‘A Common Word’ 10 years on: Christians and Muslims must work together for peace

CNS-Catholic Islam CPeople today still need to hear document’s message that Christians, Muslims share two great commandments

On Oct. 13, 2007, 138 Muslim leaders signed “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a document stating that Christians and Muslims share two great commandments — love of God and love of neighbor — and should work for peace together.

Now 10 years later, the influence of the document continues through the projects and relationships it inspired, but experts on Muslim-Christian relations say many people still need to hear its message.

 

“When Catholics in the U.S. are hearing about Islam and Muslims, they’re not hearing about the heart and soul of the tradition,” said Scott Alexander, director of the Catholic-Muslim studies program at the Catholic Theological Union. “They’re hearing about different events in which there was conflict or if ISIS sponsored some sort of terrorist attack.”

“A Common Word” “gives people a way to see that Muslims are taking action all the time on the local and global stage for the good of humanity,” Alexander said. “The actions of a relatively small minority get so much more publicity that it leads to people having a distorted image of Islam and Muslims.”

Prior to the publication of “A Common Word,” Pope Benedict XVI exacerbated interfaith tensions during a 2006 address at the University of Regensburg by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who said that Mohammed only contributed “things evil and inhuman,” such as spreading his faith by violence.

While the pope did not endorse the emperor’s view, the Regensburg address provoked outrage from Muslims around the world. Amir Hussain, professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University, says it was also the “impetus” for “A Common Word.”

The authors of “A Common Word” could have written about how offensive and concerning the pope’s words were, said Hussain, but instead they took a positive approach and wrote about the connections between Muslims and Christians.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER 

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Islamophobia & the Catholic Media

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When I went to Catholic elementary school in the 1960s, the Crusades were taught as a glorious fight against the “Mohammedans.” One teacher said the next great war would be about religion, which presumably meant that we boys needed to be ready when called on to storm the bastions of atheistic communism.

That strain of the faith lingers in the anti-Muslim, Steve Bannon-style Catholicism found among some Baby Boomers and their elders, notwithstanding the new direction the Second Vatican Council charted in 1965 with Nostra Aetate, its document on relations with non-Christian religions. And, according to a study issued last week [.pdf] by Georgetown University’s Prince Alaweed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and its Bridge Initiative, anti-Islam polemics find friendly platforms across substantial segments of the Catholic media. Meanwhile, the study reports, nine out of ten Catholics have never heard of Nostra Aetate, and only 16 percent surveyed in a poll said they knew about church teaching on Islam.

In Nostra Aetate the council stated that the Church “has a high regard for the Muslims” and expressed appreciation for the religiosity of Islam’s faithful. “Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims,” the document reads. “The sacred council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding.”

Anti-Islam polemics find friendly platforms across substantial segments of the Catholic media

Since then, popes and others in the Catholic world, such as the Franciscan order, have steadily sought dialogue and cooperation with Muslims. Pope John Paul II, in particular, worked tirelessly at it. Pope Francis has too, while challenging the claims of anti-Islam polemicists that Islam encourages violence.

The Georgetown study covers a lot of ground, so I’ll focus on just one aspect: The attention it gives to the prolific author Robert Spencer, who runs the hardline website Jihad Watch. Spencer’s argument is essentially that Islam is inherently violent. He saysPope Francis was wrong for saying, “It’s not fair to identify Islam with violence. It’s not fair and it’s not true.” Spencer argues that the pope was also wrong when he wrote in Evangelii Gaudium that “faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (No. 253). Further, Spencer counters John Paul II—who said Christians and Muslims worship the same God—by insisting that Vatican II’s call for dialogue must be qualified in light of earlier Church tradition, such as the teachings of Pope Callixtus III, whom he says pledged in 1455 to “exalt the true Faith, and to extirpate the diabolical sect of the reprobate and faithless Mahomet in the East.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM COMMONWEAL MAGAZINE 

Muslims and Christians unite to call for bridges not walls

ap3841919_articolo(Vatican Radio) US President Donald Trump’s Executive Order to tighten restrictions on arrivals to the United States has been widely condemned, although polls suggest that US public opinion is sharply divided on the policy.

