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 

Vicar And Imam Star In Amazon Christmas Ad

The video shows a real vicar – Rev Gary Bradley from Parish of Little Venice – with an imam played by Zubeir Hassam, the principal of the Muslim School Oadby in Leicester. The pair enjoy a drink together before ordering each other knee pads using Amazon’s service.

Bradley told Christian Today the ad had “a very important message, particularly at this time of year”. He said in his parish “we have people of all faiths sharing the area and it is important that we understand and relate to each other”.

He added: “For the last 15 years people of different faiths have come together, with their faith leaders, to celebrate united worship before Christmas, worship which focuses on peace and the need to strive for unity.”

he two plan to meet regularly after filming together. Bradley said it was a particular pleasure “to consolidate the pastoral and theological concerns which bind us together”.

Simon Morris, director of advertising at Amazon, said it was an “authentic and charming story” adding he had consulted the Church of England, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Christian Muslim Forum before filming.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN TODAY 

Christian Muslim Dialogue

This is a more scholarly article than usually appears here, laying out the nature of a phenomenon which is often highlighted in this page – Christian-Muslim dialogue.  This gives the history and nature of that dialogue stressing its critical importance as a means of of countering the impact of dis and mis-information on neighborly relations between people of different faiths. 

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Intentional, structured encounters between Muslims and Christians are generally termed “Muslim-Christian dialogue.” Interfaith dialogue is a conversation in which two or more parties seek to express their views accurately and to listen respectfully to their counterparts. Since the second half of the twentieth century, organized dialogue meetings have proliferated at the local, regional, and international levels. The meetings vary significantly in their organization, focus, and venue, as well as in the composition of participants.

Several motives have propelled the contemporary dialogue movement. These include desires to foster understanding, to stimulate communication, to correct stereotypes, to work on specific problems of mutual concern, to explore similarities and differences, and to facilitate means of witness and cooperation. The pragmatic need for better understanding and cooperation among adherents in the world’s two largest communities of faith—Christianity and Islam—is particularly acute. Together Christians and Muslims comprise almost half the world’s population, so the way in which they relate is bound to have profound consequences for both communities and for the world.

The dynamics of interfaiThencounter between Muslims and Hindus, Muslims and Jews, and Muslims and Christians differ. Their historic relationships as well as their major theological, social, and political concerns vary markedly. Contemporary initiatives in Muslim-Christian dialogue can be understood best in the larger context which can be established by a brief overview of dominant themes in Muslim-Christian encounter.

Historical Background.

Muslim-Christian dialogue dates back to the rise of Islam in the seventh century. Rooted as both traditions are in the monotheism of the patriarch Abraham, Muslims and Christians share a common heritage. For more than fourteen centuries these communities of faith have been linked by their theological understandings and by geographical proximity. The history of Muslim-Christian interaction includes periods of great tension, hostility, and open war as well as times of uneasy toleration, peaceful coexistence, and cooperation.

Islamic self-understanding incorporates an awareness of and direct link with the biblical tradition. Muḥammad, his companions, and subsequent generations of Muslims have been guided by the Qurʿān, which they have understood as a continuation and completion of God’s revelations to humankind. The Qurʿān speaks of many prophets (anbiyāʿ, singular nabī) and messengers (rusul, sg. rasūl) who functioned as agents of God’s revelation. Particular emphasis is laid on the revelations through Moses (the Torah) and Jesus (the Gospel) and their respective communities of faith or “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitāb). See PEOPLE OF THE BOOK.

The Qurʿān includes positive affirmations for the People of the Book, including the promise that Jews and Christians who have faith, trust in God and the Last Day, and do what is righteous “shall have their reward” (2:62 and 5:69). The different religious communities are explained as a part of God’s plan; if God had so willed, the Qurʿān asserts, humankind would be one community. Diversity among the communities provides a test for people of faith: “Compete with one another in good works. To God you shall all return and He will tell you (the truth) about that which you have been disputing” (5:48).

The Qurʿān states that “there shall be no compulsion in religious matters” (2:256). Peaceful coexistence is affirmed (106:1–6). At the same time, the People of the Book are urged to “come to a common word” on the understanding of the unity of God (tawhīd) and proper worship (e.g.,3:64, 4:171, 5:82, and 29:46). Christians, in particular, are chided for having distorted the revelation of God. Traditional Christian doctrines of the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity are depicted as compromising the unity and transcendence of God (e.g., 5:72–75, 5:117, and 112:3). There are also verses urging Muslims to fight, under certain circumstances, those who have been given a book but “practice not the religion of truth” (9:29).

While the Qurʿān provides a framework for Muslims’ understanding of Christians and Christianity, particular political, economic, and social considerations have shaped the encounter in each setting. Circumstances and relationships between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, for example, cannot be equated casually with those in Lebanon over the same centuries. Relationships in Egypt, a religious and intellectual center of the Islamic world, were subject to distinctive dynamics not found elsewhere. Cairo, known as the “city of a thousand minarets,” is home to al-Azhar, the mosque and university, which has been a bastion of Sunnī orthodoxy through much of Islamic history. The Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt comprise the largest Christian community in the Arabic speaking world. As an Oriental Orthodox church, the Copts have been completely independent of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern (Greek, Russian, and Serbian) Orthodox churches since the middle of the fifth century.

By contrast, the mountains of Lebanon provided safe haven for a wide range of religious groups—numerous Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians, various Sunnī and Shīʿī Muslims, and the Druze—for more than a thousand years. As minority communities threatened by Christian crusaders or Muslim conquerors or more recent colonial powers, inhabitants of Lebanon have coexisted, cooperated and clashed, in many ways. An examination of Muslim-Christian relations in Spain or the former Yugoslavia or contemporary Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, further illustrates the need for careful, contextual analysis.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE OXFORD ISLAMIC STUDIES