How Can Interfaith Work Be Planned to Be Useful?


by Kemal Argon

Many people of religion have grave doubts about the worth and utility of interfaith dialogue, dismissing it entirely. Interfaith work can appear to be leading nowhere and accomplishing nothing relevant or useful. While there are those who support interfaith work, there are others who could not be bothered, seeing it as a waste of time. These people are missing something: they are often losing a strategic opportunity to train their own scholars and activists, stimulate the revivification of their own religious tradition, or even to work on peace building.

Interfaith work can be very useful for religionists who know how to plan and use dialogue, who are prepared beforehand and ISLAM_-_CRISTIANESIMOare approaching it with the right understanding. For dialogue to be made useful, what I firstly want to suggest seeing is that there can be three parts to dialogue: preparation beforehand, the actual dialogue, and the follow-up phase. In brief, the preparation beforehand involves adequate study of our own religion as well as that of the dialogue partner, the actual dialogue will be comparatively short but will provide useful material, especially useful being material from people whom we definitely disagree with. The final followup, “post-encounter,” phase in our own community with our own scholars can be the most important one as that is where the real examination and inquiry into matters is taking place. This post-encounter reflection and inquiry can happen over a long period of time, meaning the benefits of deeper inquiry in response to disagreement need not be limited to any particular time frame, especially if we have been paying careful attention and taking notes. This also means that, if we participate sincerely, we can be learning something that may become known to us later.


Bringing Christianity, Islam closer together in Korea

20150504001456_0Kim Ah-young, director of the Center for Islamic Studies, often finds herself in the middle of a tug-of-war between Christianity and Islam.

As a devout and open-minded Christian who seeks deeper understanding of Islam, her action is sometimes branded as “dovish” by hawkish Christians.

Muslims don’t always find her stance convincing and trustworthy either, given centuries of hostility between the two religious groups.

But her mission is clear ― to bring the two religions closer together through mutual understanding and respect in this borderless and globalized world.

“We can’t approach religion with an old mindset in this globalized world, and try to resolve religious issues,” Kim, 49, said in an interview.

“We should strive to learn about each other’s history and religion for peaceful coexistence.”

Days are gone when the world divided its territories according to religious faith.

And modern Christians should stop holding signs on the streets opposing issues concerning Islam, such as “sukuk” Islamic financing, which allows capital raising without interest.

Let the civic groups, economists or policymakers approach and examine those issues and policies, Kim said. Let religious leaders follow the advice of Swiss Catholic priest and theologian Hans Kung, who said: “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions.”

Kim began her study of Islam when she was at Ewha Womans University’s Graduate School of Christian Studies.

Her professor then was Chun Chae-ok, who was Korea’s first female Christian missionary dispatched to an Islamic country in 1961. Chun also founded the Center for Islamic Studies with Kim in 1992. The center has become part of Torch Trinity Graduate University, a theological seminary in Seoul.

During her master’s in Korea and Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the Fuller Theological Seminary in the U.S., Kim developed her understanding of Islam, and learnt that the two religions, albeit different, shared a lot of similarities.


PATHWAYS OF FAITH, CONNECTED HISTORIES: ‘Christianity and Islam’ from Oxford Islamic Studies Online

While not a news item, this article from Oxford online gives the kind of background needed to help sort out the complexities of current events in the Muslim majority world related to Christianity/Muslim relations.

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“At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the perception of Islam by Christians and non-Christians alike has been profoundly influenced by a number of terrorist events that have marked the beginning of the new millennium. There were, within a few years of each other, the attack on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and the attacks on public transportation in Madrid and London. It is necessary, however, to place modern Christian-Muslim relations in their historical and cultural context.

The history of Christian-Muslim relations begins with the biography of the prophet Muḥammad in the sixth and seventh centuries C.E. Muḥammad met Christians and Jews on various occasions. Ibn Isḥāq reports that a Christian uncle of Muḥammad’s first wife identified Muḥammad’s experience in the cave of Ḥirāʿ as divine revelation. On the other hand, Muḥammad later disputed with a Christian delegation from Najrān about the doctrine of the Incarnation, though this same delegation had been invited to pray in the Prophet’s mosque. This ambivalence is reflected in the Qurʿān and the ḥadīth (traditions). The Qurʿān tells Muslims that they will find Christians “nearest to them in love” (5:85) but warns them (5:54) not to take Christians or Jews as “close friends” or “protectors” (awlīyāʿ). Sometimes the positive and sometimes the negative aspect has received greater emphasis in the history of Muslim relations with Christians.

