Interfaith dialogue can become a path to enlightenment, wonder and healing

“From the cowardice that dare not face new truth,

From the laziness that is contented with half truth,

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,

Good Lord deliver me.”

—a Kenyan prayer, from “The Catholic Prayer Book”

This past weekend, I spoke via Zoom to a Lexington group called the Christian-Muslim Dialogue, which, as its name implies, is made up of Christians and Muslims who meet regularly to discuss religion and related matters.

I made a presentation to the group, and that was followed by discussion among the members and me.

I found the experience inspiring, and it reminded me why it’s important for people walking different paths to stay in touch with each other. Living in a fairly homogeneous corner of Kentucky, I don’t get to have interfaith conversations often.

In my presentation, I offered four observations about interfaith (and also interdenominational) dialogues that I think make them important.

First, if we hope to grow spiritually, it’s helpful to be able to hold more than one thought in our head at the same time. Getting to know people from other belief systems—whether we’re Muslims meeting Christians, or evangelical Protestants meeting Roman Catholics, or Mormons meeting Buddhists—introduces us to ideas, personal histories and theological traditions we might not have encountered before.

FULL ARTICLE FROM KENTUCKY.COM

Pope Francis and Islam: three cornerstones of a magisterium

A common thread links Pope Francis’ keynote speeches given in Baku, Cairo and Ur, which indicate the need for an authentic religiosity to worship God and love our brothers and sisters, and a concrete commitment to justice and peace.

Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The closed-door meeting was expected to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. (AP Photo/Vatican Media)

By Andrea Tornielli

There is a common thread linking three important interventions of Pope Francis regarding interreligious dialogue, and Islam in particular.

It is a magisterium that indicates a road map with three fundamental points of reference: the role of religion in our societies, the criterion of authentic religiosity, and the concrete way to walk as brothers and sisters to build peace. We find them in the speeches that the Pope gave in Azerbaijan in 2016; in Egypt in 2017; and now during his historic trip to Iraq, in the unforgettable meeting in Ur of the Chaldeans, the city of Abraham.

The interlocutors of the first speech were the Azerbaijani Shiites, but also the other religious communities of the country. The second speech was mainly addressed to the Egyptian Sunni Muslims. Finally, the third was addressed to a wider interreligious audience made of a Muslim majority, yet including not only Christians but also representatives of the ancient Mesopotamian religions.

What Pope Francis is proposing and implementing is not an approach that forgets differences and identities in order to equalize all. Instead, it is a call to be faithful to one’s own religious identity in order to reject any instrumentalization of religion to foment hatred, division, terrorism, discrimination, and at the same time, to witness in increasingly secularized societies that we need God.

In Baku, before the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus and representatives of other religious communities in the country, Pope Francis recalled the “great task” of religions: that of “accompanying men and women looking for the meaning of life, helping them to understand that the limited capacities of the human being and the goods of this world must never become absolutes.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM VATICAN NEWS

Amid COVID-19, we stand to benefit from interfaith dialogue

Genrietta ChurbanovaDecember 1, 2020 | 6:52pm EST

Spontaneous interactions are rare during the COVID-19 era. Our conversations, except for those that occur with the people we live with, are decidedly deliberate. College publications ranging from The Harvard Gazette to The Daily Princetonian have highlighted college students’ loss of impromptu conversations and casual community during the pandemic.

The loss of one particular type of on-campus exchanges, however, deserves special attention: interfaith interactions.

Although Princeton is a secular institution, and many Princeton students do not identify as people of faith, the University’s campus is conducive to interfaith interactions. Princeton students come from a wide variety of faiths, including Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, among many others. Official data about Princeton students’ religious affiliations is not readily available, but the recent frosh survey from the ‘Prince’ provides a glimpse into the Class of 2024’s religious composition. Of the 713 first-years who disclosed their religious affiliation on the survey, 38.3 percent identified as Christian, 8 percent as Jewish, and 4.9 percent as Hindu. For comparison, in the United States at large, 70.6 percent of individuals identify as Christian and 5.9 percent as holding a non-Christian faith. For students hailing from religiously homogeneous communities, their first meaningful interfaith interactions may well occur at Princeton.

