US officials, American Jewish leaders award Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa for combatting anti-Semitism
He vowed that the MWL would “keep on until there is no more antisemitism and racism”
NEW YORK: Former Saudi Minister of Justice Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa was awarded the first ever Combat Anti-Semitism Award for his work in the interfaith community and his fight against anti-Semitism and religious intolerance.
The virtual ceremony on June 9 was co-hosted by the Combat Anti-Semitism movement and the American Sephardi Federation. Senior US diplomats, UN officials and leaders of the American Jewish community all hailed the interfaith work of Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League (MWL).
Al-Issa has been the MWL secretary-general since 2016 and has forged several alliances with Jewish, Christian and other religious committees across the world.
He recently led a high-level delegation to Auschwitz in January of this year and announced several historic initiatives to counter extremism, guarantee religious freedom and improve human welfare, spreading the virtues of inter-religious understanding. He has been described by the US Department of State and other major international agencies as one of the foremost proponents of moderate Islam in the world today.
In most major religions there is scripture encouraging the protection and care of nature. From Buddhism to Christianity, Hinduism to Islam, faiths recognize the need for environmental stewardship and urge followers to be caretakers of the planet and its biodiversity.
Spiritual leaders play an important role in sharing religious practices and passages so that followers can live a more sustainable lifestyle respecting the 8 million species we share our planet with.
That message was echoed by World Environment Day 2020, which fell on 5 June. The celebration cast a spotlight on the services nature provides us—from food to medicine—and highlighted that, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, life on earth would not be possible without nature’s bounty.
Here are how seven faiths remind us how we are connected to nature.
The Baha’i writings are replete with statements on the importance of the harmony between human life and the natural world. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings are imbued with a deep respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things, seeing especially in nature a reflection of the divine:
Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity, there are signs for men of discernment.
Buddhism inspires ecological mindfulness to address the loss of biodiversity. It seeks wisdom through adherence to the Five Precepts, the pursuit of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the understanding of karma. Buddhists find themselves in harmony with nature by acknowledging the interdependence of all forms of life.
At the core of Brahma Kumaris’ work is the understanding of the connection between our consciousness, thoughts and actions, and their impact on the world. It is seen that long-lasting change in any social or environmental system starts with a profound shift in the minds and hearts of people. The current loss of biodiversity is therefore a clear call to transform our awareness and lifestyle, and start caring for all living forms on the planet.
“Our capacity to change ecosystems is proportional to our capacity to change our own consciousness” – Brahma Kumaris
For Christians, biodiversity conservation is a role that is at the heart of their daily lives. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, Christians are called to experience the world as a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise, as St. Francis does in the words of the Canticle of Creation:
“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.”
After listening to Dr. Benjamin Sax lecture during a mini-course entitled “Crossroads in Jewish-Christian Dialogue” earlier this month, it’s the turn of a group of mostly senior citizens to speak.
Seated around a dozen or so tables in the library of the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Towson, they are asked to discuss weighty ideas in the context of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s critique of historical religious dogma and doctrine.Ads by TeadsADVERTISING
“Spinoza opened the door to interpreting other religions individually,” Sax, the ICJS Jewish scholar, said of the 17th-century, Jewish-educated philosopher who eventually joined a Mennonite sect. “He talked about the universality of religions and about recognizing an opinion, rather than a fact.”
The attendees were urged to mull over that idea along with many others offered by Sax, with the burning question being what would happen to religious institutions if the masses, a la Spinoza’s philosophy, interpreted sacred tracts on their own.
The advent of the Coronavirus has compelled our three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — to rethink how to maintain our ability to come together to express our beliefs and practice our religious rituals. Through the use of online technologies and social media platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Instagram and YouTube, millions of home-bound American Jews, Christians and Muslims have been able to take part, despite the lockdown, in religious services, study sessions and celebrations of sacred and uplifting holidays — Passover,Easter and Ramadan.
Are these changes going to be temporary inconveniences or a new way for our faithful to participate?
