Commentary: Have questions about Islam? Let’s talk about them

newsEngin.19474449_rbb-True-Islam-2Courage is facing fear head on. One does not have to go through heroic situations to show courage; it can be found in the simple everyday actions. In this day and age, when the words “Islam” and “terrorism” have unfortunately become synonymous, I had a unique opportunity to talk to a group of women who wanted to learn about the truth of Islam directly from a Muslim.

Despite their understandable reservations and possible fear, they took the first step of starting a dialogue instead of being passive and believing in what they were told. I am thankful to them — not only for making me feel welcomed, but allowing me to feel as an equal part of the society.

I am an immigrant from Pakistan and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect of Islam that has faced religious persecution for decades by its own countrymen. I grew up with fear of being judged and verbally abused because of my religious beliefs. In recent years, all those feelings have become all too familiar again as the media focuses only on the actions of some Muslim countries’ unjustifiable political agendas and label it as the Islamic way of life.

By receiving the invitation from St. John’s Presbyterian Church bible study group, I was not only honored, but my faith in the general American public was restored. I was treated with utmost respect and love and was asked genuine questions to help remove the misconceptions regarding Islam. I was given the chance to explain various aspects of our lives, which follow the true teachings of Islam.

We talked about jihad, which now is commonly perceived as the license to kill in the name of spreading the religion. The literal meaning of jihad is “struggle,” which is first applied in self-reformation. Only after that, when one becomes a portrayal of a true Muslim, he or she can spread the teachings of Islamic faith through his or her way of life and dialogue. I had the opportunity to discuss the rights of women, education, marriage and many other aspects of life as per Islamic teachings. It was no surprise that we found our religions to be quite similar. We follow the same guidelines to live a meaningful life in love and peace, which eventually lead us to finding God.

FULL ARTICLE FROM MY STATESMAN 

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Interfaith Dialogue: What it is and what it is not

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Before we get into what the interfaith dialogue entails, let me start by making it clear what interfaith dialogue is NOT about. Interfaith dialogue is not intended for converting people to your faith!

This is a question that so many people, Muslims, and people of other faiths have asked me when I invite them to be part of the interfaith dialogue in their communities. They sometimes ask, “how many people have you converted to Islam in your years of working on interfaith issues?

My answer surprises some while disappointing others. I have converted exactly zero people to Islam as an interfaith worker. I have very likely changed the perception of Islam and Muslims for thousands of people, but have not ‘converted’ anyone. Would you consider this a ‘failure’? I certainly don’t feel it that way, simply because that is not the objective of interfaith dialogue.

What else is interfaith dialogue NOT about?

  1. It is not about telling who is right and who is wrong.
  2. It is not about agreeing or accepting everything about the other faith traditions (but it does involve respecting others’ views despite the disagreements. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree but in a civil manner)

FULL ARTICLE FROM PATHEOS 

The Near East School of Theology

This short video clip highlights the important work of the Near East School of Theology in promoting good relations between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon.  This is a Protestant seminary which has played a prominent, yet often quiet role in helping defuse tensions between religious communities in a sometimes contentious political atmosphere.

Here  is a link to their website:    NEST 

Beyond Tolerance: Honoring the Call to Love our Neighbors

Masjid-Al-Madina-750x400Last week, members of the church where I serve in Springfield, Ohio, were graciously invited to attend a service at Masjid Al-Madina, a mosque that I have probably driven past at least a 1,000 times.

Each time I previously drove past the mosque, in the recesses of my mind, I thought, “They are in their world, I am in mine, and we have nothing in common.” It never crossed my mind that the mosque would be a place where friendships could form.

I had no idea what to expect. Inaccurate stereotypes had led me to believe that Muslims were reserved, distrustful, unfriendly, and completely uninterested in my Christian faith. To my shame, I believed these stereotypes to be true…until last week.

Prior to the events leading up to last Friday, I did not know a single Muslim with whom I could have a cup of coffee or tea and share a good story. In fact, I had never had a casual conversation with a person of Muslim faith. Never.

All of that changed dramatically for me over the last three days.

About 50 people from my church, male and female, young and old, were warmly welcomed to Al Madina Mosque for a Friday afternoon prayer service designed to help educate non-Muslims about their faith. Imam Yunus Lasania, his wife Zarina, and so many others (too many to name) extended a warm welcome. In fact, it was one of the warmest and most gracious welcomes I have ever received. They invited us back for dinner that night.

Instead of being reserved, they exuberantly welcomed us with open arms. Instead of being distrustful, they went out of their way to answer any question that we had, even hard ones about things like jihad and Sharia law. The Imam told self-deprecating jokes to put us at ease. They asked honest, deep questions about my Christian faith, and I realized that in many cases my faith was as mysterious to them as there’s was to me. We discovered areas of commonality, and we talked candidly of deep and significant differences. It was perhaps the most natural and easy conversation about Christianity that I have ever had with people who embraced a faith other than my own.

