The hospital that unites Christians and Muslims

19796746801471598210TANGUIETA: “The coexistence among Christians and Muslims, here in Benin, is serene: I often say that, if the relationship between the faithful of these two religions was like this everywhere, we would not see the dramas that cause so much bloodshed in many areas of the world today!” These are the words of Brother Fiorenzo Priuli, 70 years old, a surgeon, and a beacon for thousands of patients in Africa; a WHO (World Health Organization) consultant for AIDS and infectious diseases, who was awarded the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic. Of himself, he says: “I am grateful to the Lord who has called me to collaborate with him in the wonderful work of treating those who suffer and protecting life.” For more than 40 years, he has lived in a small town in the north of the country, Tanguiéta, where he runs the St John of God Hospital, a centre of excellence in African medicine, founded in 1970 by the Hospitaller Order of the Brothers of St John of God, known as the Fatebenefratelli. At the time, it offered 82 beds; now there are 415.

The history of this great hospital, which has also become a university centre, speaks of the beautiful bond that is manifest between human beings of different religions when they share responsibility towards an injured human, and ally themselves, giving their best to lift up the lives that have been downtrodden by illness: strong ties that transcend the boundaries of states.

A common goal: Healthcare
The hospital physicians, including interns, number 25, while the paramedic and administrative staff consists of three hundred people. “Many are Muslim (such as my deputy in the operating room, who recently married a Catholic nurse) and the relationships between all of us are excellent,” says Bro Fiorenzo. “We work together day and night, driven by a common goal: to try to provide the best possible assistance to the thousands of patients who come here, often after facing long and exhausting journeys. Every year, we have 18,000-20,000 new patients (of which 5,000 are children) who come from neighbouring countries (Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria): 14,000 are hospitalized, while others receive outpatient care.”


Muslims and Jews from around the world gather in Berlin for 7th annual interfaith confab

Amidst tension over terrorism in Europe, 150 Muslims and Jews from around the world gathered for the seventh annual Muslim Jewish Conference in Berlin.

Bringing together members of both religions from 33 countries last week, including Pakistan, Sudan, France, Israel, Austria, Brazil, Tunisia, Argentina, the Palestinian territories, South Africa and Singapore, participants took part in a wide range of interfaith activities and events.


Taking to The Jerusalem Post, Ilja Sichrovsky, secretary-general of the Muslim Jewish Conference, argued that despite the cynicism exhibited by some with regard to the potential for change through interfaith dialogue, he remained of the belief that now more than ever it is vital. “A single person has the potential to change history and we’ve seen this in so many instances” he said. “If one person can ruin the world, then I do strongly believe a few people can have a very important role in putting it back together.”


ISIL violence against Christians dishonors Islam’s earliest history

Women gather near flowers and candles at the city hall in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray to pay tribute to Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in an attack on a church

Women gather near flowers and candles at the town hall in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen in Normandy, France, to pay tribute to French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed with a knife and another hostage seriously wounded in an attack on a church that was carried out by assailants linked to Islamic State, July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol – RTSJS29

. . . [I]n the northwest of France, two Muslim terrorists attacked a Catholic church, taking nuns hostage and killing an elderly priest, before they themselves were shot dead by police. It certainly fits the pattern of ISIL violence: vile, shocking, made for media, and—something we talk about less—standing in stark opposition to the very religious tradition they claim to represent.

 Violence against Christians isn’t just un-Islamic: It dishonors the earliest history of Islam.
The Prophet and the King

When he first started preaching Islam in the year 610, Muhammad attracted very few followers. One was his close friend, Abu Bakr, another was his young cousin, Ali, and the first Muslim was his wife, Khadija. By and large, the new faith attracted lowborn and the marginal people who belonged to minor tribes or, worse, had no tribal affiliation. When the predictable backlash began, these newly minted Muslims were especially vulnerable. Most had no patrons to protect them.

 Desperate to find his followers a safe haven, Muhammad dispatched the most vulnerable Muslims across the Red Sea to what is now Ethiopia, where he promised they would find refuge under a just and Christian king. He believed that because Islam and Christianity emerged out of the same Prophetic tradition, the king would show mercy. And he was correct.
  History has shown that Islam and Christianity can exist in harmony. The king’s act of accepting the Muslim refugees provoked a minor diplomatic incident among wary Meccan elites. The upper class feared that Islam and Christianity had much in common. Now Islam had a head of state as a potential patron, making it potentially even more influential. But despite the best attempts of the Meccan establishment, the Ethiopian king refused to hand over the refugees.

The resonance of this historical anecdote should not be lost on us today. Irrespective of the propaganda produced by a political ideology masquerading as a religion, history has shown that Islam and Christianity can exist in harmony. The Prophet Muhammad believed that fairness and decency weren’t the property of any one community, and several of the Prophet’s companions are still buried on Ethiopia’s Christian land.


