Lutheran pastor, Muslim doctor discuss common ground in ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ conversation in Willmar, Minnesota

122419.N.WCT.LoveThyNeighbor.0062WILLMAR — While there are unarguably many differences between Christianity and Islam, the overarching message of the interfaith dialogue last week Willmar was there is more common ground than one might expect and the differences should not keep people apart.

“It is OK to be friends and neighbors with people that are different than you,” said the Rev. Mandy France, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Bird Island. “It is OK to be in a relationship with people who don’t believe what you believe.”

France and Dr. Ayaz Virji, of Dawson, conducted their 26th “Love Thy Neighbor” event Dec. 20 in front of a crowd of about 100 people at the Barn Theatre in Willmar. Virji and France have for a couple of years now been giving these talks, based on Virji’s book “Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America.”

The duo started them following the 2016 election, when Virji and his family started to experience a significant rise in Islamophobia in their home of Dawson, where Virji is a family practice physician.

“After the election, things did change, for whatever reason,” Virji said.

At the start of the Willmar presentation, they made sure to let people know they had no other agenda beyond starting a conversation.

“We are not here to argue or debate anyone. We are not hear to convert anyone,” France said. “The religion or whatever you walked in with, you are going to walk out with.”

During the two-hour presentation, France and Virji shared their stories about how they came together to give these presentations across the country. Virji shared information about Islam, and the two questioned each other about their respective religions. There was also a short question-and-answer segment with the audience toward the end.

Virji and his family had moved to Dawson in 2013, when Virji felt a calling to practice medicine in rural America, where there is a shortage of physicians. The treatment his family was receiving following the election made him start to rethink that mission. His family, including his young children, were called suicide bombers and terrorists to their faces, and Virji regularly receives hate mail.

“This is nonsense,” Virji said and he was thinking of leaving it all behind. While he accepted a position with New York University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Virji continues to live and work in Dawson for part of the year.

France, who in 2016 was an intern pastor, talked Virji into giving a presentation about Islam in Dawson, to teach people and show them there is nothing to fear.

“The message of the Bible is love. It was really conflicting to me,” France said of the treatment she witnessed Virji and his family receiving and the comments she heard from people who identify as Christian.

For Virji, Islam is a religion of peace and love and it’s just as much about good deeds as belief.

“Faith is a verb, you have to do it,” Virji said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WEST CENTRAL TRIBUNE (MINNESOTA, USA)

Pope seeks more freedom in theology, dialogue with Islam

190417_aptn_pope_thunberg_hpMain_16x9_1600Pope Francis called Friday for a reform of the way theology is taught in Catholic schools, saying students must learn about dialogue with Judaism and Islam, and that overall there must be greater freedom in theological research and academic pursuits.

The Jesuit pope made the call during a speech at the Jesuit-run theology university in Naples. It follows his outreach this year to the Muslim world with the signing of a joint statement with the imam of Cairo’s Al Azhar, the seat of Sunni learning, establishing the relationship between Catholics and Muslims as brothers, with a common mission to promote peace.

In his speech, Francis said dialogue and partnership with the Muslim world is necessary “to build a peaceful existence, even when there are the troublesome episodes by fanatic enemies of dialogue.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM ABC NEWS

Nigerian archbishop: Church works as bridge between Muslims, Christians

20190305T1116-1350-CNS-NIGERIA-KAIGAMA-BRIDGE_800-690x450NEW YORK – The Catholic Church is working to bridge the divide between Muslims and Christians in a country where the divide between the groups is fraught with large and small issues, said a Nigerian archbishop.

Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama of Jos, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, gave examples from his archdiocese in the central part of the country.

In Jos, the bustling administrative capital of Plateau state, the archbishop established the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre in 2011 to “attempt to narrow the gap between different groups that are hostile to each other,” he said.

It is a place where “Muslims and Christians walk together,” the archbishop told Catholic News Service in early March. The archbishop was in New York to speak at a March 1 panel at the United Nations, “International Religious Freedom,” organized by the Holy See Observer Mission to the U.N.

“I have lived through all different types of crisis. I didn’t want to wait for big solutions, but wanted to do something small,” Archbishop Kaigama told CNS. “It’s a safe space to talk to one another and a proactive center to forestall crisis and possible violence.”

“We bring in Muslim and Christian primary and secondary school students and train them together in peace education. We also bring in traditional grassroots leaders to encourage people to cultivate dialogue,” he said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CRUXNOW

Does God want religious diversity? Abu Dhabi text raises questions

20190207T0836-24312-CNS-VATICAN-LETTER-DIALOGUE_800-690x450ROME – That many religions exist in the world is a fact, but what that plurality communicates to believers about God is a question that theologians are still discussing.

Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, stepped into the debate Feb. 4 when they signed a document on “human fraternity” and improving Christian-Muslim relations.

“The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in his wisdom, through which he created human beings,” the document said.

The document goes on to insist on the basic human right to freedom of religion, appealing to both Christians and Muslims not only to tolerate the religious faith of the other, but to recognize the other’s faith as something “willed by God in his wisdom.”

In other words, the message seems to be, if God “wants” religious diversity, who are human beings to be intolerant of it?

