In Cairo, I sat in on a scriptural reasoning group with Christians and Muslims

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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY

An interfaith examination: Islamic Thought Through Protestant Eyes

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 Eyes aims 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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW ARAB

Love your neighbour: Islam, Judaism and Christianity come together over COVID-19

STOKE, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 26: Mohammed Amir the Imam of the Stoke’s City Central Mosque receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Stoke, England. Imams across the United Kingdom are reassuring Muslims that the COVID-19 vaccine is permissible under Muslim law.

Faith leaders from Christianity, Judaism and Islam support government efforts to control the coronavirus.

• Young men and women of faith can supply their digital know-how to build good communication during the crisis.

• Discussions are taking place about how the three religions can collaborate on charitable initiatives.

The COVID-19 global pandemic requires an immediate, whole-of society approach to prevent the transmission of the virus. During this time of uncertainty, faith leaders such as ourselves have turned to our religious texts and theology to find comfort for the community and encourage safe practices.

We have seen fellow prominent faith leaders from Christianity, Judaism and Islam issuing opinions, guidance documents – and even fatwas – to their communities that re-analyse religious practices and provide theological opinions on how faith practices or rituals can be adapted to meet the response of COVID-19 and implement social distancing.

Listen to all three faith leaders in conversation in this podcasthttps://html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/13921916/height/90/theme/custom/thumbnail/yes/direction/forward/render-playlist/no/custom-color/000000/

To slow the spread of the virus, we’ve taken to media, email and radio to conduct daily prayers and worship, mobilize individual volunteers to serve the elderly and at risk. We’ve engaged in discussions surrounding personal well-being and found new ways to communicate to our communities the importance of listening to the safety guidelines promoted by governments and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The ability to go to your church or synagogue or mosque in a hard time is really important to people,” empathized Rabbi Sharon Brous in the LA Times. Nevertheless, she practised social distancing and engaged with her community via virtual platforms, as recommended by medical and government authorities. She exhorted her synagogue members to find “resilience and level-headedness and kindness and cooperation precisely in their moment of greatest vulnerability”.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM WEBPAGE

Christian, Muslim leaders launch appeal to protect places of worship

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Spearheaded by Jordan’s Prince El Hassan Bin Talal, a group of Arab and international scholars, thinkers and religious figures — Muslim and Christian — have launched a global appeal to protect worshippers and places of worship.

“In the face of what we see as the continuation of repeated attacks on places of worship and on the souls of safe worshipers in several places in this world, and based on a common human and moral responsibility, we call upon a group of religious leaders, scholars and thinkers … to urge all people to reject all forms of extremism, hatred and painful practices against the spirit of faith and human dignity,” the more than 40 signatories said in their Nov. 2 appeal.

They stressed that “hate speech and polarization that provokes hatred and justifies bloodshed continues to escalate” and is accompanied by some who resort to “the misuse of religions and beliefs as a pretext for violence, exclusion and discrimination.”

The Muslim and Christian signatories continued: “These abhorrent targets also include historical and archaeological sites and architectural heritage, including museums, libraries and manuscripts, which is an erasure of the memory that preserves the civilizations of peoples and their value core from extinction.”

“There is no doubt that the attack on places of worship and their sanctity at a time when worshippers perform prayer and religious rites in their premises is the culmination of these atrocities. This leads us to a legitimate question: Isn’t it time to consider the issue of freedom of worship as an integral part of the right to life and to consider the value of human heritage in relation to culture and identity?” they stated.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CATHOLICUN.ORG

How this women’s interfaith group in Middle GA is making ‘the world a better place’

A group of women met for the first time a decade ago at an open house event at the Islamic Center of Middle Georgia. Christian women attended the event in hopes of meeting some Muslim women to learn about their faith. They met. They talked, and they decided they needed to meet regularly to discuss their faith and how its impact on the Middle Georgia community. Starting with 10-15 women around a table, the group shared meals together as they had intentional conversations about their faiths. As the group grew, they became known as the Women’s Interfaith Alliance of Central Georgia, which has around 500 members on its Facebook group.

