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

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Muslim, Christian leaders share story of interfaith friendship

At the back of a banquet hall in New Hope Presbyterian Church beneath an illuminated stained-glass window, Dr. Bashar A. Shala brought his hands together in prayer, looked to the ceiling, spoke quietly and then knelt, bringing his head fully to the floor.

Shala recited in Arabic a verse from the Quran and then translated to a room of bowed heads. Pastor Steven Stone followed him with a Christian prayer, asking God to bless those gathered.

Shala, president of the Memphis Islamic Center in Tennesseee, and Stone, senior pastor of the Christian Heartstrong Church, also of Memphis, led the Castle Rock churchgoers in prayer during a lunchtime gathering following New Hope’s usual Oct. 14 service, then took questions from congregation members.

Both men have been awarded the Freedom of Worship Award from the Roosevelt Institute, the nonprofit partner of America’s first presidential library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, and have been featured in national media outlets. Their mission, they said, is to encourage people throughout the U.S. to see past cultural and religious differences, to foster more curiosity between groups and diminish fear within people hesitant to build such relationships.

It’s a lesson they’ve preached for years through their own story of friendship.

Becoming, and loving, thy neighbor

Stone, Shala and their respective organizations built a national platform starting roughly nine years ago, as their relationship was first forming.

It began when Stone read a local media report about a group of Muslims who had purchased land to build an Islamic center across the street from his church, which he founded and has pastored for nearly 20 years.

Stone’s first reaction was rooted in fear and ignorance, he said. He didn’t know a single Muslim. He didn’t know if he should be concerned about another religious group so close by. So, he prayed.

Shala was among a committee and board searching for land to build a home for the Muslim community in Memphis — a place where they could worship and socialize.

“It was a post-9/11 world,” Shala said. “There were some struggles.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM HIGHLAND RANCH HERALD 

CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS TO FORM ‘RINGS OF PEACE’ AROUND TORONTO-AREA SHULS

Rings-640x480Members of Toronto’s Muslim and Christian communities will be forming “rings of peace” around Toronto-area shuls this Shabbat, in a show of solidarity with the local Jewish community, in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The gesture echoes the rings of peace formed around mosques in February 2017, following the shooting in Quebec City.

Rings of peace are formed by people holding hands in a circle around a place of worship. The idea was first brought to Toronto last year by Rabbi Yael Splansky of Holy Blossom Temple, who remembered seeing a photograph of Muslim people forming a ring of peace around a synagogue in Oslo that had been threatened. She contacted other Jewish leaders and suggested doing the same in Toronto.

Seven rings of peace were eventually formed by Jewish people and others who wanted to show their solidarity with the Muslim community. Rabbi Splansky was later asked to address the congregation at the Imdadul Islamic Centre. She was the first woman and the first Jew to be invited into the sanctuary where the men pray.

“I told them they were right to come to Canada and to know they would be protected and would have freedom of religion here,” said Rabbi Splansky. “That was a very meaningful day. We never forgot it and they never forgot it.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CANDIAN JEWISH NEWS 

CONSIDERING INTERFAITH RELATIONS BETWEEN JEWS, CHRISTIANS, AND MUSLIMS: AN INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK J. RYAN, S.J.

WHAT BINDS JEWS, CHRISTIANS, AND MUSLIMS TOGETHER IN A FAMILY OF FAITH AND FRIENDSHIP?

Rev. Patrick J. Ryan, S.J. considers this question in his wonderful new book, Amen: Jews, Fr_Patrick_Ryan_SMChristians, and Muslims Keep Faith with God (The Catholic University of America Press, October 2018).  Ryan takes a close theological look at Jews, Christians, and Muslims through their eyes, texts, and experiences.  He also shares his reflections on his own experience as a Christian in the company of Jewish and Muslim friends. Ryan writes that “we Muslims and Christians and Jews may live together more fruitfully and more peacefully if we recognize the polyvalence of Abraham, the polyvalence of great concepts like faith and revelation, community, and the path of righteousness.” Considering Interfaith Relations Between Jews, Christians, and Muslims: A

Ordained a Jesuit priest in 1968, Ryan is a graduate of Fordham University and Harvard University, where he studied with noted scholars Wilfred Cantwell Smith and Annemarie Schimmel. For nearly three decades, Ryan worked as an educator in West Africa, mostly in Nigeria and Ghana.  He is the author of Imale: Yoruba Participation in the Muslim Tradition: A Study of Clerical Piety (Scholars Press, 1978); The Coming of Our God: Scriptural Reflections for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Paulist, 1999), and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Scriptural Reflections for Lent (Paulist, 2004).

Joseph Richard Preville: How meaningful is the word “Amen” for Jews, Christians, and Muslims?