But can God really “want” a variety of religions? And is that what the statement Pope Francis signed really says?

In a post on the document, Father John Zuhlsdorf, a blogger, tried to explain things by saying that God has an “active or positive will” of what he desires and makes happen, and “a ‘permissive will’ by which he allows that things will take place that are not in accord with the order he established.”

In that case, God tolerates other religions.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CRUX NOW

Pope: Respect, dialogue key for peace between Christians, Muslims

10776016-3x2-700x467VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis said his recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, while brief, was a new page in relations between Christians and Muslims at a time when conflict and violence threaten the goal of lasting peace.

Recalling his Feb. 3-5 visit to Abu Dhabi, the pope said during his weekly general audience Feb. 6 that the joint document signed by him and Egyptian Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar and chair of the Muslim Council of Elders, was a step forward in promoting dialogue and brotherhood.

“In an age like ours, in which there is a strong temptation to see a clash between Christian and Islamic civilizations taking place, and also to consider religions as sources of conflict, we wanted to give another clear and decisive sign that, on the contrary, it is possible to meet, respect and dialogue with each other, and that, despite the diversity of cultures and traditions, the Christian and Islamic worlds appreciate and protect common values: life, the family, religious belief, honor for the elderly, the education of young people and much more,” the pope said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CATHOLIC NEWS 

 

Tolerance-plus: Pope in Abu Dhabi will build on relations with Muslims

imageWhen Pope Francis visits Abu Dhabi Feb. 3-5, he will visit a land where interreligious tolerance is mandated by law; while Catholics in the United Arab Emirates count their blessings for that, the pope is expected to nudge for something more.

Tolerance is praiseworthy, and Catholics in the Emirates do not take it for granted. But for Pope Francis, the next step — and often a big one — is mutual knowledge, respect and cooperation.

As the pope said in Bangladesh in late 2017, “respect and shaping a culture of encounter, dialogue and cooperation in the service of our human family” requires “more than mere tolerance. It challenges us to reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding, and so to build a unity that sees diversity not as a threat, but as a potential source of enrichment and growth.”

The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia cares for the almost 1 million Catholics living in the Emirates, Oman and Yemen. The faithful belong to 16 parishes — with Mass offered in a dozen languages in churches, chapels and meeting rooms, sometimes simultaneously.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ANGELUS NEWS 

Does Friendship Between Christians and Muslims Require Agreement?

By Kevin Singer and Chris Stackaruk

Screenshot-2018-11-30-07.32.28A 2016 op-ed from the Huff Post recently re-emerged after it was retweeted by a renowned sociologist at Rice University, Dr. Craig Considine, who has a robust 53,000+ Twitter followers. The piece — written by Ian Mevorach, who identifies himself as a theologian, spiritual leader, and activist — argues that “peacemaking Christians” should accept Muhammad as the “Spirit of Truth” whom Jesus speaks of in John 14-16, effectively transforming Muhammad from historical figure to ultimate prophet in Christian theology. He argues this to be a solution to Christian Islamophobia: “Changing our view of Muhammad—so that we recognize him as a true prophet rather than discredit him as a false prophet—would effectively inoculate Christians against Islamophobia and would help to establish a new paradigm of cooperative Christian-Muslim relations.”

Mevorach rightly notes that some of the most revered Christian theologians in the history of the Church, including John of Damascus, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Nicholas of Cusa, and Martin Luther, would find Mevorach’s conclusions deeply troubling. Yet, he feels that his argument will “transform the way Christians and Muslims see and relate to each other.”

We co-direct an organization, Neighborly Faith, that equips evangelical Christians to be good neighbors to people of other faiths—especially Muslims. Over the last four years, we have built an expansive network of everyday evangelicals and their leaders across many churches, colleges and vocations with which we promote Christian friendship with Muslims. Putting the theological cogency of Mevorach’s argument aside, we can say with assurance that his argument would not “make peace between our communities” as he proposes. In fact, we believe it does the very opposite.

Mevorach injects urgency into his argument by noting that “the majority of Christians still maintain a fundamentally Islamophobic position on Muhammad,” and that “our planet simply cannot afford another century of misunderstanding and violence between these two communities.” Yet, the issue with his argument is that he correlates Christian opinions about Muhammed with their feelings about Muslims.

If we have learned anything during years of promoting real, on-the-ground engagement between Christians and Muslims it is that, (1) theological disagreement is not what causes conflict, and (2) theological agreement is not a viable means for reconciliation.

His arguments demand that Christians overturn centuries of belief, which will not be remotely compelling to the Christians he describes. Rather, an argument like this only makes Christian-Muslim friendship more out of reach for most Christians, who are not willing to sacrifice core tenets of their faith.

We have unfortunately seen this habit among many progressive thinkers in North America and Europe who, from the best of intentions, wish to be bridgebuilders and peacemakers. Mevorach and others like him contrive expedient solutions to “the problem of belief,” but never take into consideration whether the people who presumably need to change would find their arguments compelling. Unfortunately this is the case for Mevorach’s essay: His solution is laughably idealistic.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ISLAMIC MONTHLY