“We live in a global community that is increasingly becoming more connected. So, learning about each other, learning to form relationships with each other, learning to coexist in appreciative, intimate ways is very important for the peace and harmony of human societies in general, especially so here in the South,” said Eman Abdulla, one of the founding members of the group.

FULL ARTICLE AND VIDEO FROM MACON.COM

Biden’s envoy for religious freedom

As a Muslim growing up in Dallas, Rashad Hussain learned how the freedom to worship can be a force for world peace.

October 28, 2021

  • By the Monitor’s Editorial Board

Growing up in Dallas as a devout Muslim decades ago, Rashad Hussain noticed only a few mosques in his Texas city. Now there are dozens, an affirmation, he says, of the American freedom to worship. On Tuesday, a Senate panel welcomed him as the president’s nominee to be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. If approved by the full Senate as expected, he would be the first Muslim to hold the position, marking a strong break from past bigotry against Islam in the United States.

Major Christian and Jewish leaders endorsed the nomination, noting Mr. Hussain’s work under two previous presidents in seeking religious harmony in troubled countries and finding ways to prevent young Muslims from joining terrorist groups. As he said in his testimony, “In an era of vigorous partisan debates, Americans continue to be largely of one mind regarding the importance of defending international religious freedom.”

His appointment would affirm a recent finding by the Institute for Economics and Peace. In a global survey, the think tank found that religious plurality in countries can have a pacifying effect, countering the notion that religion is a driver of violence and the main cause of conflicts.About these ads

The post of envoy for religious freedom, created by Congress in 1998, reflects both a basic right in the U.S. and the country’s long and hard struggle to protect it. “Our own experience, our own example, is what compels us to advocate for the rights of the marginalized, vulnerable, and underrepresented peoples the world over,” said Mr. Hussain.

His past work includes working with Middle East religious leaders on a 2016 document, known as the Marrakesh Declaration, that laid out Islamic principles for protecting the rights of minority religious groups. As someone who memorized the Quran and earned a Yale law degree, he relies on positive ways to end religious discrimination.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Jews, Christians and Muslims come together to paint over swastikas in Argentinian Jewish cemetery

(JTA) — After Nazi graffiti was found at a Jewish cemetery in Argentina last week, the local Jewish community wanted to do more than just paint it over.

So on Friday, the local Jewish community of Sante Fe, a province about 300 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, convened representatives of other religious groups for an interfaith ceremony to remove the swastikas painted in the cemetery, one in the area dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims.

The ceremony included evangelical Christians, Catholics and Muslims as well as representatives from a host of local groups, and it was streamed online. A video showed several people brushing over swastikas painted near the ground, followed by a series of comments from representatives of different groups.

FULL ARTICLE FROM JEWISH TELEGRAPHIC AGENCY

Three books offer hope-filled views on Christian-Muslim relations

Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus” by Rachel Pieh Jones. Plough Publishing (Wal-den, New York, 2021). 264 pp., $ 17.99.
“Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and Do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination” by Jordan Denari Duffner. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2021). 243 pp., $22.
“A World of Inequalities: Christian and Muslim Perspectives,” edited by Lucinda Mosher. Georgetown University Press (Washington, 2021). 253 pp., $34.95.

I recommend all three of these timely books for anyone who wishes to understand the history and present reality of Christian-Muslim relations both within this country and around the world.

The title of Rachel Jones’ “Pillars” echoes the five basic pillars of Muslim faith: There is no god but God, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage.

The book is a personal journal, organized in five sections reflecting the pillars, of the author’s life in the heart of Africa, Somalia, where she and her husband moved to take part in a humanitarian effort to help the local Muslim inhabitants to learn more and achieve a better lifestyle.

She and her family endured many difficulties, from being looked down upon and excluded to fears of the violence that killed three of her Christian friends. But Muslim women come to her aid, teaching her how to interact with Muslim women and men, and bringing her family into their homes so she could better understand.

