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.
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.
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.
During the month of Ramadan in the UAE, a number of foreign residents and followers of different religions are gathering to break their fast together
April 23, 2022
For two years, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had not been the same amid the coronavirus pandemic. This year, however, things seem to be back to normal, with respect for public safety rules.
Restaurants are once again swarming with customers during fast breaking time or iftar, and during special Ramadan evenings.
However, humanitarian and collective initiatives have been launched in a country in which foreign residents outnumber citizens.
In addition to the government iftar tents across the seven emirates that distribute meals for free, other humanitarian initiatives are being carried out by foreign and non-Muslim communities.
Guru Nanak Darbar, the Indian Sikh temple in the Jebel Ali Village, in the south of Dubai, has been providing daily meals to low-income Muslims of all nationalities since Ramadan began. Those who wish can share food with members of the Sikh community.
This religious sanctuary is located within an area known as the Churches Complex, which includes several Christian churches.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, the head of the Guru Nanak Darbar Temple, Ragidi Babuhai Patel, said, “The Indian community is the largest in the UAE, numbering more than 3 million individuals from different confessions, whether Islamic, Christian, Hindu or Sikh.”
There are about 50,000 Sikhs in Dubai, he said, “but I do not have numbers in the rest of the emirates.” The temple was built in 2012, but two older temples are located in Bur Dubai.
The idea of providing daily meals for Muslims and members of any other faith during Ramadan began in 2018, he said. Most of their Muslim visitors are Indian, followed by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, and “People of other nationalities and faiths visit the temple occasionally. They sit with us during iftar.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the space could accommodate some 60 people. Today, however, with public safety measures, a maximum of 30 to 40 people are allowed in.
“Our meals do not contain any kind of meat or its derivatives, because our faith does not allow it,” Patel explained. “The idea is to break bread out with our brothers in life, especially the low-wage workers, out of humanity, peace, and fraternity.”
Common dishes include channa masala, which are small pancakes stuffed with potatoes, curry, and onions. Palak paneer is made of spinach and chunks of paneer, which is Indian style farmer’s cheese. Other dishes are also served in addition to fruits, Indian sweets, and Karak tea.
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze leaders call on Russian patriarch to push Putin towards peace
Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Monday to publicly call for peace in Ukraine and an end to the ongoing war.
The religious leaders came from around the Holy Land to take part in the interfaith gathering, which was held at Moscow Square near the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Speakers included His Beatitude the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Sheikh Hassan Abu Galion, and Rabbi David Rosen.
“The main purpose of this event is to express our solidarity, prayer, and unity with the people of Ukraine,” Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, related to The Media Line. “We are not against anyone, but the images that we are seeing from the media are terrible and not justifiable. We have to express our solidarity. I hope and pray that all the religious leaders in Ukraine and Russia will contribute to the solution of this terrible situation.”
After giving speeches, religious leaders held an inter-religious prayer and called on the Russian Patriarch Kirill to leverage his position as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to help bring peace.
Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze leaders attended the interfaith gathering in Jerusalem’s Moscow Square on Monday, March 21, 2022. (Maya Margit/The Media Line)
“We came to the holiest place in the world where all religions are present and coexist in peace,” Sheikh Hassan Abu Galion of Rahat told The Media Line. “We call on global powers to make peace for the sake of children and women.”
“We recite a holy call on behalf of hundreds of millions of believers around the world to stop the killing in Ukraine,” said Rabbi Rasson Arousi, speaking on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”
Once the gathering ended, the group posted a letter addressed to the Patriarch Kirill on the wall of the nearby Russian Orthodox Church, known as the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Rabbis expect a new interfaith complex will further promote cross-religious dialogue
Though the United Arab Emirates is famously known for its luxurious malls and towering Burj Khalifa skyscraper, a diverse interfaith project may soon become one of the nation’s most notable structures.
The Abrahamic Family House, a religious complex which will house a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, is currently under construction in Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi.
Named after Abraham – the shared patriarch of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – this historic interfaith complex is the first of its kind in the Muslim-majority UAE, and offers a display of religious unity not often seen in the Middle East.
The structure, designed by Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye OBE, features three houses of worship composed of equal cubic volumes and exterior dimensions to ensure that no one building outweighs another.
Though the complex’s sites share these similar features, each one is completely unique – drawing on a variety of religious motifs to influence the architectural themes within.
The composition of the mosque is intended to evoke the sequences of Islamic worship, the synagogue’s interior draws from the layered leaves of Sukkot palm fronds, and the church uses light and water to pay homage to elements within Christianity.
“The design aims to both meaningfully represent, and support diverse communities… unlocking a contemporary spirit that draws from tradition but looks towards the future – a future defined by acceptance, inclusion, and peace,” the project’s website explained.
Why it matters: Muslim and Latter-day Saint leaders work together across the world because of their shared values. Latter-day Saint leaders have said they want church members to better understand Muslims, work and live together with them and help root out bias against Islam.
The pamphlet’s publication was first announced in October at a BYU conference on Islam. Learning more about Muslim neighbors “will help us be more kind and more accurate in what we say and feel about each other,” Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said at the time.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Twelve used the conference to repudiate all disparaging statements made by Latter-day Saints about Muslims, including those that repeated stereotypes. He called stereotypes wrong and offensive: “Such biases cause those who feel that way to overlook the kindness and goodness of the overwhelming majority of all Muslims,” he said.