Clearly, online religious services and celebrations will continue as a central component of our repertoire at least until a foolproof COVID-19 vaccine is made widely available. Yet it is no secret that our faithful are hungering for a rapid return to in-person services where they can experience and share their faith in ways hard to replicate on Zoom. We all want to accomplish that — the question is how to do so safely and responsibly.
Omar Ricci knew the title of his khutbah, or sermon, at the Islamic Center of Southern California would catch some people off guard. “Thank God for the coronavirus,” read the headline, which made more than one Muslim in the audience do a double-take.
When he spoke, Ricci explained what he meant: Thank God for this reminder that we are not in control and must always be dependent on God. Thank God for this reminder that we should be grateful for all things – for groceries, toilet paper, good health. Thank God for reminding us life is fragile, and “we had best appreciate the miracle and blessing that God has given us in creating us as souls.”
As a spokesperson for the ICSC, home to one of the oldest and most prominent mosques in the USA, Ricci is one of many faith leaders around the world helping their congregations navigate the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus, which has killed more than 66,000 worldwide, infected more than 1.2 million and crippled the global economy.
From Ricci’s perspective, coronavirus is not only a test of faith but a “solidifying agent of faith,” he says. “When you’re in difficult times, that’s when you actually get to practice faith.”
He points to the 67th chapter of the Quran, verse 2: “He who created death and life – to test you – as to which of you is better in conduct. He is the Almighty, the Forgiving.”
“The Quran says trials will come and to be prepared for them,” Ricci says. “So how do we react – do we go off and hoard toilet paper? Or do we take care of others? If we know trials are coming, that’s where faith is supposed to kick in.”
Rabbi Chaim Bruk, co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic Jewish community in Bozeman, Montana, says it’s normal in times of heartache and fear to wonder, “How do I get through this and maintain my faith in God?”
For Bruk, it’s personal: In Brooklyn, where Bruk grew up, his father and three uncles have all tested positive for the virus (one uncle is in ICU at New York University’s hospital in New York City.) Ages 52 to 77, the four brothers are experiencing various levels of illness.
Overwhelmed by the situation, Bruk opened the book of Psalms last week and took a minute to pray. His 10-year-old daughter found it odd, because typically Bruk prays at particular times, as mandated by his religion. She asked what was going on and was everything OK.
“Probably for the first time in my life, I wasn’t praying because that was the order of the day or there was a particular holiday,” Bruk says. “I told her, ‘I need to have this moment with God. I need to talk to him a little bit.’ ”
He had an epiphany then, he says, a startling realization that all he could do, all he could control, were his prayers. He knows that for many, the virus and the accompanying havoc across the globe will result in doubts. That’s normal, he says. It’s more about what someone does with those doubts.
“I don’t care if you’re the greatest atheist in the world, something of this magnitude requires introspection on some level, and there will be a spiritual component to that,” Bruk says.
“We’ve always said that for every breath we take, we should thank God. I always thought of that as a cute concept, but in the last few weeks, it’s become very real,” he says.
Suffering, he points out, has been experienced for centuries, by people of all faiths, as all religious texts document. If there’s comfort in suffering, Bruk says, it comes from the knowledge that God suffers with you. Although Bruk doesn’t know the why behind this particular suffering – which includes terribly sick people on the brink of death as well as those who have lost their jobs and aren’t sure how they’ll feed their family – he does believe there’s a reason for it. He just doesn’t understand it. He might never get to, either.
“It’s not my job to be God’s lawyer,” Bruk says. “I’m his salesman. I do believe he’s the greatest thing that ever existed, and I encourage people to get to know him without trying to explain what he’s doing or why.”
The world’s great religions embrace streaming in deadly times
Covid-19 distances believers but can deepen holidays’ meaning
Given the rigid restrictions among devout Jews about what’s permitted on holy days, it was almost shocking. Plenty of other rabbis condemned the move.
But as Jews, Muslims and Christians enter one of the holiest times of the year, with Easter, Ramadan and Passover all celebrated this month, leaders of these religions with ancient roots find themselves giving thanks to the internet. With roughly half the world locked down, keeping the holidays communal will be a struggle.