The earliest Christian reaction to Islam, dating from the struggle between Muslim and Byzantine armies for control of Egypt and Syria, shows ambivalence of a different kind. Byzantine polemicists saw Islam as a “Satanic plot” to destroy Christian faith (Gaudeul, vol. 1, p. 65), and non-Chalcedonian Christians often saw Islam as “the rod of God’s anger” intended “to deliver us from the Byzantines” (Sahas, p. 23).

Christian and Muslim leaders condemn Jos bombings

Wreckage of burnt vehicle after blasts at Terminus market in Jos, Nigeria[WCC] After bombings on 21 May in the northern Nigerian city of Jos, in which more than one-hundred people have been killed, “heart-felt sorrow and condolences” have been expressed in a joint statement by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, chairman of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (RABIIT).

“We strongly condemn the recent bombings in Jos, Nigeria. The location and timing of the bombings clearly were designed to cause indiscriminate and widespread casualties among passers-by, and among rescue workers who were coming to their aid,” read the statement.

Both religious leaders, who were in Jos and Plateau State in 2012 leading a Christian-Muslim delegation in Nigeria, have stressed that the horrific acts which have just occurred in Jos do not represent in any way either of their two religions.

“They have made us even more determined to find ways to support the people of Nigeria and those who are seeking to put an end to violence in the country,” says their statement.

“Peace is a blessing from God. Christianity and Islam call for peace and harmony among all of humanity, and do not condone or allow offensive warfare or aggression,” reads the statement.


Prophet Muhammad’s letter about how Muslims should treat Christians

prophets-letterDespite being an overall minority, there is a significant Christian population living in countries like Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt.

World Bulletin / News Desk

Amid the chaos that has laid siege to all people of the Middle-East and North Africa since the Arab Spring uprisings against dictatorship paved the way for militancy and civil war in region, the Christian world is increasingly expressing its concern over the condition of Christians living in the region.

Despite being an overall minority, there is a significant Christian population living in countries like Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt.

In this context, it may benefit both Muslims and Christians to recall the words of the Prophet Muhammad regarding how Christians should be treated by Muslims in the following translation of a letter he sent to the Christian monks at St. Catherines, Mount Sinai (Egypt) in 628 AD:

“This is a message from Muhammad sof of Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.


Gifts at Easter are latest bridge between Sacramento-area Muslims and Christians

Good-Friday-Bonds-UK-Muslims-Christians_To honor their Christian friends at Easter – a celebration of renewal – Muslim leaders in Sacramento will deliver 300 gifts at noon today to the First Covenant Church in Rancho Cordova.

Gifts for the children of the 2,000-member evangelical church are part of an interfaith exchange that Pastor Mark Shetler and Irfan Haq of the SALAM Islamic Center started in 2012. The gifts represent “a gesture of good will and a show of love and respect for our Christian brothers and sisters,” said Haq, president of the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations. “This is possibly the first such gesture taking place in U.S. religious history.”

First Covenant made some history of its own in 2012 and 2013, when about 60 congregants served iftar dinners for hundreds of Muslims during the month of Ramadan, Shetler said. Throughout Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, breaking the fast with an iftar meal after sundown.



Call for Muslim-Christian dialogue in C. African Republic

central-africaWorld Bulletin / News Desk

A body representing Christian anti-balaka militia on Thursday called for dialogue with other ethnic groups in the Central African Republic to help bloodshed in the restive country.

At a press conference in the capital Bangui, the executive committee of anti-balaka called on the interim government to include all anti-balaka groups into one body.

It called on the international community and the interim government to secure their food needs and medical care until a disarmament program is activated.

Muslim seleka militia leader, Gen. Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane, welcomed the call, saying “Any initiative for peace in the Central African Republic is welcomed”.

“Peace has always been a top priority for us,” he added.

Dhaffane said he is ready to join the dialogue initiative by the anti-balaka militia, reiterating his opposition to violence committed by members of the seleka and anti-balaka militias.

“I will abide by any initiative for peace in order to create a favorable atmosphere for the return of displaced people to their homes,” Dhaffane said.

“This is why it is necessary for us to achieve national reconciliation to pave the way for election,” he added.