Rev. Patrick J. Ryan: Jews, Christians, and Muslims all end prayers with the word “Amen,” even if there are small differences in pronunciation. To say “Amen” is to pledge one’s fidelity to God who keeps faith with us. Each of the first four sections of the Book of Psalms ends with an “Amen,” a pledge to God by the faithful children of Israel. Jesus prayed that way, but he also used “Amen” at the beginning of many of his most important sayings; in John’s Gospel that opening “Amen” is doubled. Paul notes that Jesus is our “Amen” to God: “It is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God” (2 Cor 1:20). The most common prayer in the Islamic tradition, the first sura of the Qur’an, ends with an “Amin” in prayer that is not part of the Quranic text.  In saying “Amen” we Jews, Christians, and Muslims entrust ourselves to God, put our faith in God’s word spoken to us, keep faith with the God who first keeps faith with us.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WORLD RELIGION NEWS 

 

Declining Exposure to Religious Diversity

the-10-foreign-countries-that-send-the-most-students-to-american-collegesStudents interact less with peers of different faiths and traditions once they enter college, a new study finds.

Colleges and universities across the U.S., 122 of them, provided data to the Interfaith Youth Core around the 2015-16 academic year about their students’ religious habits and beliefs for the nonprofit’s Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS). The data were provided at two different points to show change — researchers will follow a national cohort of students until they are rising seniors in spring 2019 to show how the college experience can shape students’ religious and world views.

Per the report, 7,194 college students responded to the survey.

“We know that students enter college with a commitment to religious pluralism,” Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core (and an Inside Higher Ed contributor), said in a statement. “The IDEALS survey shows that a vast majority report respect for people of other religious or nonreligious perspectives. However, it is important that colleges and universities continue to provide opportunities for these ideas to expand and grow.”

Patel said otherwise, student may retreat into their own social groups, which is particularly troubling in “a moment of heightened division” in the country.

About 91 percent of the students indicated in the survey that they respect people who have religious perspectives different from their own — 85 percent said they admire people of other faiths and beliefs.

Despite this, students aren’t discussing or engaging with religion as much after entering college, the survey found.

Nearly half of students — 43 percent — said they had talked about religious or spiritual topics with their teachers before college, but that number dropped by 18 percentage points in their first year on campus.

In high school, 37 percent of students said, they attended a religious service involving views other than their own, but that decreased to 20 percent in college.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INSIDE HIGHER ED

Picnic at tri-faith campus in Omaha, Nebraska brings together Christians, Jews, Muslims

5b70e09f4c33a.image (1)People of all ages, shapes and sizes arrived at the Tri-Faith Picnic at Omaha’s multifaith campus Sunday afternoon carrying bowls of salads and trays of desserts, just as they would for any other picnic in any other place.

They gathered under giant tents and shared their potluck offerings alongside the usual picnic standards, with a twist — the hamburgers were halal, the hot dogs kosher.

And as they dined, the Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered there furthered the aims of the Tri-Faith Initiative that has brought them together: fostering mutual understanding, respect and friendship. More than 500 attended, according to an organizer’s estimate.

“I think it binds people here,” said Nizam Qassem, a member of the mosque that the American Muslim Institute opened on the campus in 2017. “Wherever there are people and food, there is fun.”

Hosting this year’s event was Temple Israel, which completed its synagogue on the former golf course south of 132nd and Pacific Streets in 2013. Across a creek bed is the future Countryside Community Church, scheduled for completion by Easter. A large mound of dirt marks the site of a fourth future building, a tri-faith center that is to be completed by spring 2020. Earthwork also is under way for a circular bridge that will link the structures.

Events such as the picnic, like the campus itself, offer people opportunities to mingle and learn about one another.

FULL ARTICLE FROM OMAHA.COM

A Look at Muslim-Christian Relations in Ethiopia

1515208296516The Muslim-Christian relationship in Ethiopia has a mixed historical background. Ethiopia is located on a religious fault line, although the relationship between the two religions has been reasonably cordial in recent decades. Christian rule has prevailed in the Ethiopian highlands since the early 4th century. Early in the 7th century a group of Arab followers of Islam in danger of persecution by local authorities in Arabia took refuge in the Axumite Kingdom of the Ethiopian highlands.

As a result of this generosity, the Prophet Mohammed concluded that Ethiopia should not be targeted for jihad. Not all Muslims took this message seriously and subsequent contact was less cordial. In the late 15th century, Islamic raids from the Somali port of Zeila plagued the Ethiopian highlands. In the first half of the 16th century, the Islamic threat became more serious when Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al Ghazi rallied a diverse group of Muslims in a jihad to end Christian power in the highlands. The Ethiopians finally defeated this threat by the middle of the 16th century.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INTERNATIONAL POLICY DIGEST