Christian and Muslim religious leaders reached out Friday across the divided island of Cyprus in a rare show of unity for prayers to overcome the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Archbishop Chrysostomos II, head of the Cyprus Orthodox Church, Turkish Cypriot Mufti Talip Atalay and the Armenian and Maronite religious leaders issued the joint call.
They urged “all other religious and faith community leaders in Cyprus and all sisters and brothers of faith to join them in prayer and action to fight this pandemic together”, in a statement issued by an interfaith group of the stalled UN-sponsored peace process.
They made a special mention of “all doctors, nurses, medical, paramedical personnel and all caregivers who are struggling daily to confront the consequences of this virus”.
They also called on the faithful to “pay very serious attention” to the strict social distancing measures enforced on both sides of the island’s UN-patrolled ceasefire line.
Both the Greek Cypriot-administered south and the Turkish Cypriot have closed schools and shut down clubs, bars, restaurants, prohibited indoor leisure activities and banned all competitive sports.
Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul brings together Muslim and Christian scholars to discuss philosophy, theology
Istanbul’s Ibn Haldun University brought together Muslim and Christian scholars in the symposium — titled Muslim-Christian Scholars’ Works on Philosophy and Theology.
Located in the historical Suleymaniye district of Istanbul, the university organizes the symposium on March 9-12, 2020. In the symposium, Muslim and Christian scholars will discuss and share their current researches from a philosophical and theological perspective.
Professors Kelly James Clark, Burhan Koroglu and Enis Doko will chair the symposium in which workshops on philosophy and science will also be organized.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Doko said academics from various universities will discuss relations between theology, science and philosophy.
“Together with scholars from Turkey, the U.S. and Malaysia, we will have the opportunity to discuss religion and science from both Muslim and Christian perspectives,” he said.
Doko added that one of the main purposes of the symposium is to increase collaboration between Muslim and Christian academics, and they want to work together both in academic and cultural works.
The symposium is in English and it is open for participation to academics, students and enthusiasts of the subjects.
In the first session of the symposium, Prof. Kelly James Clark gave a speech — titled Religion and Violence: This is Why We Fight, pointing to the fact that philosophy and social sciences are closely related.
“The way to solve our disagreements is dialogue. We should focus on our prejudices. Neither all Muslims nor all Christians in the world have the same way of thinking,” Clark said.
Religious violence is undergoing a revival. The past decade has witnessed a sharp increase in violent sectarian or religious tensions. These range from Islamic extremists waging global jihad and power struggles between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East to the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar and outbreaks of violence between Christians and Muslims across Africa. According to Pew, in 2018 more than a quarter of the world’s countries experienced a high incidence of hostilities motivated by religious hatred, mob violence related to religion, terrorism, and harassment of women for violating religious codes.
The spike in religious violence is global and affects virtually every religious group. A 2018 Minority Rights Group report indicates that mass killings and other atrocities are increasing in countries both affected and not affected by war alike. While bloody encounters were recorded in over 50 countries, most reported lethal incidents involving minorities were concentrated in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Hostilities against Muslims and Jews also increased across Europe, as did threats against Hindus in more than 18 countries. Making matters worse, 55 of the world’s 198 countries imposed heightened restrictions on religions, especially Egypt, Russia, India, Indonesia and Turkey.
How is it that religions – which supposedly espouse peace, love and harmony – are so commonly connected with intolerance and violent aggression? Social scientists are divided on the issue. Scholars like William Cavanaugh contend that even when extremists use theological texts to justify their actions, “religious” violence is not religious at all – but rather a perversion of core teachings. Others such as Richard Dawkins believe that because religions fuel certainties and sanctify martyrdom, they are often a root cause of conflict. Meanwhile, Timothy Sisk claims that both hierarchical religious traditions (such as Shi´ism) and non-hierarchical traditions (such as Buddhism) can both be vulnerable to interpretation of canon to justify or even provide warrants for violent action.