Amongst other restrictions, the Order issued on January 25, bans nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries from entering the US, it places a temporary ban on all refugee admissions and prioritizes refugee claims by religious minorities (Christians in mainly Muslim countries).

Faith-based organizations and human rights groups have called for a re-think of the Executive Order and have urged governments to address the structural causes of forced displacement and share the responsibility of providing for refugees.

Amongst them, the Jesuit Refugee Service – JRS – that has released a joint interfaith statement with the Italian Islamic Religious Community – COREIS- calling for bridges, not walls.

Linda Bordoni spoke to COREIS President, Imam Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini and JRS Advocacy Officer, Amaya Valcarcel about their appeal.

Imam Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini explained that a common sensitivity and Christian and Muslim shared values are at the roots of a continuing collaboration and cooperation between the Italian Islamic Religious Community and the Jesuit Refugee Service that goes back in time over the past 12 months or so.

“Unfortunately what is happening in the US, through the statements of President Trump, somehow pushed us to increase our brotherhood and react – or pro act – giving a joint brotherly interreligious Islamic-Christian response on the need to be much more consistent and honest on humanity, on refugees and migrants, and even on politics” he said.

Amaya Valcarcel pointed out that JRS is very glad to be able to speak out together with the Islamic Community in Italy and said that theirs is first of all a message of faith.

“Christians and Muslims inhabit religious traditions that are rooted in the experience of exile and in the hospitality of God and of God’s own, so hostile attitudes towards displaced persons have no place in our religious traditions and manifest a grave moral failure” she said.

In line with their faith, Valcarcel said, all people of goodwill should promote a more generous culture of hospitality.

She points out that within the Christian tradition, in the Old Testament there are no less than 36  explicit invitations to ‘love the stranger’.

“Also Jesus tells us to love the stranger and care for the stranger. He himself puts himself as a stranger” she said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM VATICAN RADIO 

Cardinal joins interfaith leaders in ‘Faith Over Fear’ walk to promote unity

walk-1-webCardinal Donald Wuerl joined Washington-area religious leaders Dec. 18 in leading an interfaith walk that organizers said was designed “to express our solidarity and our commitment to unity, understanding, and inclusion.”

The interfaith pilgrimage walk, dubbed “Faith Over Fear: Choosing Unity Over Extremism,” began at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Northwest Washington, and included stops at the National Cathedral and the Islamic Center. At each site, there was a call to prayer, a scripture reading, and a brief reflection.

“We leaders are united in our concern at the rise in hate speech, the increase in violence against racial, ethnic and religious minorities, and the ugly consequences that ensue when people’s actions are informed by inflammatory rhetoric, misinformation and careless slander,” Cardinal Wuerl said, reading from a statement at the beginning of the walk.

Also participating in the walk were the Right Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation; Imam Johari Abdul Malik of Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center; and about 200 others who came to pray and show solidarity with people of other faiths.

“We share the Abrahamic faith,” Bishop Curry said, “and the challenge before us is – out of our great diversity – to make a real tapestry.”

Cardinal Wuerl also lead the participants in reciting the prayer of St. Francis. Prior to leading the prayer, he told the gathering that during Pope Francis’s Sept. 22-24, 2015 visit to Washington, the pope “walked our streets and reminded us we have the power to make a better world – but we have to reach out to one another.”

Bishop Budde, also noting that “we belong to different branches of the Abrahamic family,” urged the participants to “come together to create a climate in which we practice hospitality, protect those who are vulnerable, defend religious freedom, engage in respectful dialogue about our disagreements, and love one another regardless of our differences.”

She added that “all have a welcome place in our land.”

Rabbi Lustig echoed that sentiment and said participants must strive to keep “America a place where people of all faiths are welcome.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CATHOLIC STANDARD 

In Minnesota, Christian-Muslim dialogue turns strangers into neighbors

.- In the aftermath of the mall stabbing of nine people by a Somali-Muslim Sept. 17 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Muslims called on their friends at the Greater St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders and others for support.