Unfortunately, informal interfaith settings are difficult to recreate online. Take the Center for Jewish Life’s Shabbat dinners, which Princeton’s Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Julie Roth, called “one of the high points of the week at the Center for Jewish Life.” According to Rabbi Roth, last academic year, from September to March, one thousand students attended a Shabbat dinner. Approximately five hundred of Princeton’s undergraduates are Jewish. These dinners, which were fruitful sites of interfaith dialogue, have been suspended during the pandemic, as have many other interfaith events. As Rabbi Roth noted, “we can’t really replicate that Shabbat dinner experience online.” She further explained that “the Princeton-affiliated chaplains still meet on a monthly basis, but we haven’t had as much interfaith programming in this Zoom environment.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DAILY PRINCETONIAN

13th-century encounter points way to greater Christian-Muslim understanding

st fracisWASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi took a risk when he crossed the battlefield between Crusader and Muslim forces near Damietta, Egypt, desiring to meet Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil and preach his faith in Jesus Christ.

At the time – 1219 – Christian forces were in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, which was eventually repelled by the sultan’s superior army near the town that was a center of trade and commerce on the Nile River where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

The future saint readily put his life on the line so he could witness his faith to the famed Muslim sultan, and in doing so both men came away with a new respect for the faith of the other, Franciscan Father Michael Calabria told a conference on that encounter with “the other” Nov. 7 at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

A rabbi, a pastor and an imam walk into a … dialogue about shared values

ANTHONY SOUFFLÉ • STAR TRIBUNE

Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie and Imam Jamal Rahman, who call themselves the Interfaith Amigos, spoke recently at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.

When the Rev. Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Imam Jamal Rahman walk into a room, they’re ready for the joke. But the “Interfaith Amigos,” who spoke Nov. 2 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, are serious about their mission to reject what Rahman calls “otherization.” Their path is of oneness, shining a light not on what separates Christianity, Judaism and Islam, but on core teachings that unify them. The three men bonded in Seattle in the devastating days after 9/11, meeting weekly for 18 years and presenting their interfaith message across the United States, as well as Japan and the Middle East. Co-authors of three books, they share more about their outreach and abiding friendship below.

Q: First, an introduction: Pastor Mackenzie, of Minneapolis, is retired as minister and head of staff at Seattle’s University Congregational United Church of Christ. Rabbi Falcon is a psychologist with a private spiritual practice in Seattle. Imam Rahman is co-founder and Muslim Sufi Minister at Interfaith Community Sanctuary in Seattle. So, what brought you together?

Falcon: Imam Jamal and I met when we were invited to participate on a board laying the groundwork for a university of spirituality in Seattle. When the twin towers fell and our media focused on the violent nature of Islam, I immediately called Imam Jamal and invited him to join me for the Shabbat worship that Friday evening. I believed people had to know about the true and peaceful face of Islam. Halfway through the year, we brought in Pastor Don, who was clearly our Christian brother.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

Extremists Won’t Hinder Interfaith Dialogue

shutterstock_560746489-1In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Leonard Swidler, professor of Catholic thought and interreligious dialogue at Temple University, Philadelphia.

Interfaith dialogue is a necessity in our age. In a world suffering from armed conflicts, diplomatic standoffs and trade wars, cooperative and constructive interaction between people of different religious traditions is fundamental to solidifying peace and stability, and stemming racism, xenophobia, radicalization, violent extremism and terrorism.

Interreligious dialogue is about encounters — it drives respect, mutual understanding and appreciation for common values. Interfaith dialogue helps debunk the myths and eradicate the stereotypes about religion that politicians abuse to further their (often populist) agendas.

The 1893 Parliament of World Religions at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, is often referred to as the birth of the modern interfaith movement, even though interfaith dialogue has ancient roots. There have been notable examples of collaboration between the devotees of different religions in the far past. In the 16th century, the emperor Akbar the Great encouraged tolerance in Mughal India where people of various faith backgrounds, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity, lived.

It’s also narrated in the Bible that Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and ordered a temple to be built in Jerusalem upon a decree from God in the first year of his reign. It is for this reason that Cyrus is talked of favorably in the Bible and loved by the Jews.

While such plagues as Islamophobia and anti-Semitism continue to spread intolerance and mar relations between Muslims, Jews and Christians, faith leaders have a crucial responsibility to preach engagement, interaction and peaceful dialogue among their followers to prevent these social gaps from widening further.

Leonard Swidler is professor of Catholic thought and interreligious dialogue at Temple University, Philadelphia. He is the co-founder and director of Global Dialogue Institute and is a major figure in the scholarly study of interfaith dialogue. In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Swidler about interreligious dialogue and the major obstacles blocking successful cooperation between the leaders and adherents of the world’s many faiths.

