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.


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.


Preserving stories of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh friendships through India’s partition

Descendants of those who experienced the Partition of Punjab in 1947 come together to share stories of interfaith collaboration after 75 years of religious animosity in India and Pakistan.

A special refugee train at Ambala Station in February 1954 in northern India. The 1947 Partition of India resulted in the largest human migration in history, lasting years. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — In September of 1947, after Tarunjit Singh Butalia’s Sikh grandparents’ ancestral home in West Punjab was set afire by mobs from a neighboring village, they had no choice but to flee. A Muslim couple in present-day Pakistan swore on the Quran to give them shelter and protect them as if they were family.

They survived, and seven decades later, Butalia, now executive director of the interfaith advocacy organization Religions for Peace USA, tracked down the Muslim couple’s son. The man guided him to the village where his parents, Ahmed Bashir Virk and his wife, Amina Bibi, were buried. Butalia knelt and kissed their graves.

 “There are angels that walk on the earth,” said Butalia, who chronicled his grandparents’ past in his 2020 book, “My Journey Home: Going Back to Lehnda Punjab.” “And for my family, they were indeed angels on earth.”

Butalia is only two generations removed from the Partition of South Asia in August 1947, when the British, as they ended their colonial rule in India, imposed a national boundary across northern India that created Pakistan. In so doing they split the religiously diverse province of Punjab into West, or Lehnda, Punjab, and East, or Charda, Punjab.

The border added a geographical quotient to the existing religious distinctions made between Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Jains and Christians, resulting in nearly 15 million people being divided from their religious community. Many left their homes to seek wholeness again in the largest mass migration that the region has seen; others stayed and fought for their rights as minorities. More than half a million people died in revenge killings, riots and communal violence from all sides.

Butalia believes the kindness shown to his grandparents fostered his devotion to creating meaningful relationships and understanding between people of faith. The shared history of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus at the time of Partition led him to his current position, as well as his work as a founding member of the Sikh Coalition for Interfaith Relations.


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.”


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.


Interfaith Initiative Launched between Muslim, Jewish and Christian anti-Zionists  

The Convivencia Alliance is an attempt to replicate the harmony between different faiths in Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain – an era which historians have dubbed “Convivencia.”

The IHRC says the aim is for the three different communities in Palestine to work towards the formation of one democratic state with communities living side by side in harmony as they did before Zionism divided the land.

The main speakers at the launch event last week in London were led by the Jewish Network for Palestine and the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

The first speaker was Haim Bresheeth-Zabner, of JNP, who is also a professor at SOAS and an author, as well as the son of Holocaust survivors.

He spoke about the history of the three communities living together in Al-Andalus and Palestine, making the point about how this enriched the culture.

He mentioned that this year we have seen Easter, Passover and Ramadan come at the same time, which traditionally would have been a time of coming together in Palestine, but now that is impossible because of Zionism.

He also made clear that the racism and brutality of Zionism had nothing to do with Judaism.

Massoud Shadjareh, from the Islamic Human Rights Commission, spoke about how the division between faiths perpetrated by Zionism in Palestine, has affected relations between religious groups worldwide.

He said communities wanted a permanent and just peace and unity based on: “standing against injustice, standing against Apartheid, standing against illegal occupation, standing against day in, day out abuses of everyone who is not a Zionist”. He followed this up by making clear that this last part meant the oppression of all anti-Zionists regardless of faith, by all Zionists, again regardless of faith.

He also looked at how interfaith actions have been used in the past to normalize Zionism, and often held on the basis of either forcing participants to accept, or staying quiet on Zionism, making clear that to support Zionism is to support apartheid, war crimes, colonialism and the killing of children.

Reverend Doctor Stephen Sizer then spoke, saying how it has always been his dream to see Christians, Jews and Muslims working together to bring about peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine.


Interfaith Trolley offers tour of religion in America

By Bob Smietana Religion News Service

CHICAGO (RNS) — In America’s third largest city, it’s possible to get a crash course in the world’s religions in a journey of just a few miles — from the University of Chicago’s majestic, ecumenical Christian Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on Chicago’s South Side to the humble Masjid Al-Taqwa, which meets in a converted stable, still under renovation a 15-minute ride to the south.

On Orthodox Christian Easter (April 24), 70 or so passengers took that ride on the Interfaith Trolley, a tour of sacred spaces inspired by this month’s convergence of Ramadan, Passover, Easter, Vaisakhi (celebrated by Sikhs), Ridvan (observed by Baha’is) and Ram Navami (a Hindu holiday).

Perhaps more reminiscent of speed-dating than a comparative religion course, the tour made brief stops at five religious sites across southeast Chicago, hearing from a series of faith leaders and lay people from different religious groups.

“This was a beautiful event, far more beautiful than I expected,” said Kim Schultz, coordinator of creative initiatives at the InterReligious Institute, part of Chicago Theological Seminary. “The words shared and the community shared really struck my heart.”

“This is an incredible opportunity to come together to educate our communities and shape the public narrative about what it means to live well together amidst our religious and cultural diversity and difference,” organizers said in announcing the event.

At the Rockefeller Chapel, Mayher Kaur, the leader of the Sikh Student Association gave an overview of Sikh practices and explained that Sikh gurus worked to overcome India’s caste system. A Hindu student told participants about Ram Navami, a Hindu holiday that fell on April 10 that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, whose story is told in Ramayana. Shradha Jain, a Jain student spoke of her faith’s beliefs and the April 14 festival of Mahavir Jayanti, marking the birth of Jainism’s founder.