Yunus pointed out verses in the Quran that talk about the Muslim duty to protect the Christians and Jews who live in their midst. These verses come from the Ashtiname of Muhammad, a covenant signed by the Prophet Muhammad to protect Christians and Jews until the end of time. When Imam Yunus addressed members of his own congregation, he gave historical examples of times when Christians extended hospitality and protection to Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RED LETTER CHRISTIANS 

UN religious freedom expert hails Albania interfaith harmony

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The U.N. expert on religious freedom has praised Albania’s interfaith tolerance, considering it to be an example for other countries.

Ahmed Shaheed says that Albania is a model for interfaith harmony, with a Muslim majority, and Orthodox and Catholic communities among its 3 million people.

The communist regime banned religion from 1967 until its collapse in 1990, turning churches, mosques and other places of worship into shopping centers, sports halls and theaters.

Shaheed ended an eight-day trip to Albania on Wednesday to prepare a report on its policies and practices on religion, including unresolved issues or new challenges.

“Freedom of religion or belief is a practical reality in Albania, and there is much the world can learn from the Albanian experience in respecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief and achieving inter-religious harmony,” said Shaheed.

Post-communist Albania made “a rapid reconstruction of the religious infrastructure and the revitalization of spiritual leadership.”

Shaheed had learnt only three cases of religious discrimination and considered their solution “a healthy response.”

Shaheed said in his preliminary finding that such a “unique co-existence and mutual respect between and among various religious groups should not be taken for granted … (as) the situation could change more quickly and unexpectedly than many think.”

Mainstream religious leaders also have urged believers not to join rebel groups but scores of Albanians are believed to have done so.

Preliminary data shows that no one from Albania has joined any extremist group in Syria and Iraq recently.

“The problem of ‘extremist’ or ‘radical’ religious groups now appears effectively to be under control,” he said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ABC NEWS 

Young Iraqi Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis are the seeds of dialogue in a Land broken by the Islamic State

6606442621494827991ERBIL: In order to overcome the murderous madness of the Islamic State, which has covered with blood a land already brutalised by years of wars and violence, it is necessary to start with “a plan of dialogue and outreach at the local level”, involving first of all children and young people, the new generations, “who will be tasked with building life together” beyond their respective religions.

Starting from such premises, Fr Samir Youssef, pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (Iraqi Kurdistan) who has long been on the frontline of the refugee emergency, is promoting a project to transform “young Muslims, Christians and Yazidis” into “seeds of dialogue ” to breathe new life into Mosul, the Nineveh plain, and Iraq as a whole.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the priest mentioned an initiative that is in its initial stage, but one that has already garnered “the enthusiastic participation” of some thirty of kids, aged 10 to 16, from various religious background. “We started with a group of about 30-35 kids,” Fr Samir said, “but we want to increase the numbers for the summer, involving young people from high school and university.”

The aim is to find youth “eager to talk, communicate, and bear witness” that living together is possible and that from this, a model can emerge applicable across the country, and beyond.

“We have already started to meet,” he added, “although getting the first results will take some time. At the moment, the first group, the base on which to start working, has been found. It includes a dozen Christians, eight Muslims and seven Yazidis. There are also Sabians and Turkmen.”

As parish priest in the diocese of Zakho and Amadiya (Kurdistan), Fr Samir is responsible for about 3,500 Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi refugee families who fled their homes and property in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain to escape Jihadis. Since the summer of 2014 and the start of the emergency, the clergyman has played a key role. Working with him and Iraqi bishops, AsiaNews has recently renewed its Adopt a Christian of Mosul campaign to provide refugees with kerosene, shoes, clothing, and school material for children.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HERALD (MALAYSIA)

Promoting Muslim/Christian Reconciliation

Safi-and-Eman-with-Pope-Francis-1-2016by Safi Kakas Co-author of “The Qur’an, A Contemporary Understanding, with References to the Bible”

Since 9/11, Western and Muslim scholarship have characterized the political relationship between the Muslim world and the West as one full of tension and conflict.

Today, fear-based stories about American Muslims have become a daily event, rooted in the notion that Muslims are recent arrivals in America and can’t assimilate; hence, they don’t belong. But for around two million Muslims, America is home.

Is the tension getting any better? Unfortunately, the answer is a firm, “no.” Any acts of terrorism within the United States continue to rekindle the tension and fear within both the Muslim and the non-Muslim American communities.

In this environment, people of faith are called upon to work for reconciliation and to find common ground to allow all of us to live together in peace. In fact, if we are to prevent a much larger disaster from happening, we have no other alternative than to work for better understanding and reconciliation. It is no longer possible to depend solely on America’s long-standing tradition of constitutional rights, tolerance and minority protection.

My Islamic faith has taught me that it is my duty, and I hope the duty of every American of goodwill, to try to work toward peace and true reconciliation. Obviously, there are no guarantees for success as the agenda is often dictated by fanatics. Perhaps, however, it is not that the fanatics are in control, but that we have failed to respond with the love that our Creator has commanded.

After years of trying to build bridges toward others through interfaith dialogue, I thought it would be useful for new bridge builders to have a few insights from my experience on what makes certain efforts work.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST