An important resource for helping congregations or individuals find their way to and through positive inter-religious engagement.
From the Lutheran World Federation:
WASHINGTON, 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.
ANTHONY SOUFFLÉ • STAR TRIBUNE
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.
In 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!”
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:
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.
INDAU, 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.
General 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.
Muslim and Christian groups in Manila held a charity dinner on June 8 to promote peace and fight what they described as anti-Islamic sentiments.
The event included a discussion on the security situation in the southern Philippines and “prejudices against Islam” especially in the Mindanao region.
Amirah Lidasan, secretary-general of the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance, said the activity was designed to foster unity and encourage inter-faith dialogue.
“We want to show that despite our differences, Muslims and Christians have a lot of things to share because we are all people of faith,” said Lidasan.
She said the rise of “religious extremism among misguided Muslims” and the “projection in media that Muslims are terrorists” fuels mistrust and fear of them.
Catholic Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, chairman of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum said what fuels this fear and mistrust is public ignorance about Islam.
“As followers of Christ, we have to open our hearts and minds to understand other cultures and religions,” the prelate said.
“Dialogue leads to understanding and understanding leads to acceptance that would eventually result in peace,” he added.
Father Christopher Ablon of the Philippine Independent Church said intolerance of other faiths could be avoided “if we are capable of listening to our neighbors.”
“What is lacking is our sense of hearing. We do not listen to them and we perceive their grievances as superfluous,” he said.
Ayaz Virji had a well-paying position at a Pennsylvania hospital when he decided to uproot his family in 2013 and move to Dawson, Minn., a town with about 1,500 residents.
Virji’s Muslim faith and values inspired him to look for a job that was more than lucrative. In Dawson, he said, he felt he could spend time getting to know his patients in an underserved rural community.
Then came the 2016 election.
Most Dawson residents voted for President Trump. And many of Virji’s patients — stirred by Trump’s insistence that “Islam hates us,” his suggestion of a Muslim registry and his promise of a Muslim ban — began to question his family’s presence. As far as anybody knew, they were the first Muslim family to live in Dawson.
That’s when Virji discovered another vocation: speaking to Christian audiences about his faith to dispel myths about Islam. The Rev. Mandy France — then an intern at a local Lutheran church — first invited Virji to give a talk titled “Love Thy Neighbor” in a school auditorium.
“When we did our first talk, people protested,” Virji said. “They said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to speak publicly. And I’m like, you guys know me. I’m the doctor. I treat you guys.”
Since then, he said, he’s given more than 25 lectures. He and France even addressed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s national celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.
Now Virji has turned his talk into a book titled “Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America.”
“If it starts conversations — that’s all that it needs to do — then we’re going to be in a much better place,” he said.
Virji spoke to Religion News Service about his experience as a Muslim in rural America and what Christians and Muslims have in common.
Pope 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.
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.”