation-Grant-for-Interfaith-Dialogue-Project450heightened 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.


How interfaith solidarity can help defeat the evil of terrorism

rauf8e-1-webAnother 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.



Rabat’s ‘American Peace Caravan’ Builds Interfaith Bridges to Curb Extremism, Islamophobia

Interfaith-Religious-Leaders-Fight-Extremism-Through-Dialogue-in-Rabat-‘Peace-Caravan_-640x426Rabat – As anti-Muslim sentiment appeared to have increased across the world, the agenda of the second edition of the American Peace Caravan has focused on new initiatives intended to dampen Islamophopia and extremism.

The event, which took place from October 24 to 26 in Rabat, aimed to build a bridge of co-existence between religions. The conference participants wanted to find concrete ways to allow Jews, Christians, and Muslims to cooperate more as a collective of ethical communities rather than ideologically-drive self-interested lobbies, according to a statement issued by the organizers.

The conference reunited imams, rabbis, and pastors from 20 countries, with the view to build peace by advancing human dignity and the common good.

The religious leaders renewed their vows to the fight against extremism and religious violence through dialogue and respect among all religions.

The second edition of the conference also highlighted a set of recommendations to eradicate Islamophobia, which was the result of a “clear lack of leadership,” according to a statement by the organizers.

The event, which was held in cooperation with the Forum for Peace Organization (FFP), took place at the headquarters of Morocco’s Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs.

The agenda of the three-day symposium included several workshops and discussions on different topics, including mutual vision amongst co-religionists and their impact on peace, the role of religion in public life and challenges facing co-existence and opportunities to enhance it.

The FFP statement has also praised Morocco for hosting “graciously” the event under the patronage of King Mohammed VI.

Speaking the opening session of the event’s second, Moroccan Minister of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, Ahmed Taoufiq, and President of the Forum for Peace Organization, Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, stressed the importance of religious leaders in espousing the values of peace and in the protection of minority rights.



Our Town: A Christian and a Muslim walk into a studio

59f3bccc9a2ef.imageBob Prater and Emad Meerza debate anything from what to order for breakfast to what the intent of sharia is.

Prater and Meerza host the podcast “A Christian and a Muslim Walk into a Studio,” where both past Bakersfield religious leaders discuss what they term “hot-button issues” from their respective perspectives. Prater is a former evangelical pastor, who now leads a small group of Christians through change in their personal lives, and Meerza is the previous president of the Islamic Shoura Council of Bakersfield.

But they weren’t always best friends able to have calm banter about religion. After meeting on a radio talk show, where they were guests talking about the rift between Christianity and Islam, Prater asked to buy Meerza coffee.

“I said, ‘Why would I want to do that?’” Meerza said.

Reluctantly, Meerza accepted and after a few more thrilling coffee get-togethers, which often turned into debates, “A Christian and a Muslim Walk into a Studio” was born.

In the beginning, Prater asked the questions that many conservatives would want to ask, drilling Meerza on the horrific practices cited in the Quran.

But it got to a breaking point – Meerza said that the narrative was hurting him and Muslims.

“It’s in the Quran just as it’s in the Bible,” Meerza said. “We have to watch this propaganda machine hurt us; it’s insanity.”

Prater also received flak from the Christian community. He said some accused him of sympathizing with terrorists, aiding vetting (and abetting?), and that Muslims were evil and trying to take over the world.

“People aren’t interested in peace; they’re interested in conflict,” Prater said. “Fear sells. If we were like everyone else, we would make a lot of money.”



I’m a Christian and an Interfaith Educator. America Needs Islam.

I am a Christian who was raised, and now choose, to profess Christ as Lord and Savior. I was born into a white middle-class family in suburban Maryland. I was part of the majority of Americans who received little education on Islam. I didn’t know that, in addition to sharing a common humanity, we also shared core teachings of our faith. It was not until I left home, at age 17 that I even met anyone who identified as Muslim.

Now I work at Davidson College in the Chaplain’s Office, as an interfaith educator. My job includes supporting students who live faithfully according to the practice and teachings of Islam. Every day, I find that students who identify as Muslim teach me to be a better Christian and a better citizen.

Islam deeply values humility. The Arabic word Muslim means “one who submits [to God].” Submission takes many forms, including daily time for prayer and bowing oneself before God, offering hospitality to one’s family and neighbors, and cherishing peace. I learn from practitioners of Islam the teaching of Jesus that “those who humble themselves will be exalted,” for they place God before all else (Matthew 23:12). Without humility, we destroy our own social fabric.



‘A Common Word’ 10 years on: Christians and Muslims must work together for peace

CNS-Catholic Islam CPeople today still need to hear document’s message that Christians, Muslims share two great commandments

On Oct. 13, 2007, 138 Muslim leaders signed “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a document stating that Christians and Muslims share two great commandments — love of God and love of neighbor — and should work for peace together.

Now 10 years later, the influence of the document continues through the projects and relationships it inspired, but experts on Muslim-Christian relations say many people still need to hear its message.


“When Catholics in the U.S. are hearing about Islam and Muslims, they’re not hearing about the heart and soul of the tradition,” said Scott Alexander, director of the Catholic-Muslim studies program at the Catholic Theological Union. “They’re hearing about different events in which there was conflict or if ISIS sponsored some sort of terrorist attack.”

“A Common Word” “gives people a way to see that Muslims are taking action all the time on the local and global stage for the good of humanity,” Alexander said. “The actions of a relatively small minority get so much more publicity that it leads to people having a distorted image of Islam and Muslims.”

Prior to the publication of “A Common Word,” Pope Benedict XVI exacerbated interfaith tensions during a 2006 address at the University of Regensburg by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who said that Mohammed only contributed “things evil and inhuman,” such as spreading his faith by violence.

While the pope did not endorse the emperor’s view, the Regensburg address provoked outrage from Muslims around the world. Amir Hussain, professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, says it was also the “impetus” for “A Common Word.”

The authors of “A Common Word” could have written about how offensive and concerning the pope’s words were, said Hussain, but instead they took a positive approach and wrote about the connections between Muslims and Christians.