Jones and her Muslim friends journey together through the Muslim year, learning about each other through dialogue, listening to each other and, hesitatingly, praying together to the one God whom Christians and Muslims both worship.

This very personal story will introduce readers to Muslim religious traditions and, more importantly, to people with whom readers can relate and learn from.

“Islamophobia” details the present-day reality of a negative and largely false set of ideas about Muslims and Islam that has been part of Christian culture since at least the Crusades.

Ignoring what the holy book, the Quran, which is largely based upon the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, actually states, Islam is portrayed as a religion that sees itself as having replaced Christianity and Judaism and is aimed at their destruction and creating a totalitarian structure to take over and rule the world.

Muslims are depicted as anti-women’s rights, as racists and evil slaveholders, as if Christians never “owned” slaves. While some Muslims might hold such views, and some Muslim societies have reflected them, this is not what the Quran teaches.

We Catholics, and Christians in general, have equally been guilty of such departures from the teachings of Jesus. So we must learn not to scapegoat Muslims by blaming them for the faults of our own history, and to a sad extent, the present.

The final third of the book, “Crafting a Christian Response,” provides the reader with a number of things Catholics and all Christians can do today to break the cycle of fear/hate of Muslims, both individually and communally.

Author Jordan Denari Duffner notes the good things that the Holy See has done but argues, correctly in my view, that more can and should be done.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC SENTINEL

Muslims, Christians, Jews and others must walk forward together: A 9/11 message

In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it seemed as if we were heading in the right direction as a nation. We became wary of knee-jerk Islamophobia. We began to learn how to mourn and to heal together after the 9/11 tragedy: Jews, Christians, Muslims, members of other faiths and backgrounds. As Americans, we took pride in being one nation.

Now, as we are approaching the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders believe we must march as a nation united, shoulder to shoulder, advancing our common American ideals.

On Jan. 6, 2021, for the first time in our nation’s long proud history, we did not have a peaceful, uneventful transfer of power. Political parties no longer merely disagree about what is best for the country; they vilify one another, country be damned. We treat one another as enemies rather than as fellow citizens. Now we are testing whether our nation can endure. We have begun to hear a war of words on our television screens and other devices every evening.

We must be “dedicated to the great task remaining before us. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” As did Lincoln, whose words we have just echoed, we three religious leaders call upon us all to rebuild and become better together.

We can still proclaim that we are a nation of immigrants and descendants of the enslaved, alongside the indigenous communities who called this place their home long before we arrived. We can declare that diversity is what makes our nation strong and ever stronger. We can celebrate our differences, rather than protest and exploit them. We call upon all of America to work as one to repair the breach. Yes, we will disagree; but we must also show common purpose to work through these disagreements.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

A Jew, a Christian, a Muslim and a Baha’i: Welcome to Abrahamic House, an interfaith living community

(Washington Jewish Week via JTA) — Picture four young adults of different faiths sharing one house for one year. That’s not the premise of a new reality TV show. It’s just reality.

Abrahamic House is an interfaith fellowship program in which four people ages 21 to 35 share a home for one to two years. In exchange for subsidized rent, the residents organize programs and community events.

It’s a concept inspired by the Moishe House group-living program, but instead of involving only Jews, Abrahamic House is home to a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim and a Baha’i.

“We are trying to build bridges,” said Abrahamic House founder Mohammed Al Samawi, 34.

At the moment, there’s only one Abrahamic House — in Los Angeles. And the inaugural class of residents moved in just before COVID-19 hit. But a second house will open Sept. 1 in Washington, D.C. Now all it needs is a (physical) house and people to live in it.

Applications for the D.C. Abrahamic House are open. Once the four fellows have been selected, they will be offered three possible sites for their house, Al Samawi said.

With Abrahamic House, Al Samawi wants to promote collaboration among adults from often hostile religions, and to challenge their stereotypes of each other. With any luck, such success will spread to the broader community.

FULL ARTICLE FROM JTA.ORG