Muslims, Jews and Christians unite to condemn murders of two Muslim men in New York

gettyimages-589921262Members of different Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith groups have banded together to condemn the senseless violence committed against two Muslim men that happened in Queens last weekend.

Last Saturday, an imam, or an Islamic worship leader, and his assistant were fatally shot by an unidentified suspect. The two men were killed in Ozone Park as they were leaving a prayer service. Police officials are still trying to determine the motive of the suspect for carrying out the attack.

Although it was not explicitly said that the murder was an act of religion-based violence, an interfaith group comprising the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, Temple Beth El of Somerset, the Somerset Presbyterian Church and Fanwood Presbyterian Church released a statement to show their support for the families of the slain victims and their condemnation of the Queens shooting.

“On behalf of a broad multi-faith coalition of more than 120 organizations throughout New Jersey, we are deeply saddened at the cold-blooded assassination yesterday of Imam Maulana Akonjee of the Al Furqan Jame Masjid in Queens New York and his assistant Mr. Thara Uddin who were wearing the traditional Muslim garments,” the statement reads.

In addition, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) also made their own statements condemning the murder of the two Muslim men.


College students say they care about interfaith cooperation — are school leaders listening?

1728056Vicky Gillon grew up in a Christian household and studied Islam during her senior year of high school. In her first 18 years, she learned to appreciate religious diversity but had few opportunities to experience it.

“Interfaith (activism) was not on my radar at all,” she said about her freshman year of college.

In four years, a lot changed. Gillon, now 22, graduated this May from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, with a degree in religion and a reputation as an interfaith leader. She has spent hundreds of hours studying non-Christian religions and volunteering withInterfaith Understanding, her school’s service-oriented student club that brings together people of varied religious and nonreligious backgrounds.

All college students have the potential to experience this kind of transformation, say experts on religion and higher education. Colleges and universities are in a unique position to both increase students’ religious understanding and their exposure to followers of other faiths.

“We have an opportunity as educators to set the stage well and give college students as many opportunities as we can to grow in ways that affect global change,” said Matthew Mayhew, the Flesher professor of educational administration at Ohio State University.


Olympic women’s all-around champions: A Christian, a Jew and a Muslim

000_EH93B-e1470955361511-635x357Awe-inspiring performances in a close match-up between Americans Simone Biles and Aly Raisman, and Russian Aliya Mustafina, are a cross-section of faith, race and nationality

DE JANEIRO, Brazil — In a world awash in religious and sectarian tensions, the three Olympic victors in the women’s all-around gymnastics competition delivered a multi-faith mosaic on the medals podium Thursday in Rio, with a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim taking gold, silver and bronze respectively.

She led a US 1-2 ahead of American Jewish gymnastics star Aly Raisman, with Russia’s Aliya Mustafina, who is of Muslim descent on her father’s side, taking her second straight Olympic all-around bronze.

The victory keeps three-time world all-around champion Biles’ bid for a record five women’s gymnastics golds on track, with vault, beam and floor finals to come.

The three were neck-and-neck throughout the contest.

Biles finished 2.1 points ahead of Raisman (who lit the flame at the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem), wrapping up the title with a dynamic floor routine which included her signature tumbling “Biles” move named after her.

The 1.45-meter (4’9″) devout Christian Texan who regularly attends church, is competing in her first Olympics and had already helped the US women to a second straight team gold.


Tolerance is no longer enough; we must respect other faiths

920x1240What’s new in interfaith? In some ways, not much.

Last time I checked, there’s still more than one faith and we still live in a world where people practice more than one faith.

But much has changed; the American notion of “common ground” has undergone a tectonic plate shift over the past 20 years and we need to approach these shifts in constructive ways.

Let me highlight three shifts:

Shift 1: I call it the “similarity/difference shift.”

A key theme in interfaith relations in the 20th century was seeking similarities. This concept is built on the notion that there are universal ideas within the foundational stories across time and culture, we could even call these the “divine impulses,” and it is these common ideas that account for the similarities in concepts and morals in all religions.

This is a reason why some claim that “all religions are the same,” that they are just the same concepts and the same ethics but from different eras and different civilizations. Yes, there are major differences conceptually between, say, being a Catholic and being a Hindu, but there are many similar claims. It’s a reason that you can find a variation of the “Golden Rule” across religions.

For the 20th century, when world religions were quickly interacting in the modern world, this sort of universal thinking was helpful and a necessary corrective for a great deal of misunderstandings and prejudice. You don’t have to look too deep into Protestant Christian history to find negative statements about Jews or look too far for examples of Catholics being negatively referred to as “Papists.”

In 1960, right here in Houston, John F. Kennedy would have to convince clergy that the Vatican would not be running the United States if he were president. There are many other more recent examples you can think of when the need to find similarities in our religions to build community and create lines of communication has been absolutely necessary.