Chicago-area faith leaders weigh in on ‘worship the same God’ Facebook controversy

ct-ctl-ct-ecn-a-leaders-20180201Do Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God?

That question became the center of a Facebook-fueled controversy after Elgin-area U46 School Board member Jeanette Ward commented on social media when her daughter’s 6th-grade language arts class was assigned to read, “Despite differences, Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”

Ward called the article, written by Philip Almond, emeritus professor in the History of Religious Thought at the University of Queensland in Australia, “utterly incorrect and false on many levels.”

Local faith leaders have a variety of views on the matter, as well as concern with how discourse on the topic was conducted.

Agreeing with Daubert’s point were Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein of Congregation Kneseth Israel, Haroon Qureshi of the Islamic Center of Kane County and Pastor Katie Shaw Thompson of the Highland Church of the Brethren, who recently met with the Courier-News to talk about the question and the aftermath of the assignment.

Allah, the name used by Muslims for God, and El, one of the names for God in the Jewish faith, are similar in sound, have the same root and refer to the same entity, Klein and Qureshi said.

As but one commonality, Qureshi said that his faith’s word for God is Allah, while Klein noted El is one of the names used for God in the Jewish faith.



Students’ Muslim Center visit offers interfaith experience

ct-ctlfl-mgc-muslim-center-poetry-pals-3-20180117Jack, a sixth-grader from Chicago’s Bernard Zell Jewish Day School, threw himself like a rag doll onto the rubber gym floor of the Muslim Community Center Academy in Morton Grove Thursday, pantomiming a Christmas tree being felled by a gang of Irish-dancing squirrels.

The 11-year-old’s theatrics drew giggles from the dozen other pre-teens in his group — some wearing hijabs, others plaid skirts — who were brought together by the Olive Tree Arts Network and tasked with combining their imaginations into a single, wacky story.

Jack’s group was among 150 students brought together by the network’s Poetry Pals program, which every year has students from Catholic, Muslim and Jewish Day schools participate in a shared curriculum focused on creative expression and cultural learning.

Getting the students to act out fantastical stories based on their religious customs is a subtle way of building tighter bonds across faiths, according to Ilene Siemer, director of the arts network.

“This is a really important stage in kids’ lives, because they don’t really have pre-seeded notions of each other yet,” Siemer said. “So we’re able to effectively convey how much we all have in common without having to deal with any of the baggage that many adults may carry.”

Earlier this year, students from Bernard Zell and the Muslim academy visited St. John Fisher School in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood, where students led presentations on Catholic rituals and beliefs.

On Thursday, it was the Muslim students’ turn to educate their peers.


Muslims help with church’s homeless aid work so Christians can attend Christmas Eve service

ct-ctlh-ct-sta-muslims-help-christians-c-20171221When a group of Oak Lawn Christians mentioned they needed a hand, a group of Bridgeview Muslims offered theirs.

With Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday this year, Steve Hoerger, pastor of Salem United Church of Christ, had a dilemma.

Like several other area churches, Salem serves as a BEDS Plus overnight shelter, opening its doors one night a week to those in need. Every Sunday, Salem provides food and bedding to some 25-30 homeless women and children, Hoerger said.

But this Sunday also is the eve of a Christian holiday, among the biggest of the year. It is an evening on which Hoerger typically leads two Advent services.

Hoerger was explaining how “I didn’t know how we were going to be able to do both at the same time,” during a recent meeting of the Oak Lawn Clergy and Religious Workers Association, when a welcomed solution arose.

Karen Danielson, a member of the Bridgeview Mosque Foundation and a leader in interfaith collaboration, offered the services of Muslim volunteers.

“We said, ‘We’re there for you guys; the task is on us,'” Danielson said. “So on Christmas Eve we’ll provide meals for those coming into the church for homeless services, so the (church members) can be with their families and focus on their spiritual side.”

The Mosque volunteers will prepare and serve dinner that evening as well as bring supplies for breakfast and lunch on Christmas Day, Danielson said.

Hoerger said the homeless guests also will be welcome to attend service if they want, before partaking in the meal.

“The whole Christmas season is about light and I can’t think of a greater light than this kind of sharing across faith boundaries, especially in this time of darkness,” Hoerger said. “This is very much in keeping with the Advent, or Christmas, season.”

The takeaway message, Hoerger said, “is oneness and unity. We’re all one. That is the deepest place religion can go and, unfortunately, quite often it short circuits getting to that place. Too often religion becomes the barrier to that, when it really should be the facilitator.”


Jews, Christians and Muslims band together to protest Trump’s immigration orders

a7fb2355a538461eb7ea3055552982c8_1486179632799_2703119_ver1-0FOX 32 NEWS – Jews, Christians and Muslims all banded together Friday to protest President Trump’s immigration orders.