The text has been lightly edited for clarity.

Kourosh Ziabari: What are the prerequisites of successful interfaith dialogue? What should be done before religious leaders sit together to discuss their differences and shared values?

Leonard Swidler: The essence of interreligious dialogue is to learn from the dialogue partner so we can grow — and a growth of knowledge, no matter how slight, is a growth in me, and hence a change in me. My dialogue partner is not me, and so necessarily sees reality from his or her family, gender, wealth and religious perspective, which will be the same or similar to mine, and necessarily different from mine. That combination of the livening person is what I want to learn about in dialogue so I can live more fully on the basis of the always expanding, deepening understanding of reality. In brief, as in a mantra I composed, “Nobody knows everything about anything — therefore, dialogue!”

FULL ARTICLE FROM FAIROBSERVER.COM

Three Common Questions All Muslims Ask That Christians Must Be Able to Answer

Engaging with Muslims is not something many Christians are willing to do when it comes to evangelizing and having deeper conversations on theology.

Much of that hesitancy comes from the fact that we just aren’t familiar with the approach the Muslim will take when discussing Christianity. Christian apologist, speaker, and author Andy Bannister hopes to change that.

He points Christians to a few of the more common questions Muslims ask in order to prepare them for engaging Muslims in future interfaith discourse.

At a recent event with Reboot Ministries, Bannister, who frequently preaches to and spend time with the Muslim community in the U.K., mentioned the three most commonly asked questions he receives:

  1. “Hasn’t the Bible been corrupted and changed?”
  2. “Isn’t Muhammad mentioned in the Bible?”
  3. “Why do Christians worship Jesus?”

The apologist proceeded to answer these questions, addressing the audience filled with teenagers.

Bannister pointed out that the question “Hasn’t the Bible been corrupted and changed?” is often asked because Islam teaches that the Bible has been corrupted over time.

“The reason they raise this question in the first place is because when Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was preaching between 610 and 632 AD, what became Islam and what became the Quran, he claimed that his message, his new Quran, was identical to the Bible,” he shared.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FAITHWIRE

International interfaith gathering: ‘We must work together or we will all fail’

Ring for PeaceINDAU, Germany (RNS) — The 10th Religions for Peace World Assembly launched Tuesday (Aug. 20) with calls for religious groups to take decisive action on the main geopolitical issues of the day, and ending with an unusual “statement of commitment” aimed at fostering multireligious cooperation.

Almost every religious leader who spoke at the opening ceremony called  communities of faith to look beyond their own local or church-related issues.

“Nothing can be accomplished if we work separately,” said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

Kosho Niwano, president-designate of the Japanese Buddhist movement Rissho Kosei-kai, praised interfaith cooperation of the past and said it should continue in the future.

“We have seen half a century of progress so far and for that to continue the only way is for us to work together.”

Cardinal John Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, agreed.

“The future depends entirely on how we address our shared welfare,” he told the more 1,000 attendees at the gathering.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

General Synod (Canadian Anglican) passes motion to sign, endorse Christian-Muslim dialogue

DSC_1579-696x463General Synod voted July 15 to sign on to “A Common Word Between Us and You” and endorse it as a model for Christian-Muslim dialogue.

“A Common Word” is a letter written in 2007 at the initiative of 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and political figures, according to the Rev. Scott Sharman, animator for ecumenical and interfaith relations, who gave a presentation to General Synod before the motion.

More than 400 Muslim leaders from around the world have since signed on to the letter, which is addressed to Christian leaders and is “an invitation to Christians to dialogue.” The title comes from a line from the Qur’an, Sharman said: “O People of the Book, come to a common word between us and you.”

The letter extends “an invitation to look at two foundational principles present within both of our respective scriptures: the call to love God above all things, and the call that follows from that, to love our neighbours. Love of God and love of neighbour is the starting ground.”

The resolution presented to General Synod involved two steps: becoming, as a church, signatory to the letter, and endorsing it to “use as a model…a kind of Christian-Muslim dialogue starter kit,” Sharman said.

The letter presents “a new kind of relationship between Muslims and Christians than has been possible for so much of our history,” according to Sharman. “It does not look for agreement, but it seeks to find common ground that could make for peace.” Since 2008, the letter has received 70 responses and nearly 200 sign-on endorsements by churches and Christian leaders.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ANGLICAN JOURNAL (CANADA)