Elder Bednar said the booklet was produced over several years with the help of Muslim imams.
Jamal Rahman is cofounder and Muslim Sufi imam at Interfaith Community Sanctuary in Seattle. He is a popular speaker and author on Islam, Sufi spirituality, and interfaith relations. Interfaith Community Sanctuary won second prize in the 2020 UN World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize from A Common Word.
Tell us about how Interfaith Community Sanctuary became a reality. Where did the idea come from?
In 1992, I was very keen to establish community in Seattle. I left my previous career and began teaching self-development classes. I was trained in Sufism, the mystical side of Islam, so that’s what I taught. I was surprised by how many people came to take the classes.
In seven years we had a few hundred people. From there we started to ask: What does it mean to have an interfaith worship service? We were people of different religions, mostly Christians but also Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. All of us were looking for a connection to something higher and deeper.
What kind of worship could we do that unites everyone? There are a few things that transcend the boundaries of religion. One is silence. There’s no such thing as a Jewish silence or Islamic silence; it’s just silence. So, we decided, let’s just practice silence in each of our Sunday worship services.
Second, music. Everybody loves music. We had chanters from different traditions, so we added chanting. I would always quote Rumi, “Music is the sound of the spheres. We have been part of this harmony before.” And once we chant and sing and play music, it keeps our remembering fresh and it doesn’t matter what your religion is.
Food is how we came to know the other on a human level. We built that in as well. So we focused on silence, chanting, and food.
Over time, we came to say that we focus on essence, not form. We asked: What is the experience, the taste, we want? We would also say that we wanted to move from a knowledge of the tongue to a knowledge of the heart. That can come from personal relationship, connection, spiritual companions in your life, music, silence, and sharing different spiritual practices.
Every tradition says a person is to become a better human being, a more developed human being. And everyone wants to be of service to God’s creation in a genuine way. Rabindranath Tagore has this wonderful poem: “I slept and dreamed: / Life was joy. / I awoke and found life was service. / I served and lo, service was joy.”
Moving beyond amicable consensus to productive discomfort
Early in 2020, before international travel became impossible, my wife and I visited friends who work on interfaith relations and theological education in Egypt. While there we had an unexpected opportunity to sit down with a group of Muslims and Christians for intensive study of our sacred scriptures.
Around the turn of the century, the practice of “scriptural reasoning” or “textual reasoning” was being promoted by theological students and faculty in North America and Europe. David Ford, Peter Ochs, C. C. Pecknold, and others built a tradition that continues in small groups and academic conferences around the world. In the West the initiative began with Jewish-Christian dialogue, later reaching out to include Islam as well. In the contexts in which I became familiar with it—from the reports of colleagues who worked in Bangladesh, during a visit to Oman, and then in Egypt, none of which has a significant Jewish presence—it is a Muslim-Christian collaborative venture.
While staying in Cairo we were invited to serve as hosts for a group that has gathered every month or two for a few years. It’s coordinated by Naji Umran, a Canadian missionary with Resonate Global Mission (the mission agency of the Christian Reformed Church in North America), and his Muslim colleague Hany al-Halawany, a lawyer and interfaith activist. We had been offered the use of a spacious apartment by American church educators Steve and Frankie Wunderink while they were away, a welcoming space for our conversation. Hoping we could emulate the warm hospitality we encountered in every Egyptian home and office we visited, we explored all the fruit shops and bakeries of Abaseya, our bustling central Cairo neighborhood, and laid a table with tropical fruits and Middle Eastern pastries.
Along with the two American visitors and the two organizers, the group that gathered included a Christian pastor and two sheikhs (synonymous with “imam” but more commonly used in Egypt). A few more had been expected, but the vagaries of Cairo traffic kept them from joining us. Issaq Saad is a Presbyterian pastor and a member of the interfaith council of the Synod of the Nile. Sheikh Shaher serves as a cleric and teacher at Al-Azhar Mosque and its affiliated university, world-renowned centers of Islamic life and learning. Sheikh Mohammed Hegazy leads a mosque in Qalyub, just north of Cairo.
Book Club: In an enlightening examination of religions, Mehmet Karabela’s Islamic Thought Through Protestant Eyes elaborates how, in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, Islam became a key theological concern in Western Europe.
What if the Protestant Reformation was as much about Islam as it was with Catholicism? We all know the story, a German priest called Martin Luther angered by what he saw as the excesses of the Catholic Church and certain doctrines it espoused, nailed 95 pieces of theses to the door of a church symbolising his objections, unwittingly triggering the reformation leading to the creation of Protestantism.
Protestantism started out as a protest against Catholicism turning into a full sect with different beliefs, practises and doctrines, but while anti-Catholicism might have been a key feature of the Protestant movement, Islam played a lesser-known role in the formation of the Christian sect. Mehmet Karabela’s Islamic Thought Through Protestant Eyesaims to fill the gap in historical knowledge on how engaging with Islam helped shape Protestant beliefs and doctrines.
“The obsession with Islam was partially driven by fear of things like the Ottoman Empire, but also intense curiosity, especially in light of the rejection of the intellectual authority of the Catholic Church, there was a sense they needed to make sense of the world with new eyes”
Some historians such as Kecia Ali have argued modern Islam is increasingly protestant with a growing emphasis on things like relying only on the Quran, Hadiths and the first generation of Muslims as authority figures, a position born out of interaction with western Christianity through things like European colonialism, American-led globalisation and other related forces.