Leaders from various faiths came together to pray and strategize a sensible reaction to the violence. They emerged from their meeting ready to show a united front to a community whose racial-cultural stress points where under heavy pressure.

This wasn’t just a crisis response, but the fruit of almost two years of ongoing Muslim-Christian dialogue.

“It has allowed us to build bridges in the past, and it seemed natural that we would have conversations and stand in solidarity when this happened,” said Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud and a member of the Greater St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders group. “We’re friends, so of course we could talk about next steps.”

Since 2014, Catholics in St. Cloud have been sitting down with their Muslim neighbors to talk about their respective religions and get to know each other as human persons. The importance of this dialogue became evident when the rural community, where racial tensions still run high, braced itself for the repercussions of the most recent violence. In addition to the work of the Greater St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders, a local Christian-Muslim dialogue group organizes gatherings with talks by Christians and Muslims and small-group discussions.

The St. Cloud Times has reported harassment of Somali businesses and a city on edge. The once-homogenous college town is still adjusting to the influx of Somali immigrants and refugees that started approximately 10 years ago.

“St. Cloud used to be called ‘white cloud,’ and they were proud of that,” said Sister Helen Rolfson, of the Sisters of St. Francis in Rochester, Minnesota, and chairwoman of the St. Cloud Diocese’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Commission.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY 

Pope Leads Interfaith Peace Meeting in Assisi

65ce7f9a-a809-4605-aff9-a92d04f0f160_cx0_cy6_cw0_w987_r1_s_r1(Vatican Radio)  Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist religious leaders applauded the “Spirit of Assisi” in interreligious meetings launched by Pope St. John Paul II thirty years ago in the Italian hill town.  At the conclusion of a four day peace summit of interfaith leaders in Assisi, representatives who addressed the gathering thanked Pope Francis for, in the words of the Muslim representative from Indonesia, “his endless commitment for peace.” Pope Francis arrived in Assisi Tuesday morning to attend the final day of the meeting, organized by the Sant Egidio lay community.

Din Syamsuddin, Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Indonesian Council of Ulama, expressed “high appreciation” to the lay Community of Sant’Egidio for “having kept alive the spirit of Assisi” by organizing the event each year.  Noting that Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country, Chairman Syamsuddin said the cooperation “has brought concrete fruits of peace such as our common work in interfaith dialogue, peace education among youth, peace process and conflict resolution in Mindanao, South Philippines.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RADIO VATICAN 

The Bridge Initiative: Catholic Islamophobia and Interreligious Dialogue

The Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University research project on Islamophobia, based in the university’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, this week released a report that sheds light on American Catholics’ views of Islam, and the way Islam is discussed in Catholic publications.

hands-holdingThis report, “Danger & Dialogue: American Catholic Public Opinion and Portrayals of Islam,” finds that nearly half of Catholics can’t name any similarities between Catholicism and Islam, or say explicitly that there are no commonalities.

The report, which includes survey data on Catholics’ views of Muslims and interreligious dialogue, also reveals that only 14% of Catholics say they have a favorable impression of Muslims. The poll also shows that respondents who consume content from Catholic media have more unfavorable views of Muslims than those who don’t.

The report, authored by Jordan Denari Duffner, also analyzed nearly 800 articles about Islam in Catholic media outlets, finding that half of the time the word “Islamic” was used in nine prominent Catholic outlets, it was in reference to the Islamic State terrorist group. The headlines of Catholic articles on Islam had a negative sentiment overall, but the outlet that mentioned Pope Francis the most in its headlines on Islam had positive sentiment.

The report also explores the 100-plus books, audio programs, and DVDs sold by Catholic publishers about Islam. Interfaith dialogue is a prominent topic in these for-sale materials on Islam, but differences between Christians and Muslims are often stressed in introductory materials or those that attempt to compare Christianity and Islam. The most prolific authors on Islam for Catholics take varied approaches, with some focusing on dialogue and others on sharing the Christian faith with Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM IGNATIAN SOLIDARITY NETWORK