The protesters formed a human chain in front of a mosque in southwest suburban Bridgeview.

The human chain in front of the mosque was a symbol of many faiths linking together to fight the president’s orders.

“These are our neighbors living in communities next to us. And they need support and encouragement to know they don’t have to live in fear looking over their shoulder,” said Presbyterian Minister Adam Malak.

“I want them to know that I’m here in solidarity with them, as my faith tradition teaches me to love they neighbor, I wanted to be here to show that support to them,” said Deacon Michael Fakete.


Chicago Muslims give thanks, 5,000 turkeys

ct-chicago-muslims-5000-turkeys-thanksgiving-video-20161122As a line of schoolchildren obediently marched past the canary yellow lockers Tuesday morning at Woodlawn Community School, two more lines had formed at the end of the hallway — an assembly line of volunteers unloading a semitrailer full of turkeys, and the mothers and grandmothers waiting to take one home to feed their families.

Volunteers also hung a banner advertising the Sabeel Food Pantry, a Muslim-run pantry on the city’s Northwest Side. The mission of Sabeel — an Arabic word meaning “way” — is to give the poor a way to survive, a central obligation of the Muslim faith, volunteers say.

For 16 years, the Chicago Muslim community has distributed free Thanksgiving turkeys to underprivileged families on the South Side. But this holiday season, the group more than tripled the number of free birds from last year to 5,000 and expanded the project to eight elementary schools in three neighborhoods.

Dr. Sofia Shakir, an organizer of the annual turkey drive, said while plans to expand the effort had been underway for almost a year, it was serendipitous that it all came together after what she considered a discouraging presidential campaign — and now amid fears of being viewed as un-American by the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Last year, just days before Thanksgiving, Trump proposed the government register and track Muslims in the U.S. as part of the nation’s war on terror. Earlier this week, Trump’s incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus said there would not be a registry based on religion but would not “rule out anything.”


Oak Lawn (Illinois) faith leaders call on businesses to support Muslim neighbors

oaklawnKaren Danielson just wanted to have a dialogue.

She was frustrated by the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the election season and of how President-elect Donald Trump had called for a ban on Muslim immigration in the U.S.

She was hurt by the hateful language so much that during a recent visit to Navy Pier, she suddenly froze with fear. Could somebody, she wondered, sneak up and push her into the water because of the veil that hid her hair?

Danielson, who was raised Catholic and converted to Islam in college, initially wanted to hold an interfaith gathering denouncing Islamophobia before the election, but had worried it would be mistaken for an anti-Trump rally. But after Trump won the election Tuesday, Danielson, an interfaith and outreach director for the Muslim American Society, knew it was time to pull the community together.

“I don’t think bigotry won the election,” she said. “But we do know bigotry played some role.”

On Saturday, more than 100 people of different faiths crowded the parking lot of First United Methodist Church in Oak Lawn to denounce the anti-Muslim vitriol spurred by the election season. Community members listened to Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders speak and brought signs sprinkled with hand-drawn hearts that read, “We stand with our Muslim neighbors!” and “United against hate.”

After a brief rally, organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and other interfaith groups, community members split up into teams and traveled to businesses across Oak Lawn, asking owners to post signs in their windows that read “We support our Muslim neighbors.”

Those who spoke at the rally congratulated Trump and commended the democratic process. But they demanded Trump’s administration denounce the verbal attacks on Muslims and revoke his pledge to deny entry to the country to all Muslims. Religious tolerance, they said, is among America’s core values.


Muslim, Christian Scouts come together to foster friendship, understanding

girl scoutsA beautiful event unfolded recently at the Islamic Center of Naperville, where two Girl Scout groups met for an interfaith event that paved the way for a lifetime of understanding and friendship.

We should all be more like Girl Scouts.

Heather Mieloszyk, a troop leader for her second- and seventh-grade daughters, was inspired to educate herself and her Scouts on the Islamic faith after some of the elementary students she teaches brought treats to school to celebrate Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast daily from sunrise to sunset.

The students’ parents put Mieloszyk in touch with Saima Hasan, a program director for the Girl Scouts troops who operate out of the Islamic Center of Naperville. Hasan and her fellow troop leaders got to work planning a day of fun and fellowship.

The Daisies (kindergarten and first-grade Girl Scouts) greeted each visitor with a flower. The girls shared snacks (cupcakes and dates) and created pins with different colored beads to swap with one another. The visiting girls learned to write their names in Arabic and received bookmarks with Arabic phrases of goodwill translated into English.

“Today’s youth should serve as tomorrow’s ambassadors of peace in a troubled world,” Hasan told me. “They would use their positive experiences with various cultures, religions, races and ethnicities and build a world of understanding, which in some way will contribute to the healing and prosperity of this great nation.”