Muslim lands staking out interfaith coexistence

The notion of the Arab and Muslim world as a cauldron of perpetual religious strife – and thus a place to avoid – has been a difficult rap to beat. Yet many countries keep defying the myth. The latest may be Sudan. On Sept. 3, its prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, signed an agreement to enshrine the principle of “separation of religion and state” in the constitution. In addition, political parties would not be established on a religious basis.

Sudan joins Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, and a few other Muslim-majority countries that are trying to curb their sectarian divisions or the strict imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, on civic and private life. Notions of political equality are rising up, led mostly by youthful protesters who rely on the Arabic term for citizens: muwatinun.

Sudan’s move toward secular governance comes out of pro-democracy protests that felled a dictator, Omar al-Bashir, in April 2019. His three-decade legacy of Islam as the de facto state religion is slowly being overturned in favor of a unifying “civilian state.” An interim constitution makes no mention of sharia. The transitional government has abolished the apostasy laws as well as corporal punishment or flogging of non-Muslims. It allows non-Muslims to drink alcohol. It has banned female genital mutilation, a practice tied to certain religious views of women.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

As Africa’s COVID-19 cases rise, faith is put to the test

By RODNEY MUHUMUZA Associated Press SEPTEMBER 5, 2020 — 8:30AMTEXT SIZEEMAILPRINTMORE

KAMPALA, Uganda — The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the patience of some religious leaders across Africa who worry they will lose followers, and funding, as restrictions on gatherings continue. Some evangelical Christian leaders in Uganda have launched a campaign with the now-universal phrase of protest: “I can’t breathe.”

Their members vow to occasionally put on the burlap costumes they say resemble the sackcloth worn by biblical prophets.

“Uganda is a God-fearing nation but, unfortunately, due to the lockdown, the citizens of our great country cannot gather to seek God’s intervention,” Betty Ochan, leader of the opposition in Uganda’s national assembly, recently wrote in the local Daily Monitor newspaper. “The devil is taking dominance. If people do not worship God together, they are spiritually derailed.”

From Nigeria to Zimbabwe, people are speaking out — or sneaking out to worship — as they argue that limits on religion could lead to a crisis of faith.

“I am appalled that some people have the audacity to tell us how many hours we can spend in church,” said Chris Oyakhilome, president of the Lagos-based megachurch known as Christ Embassy. “How dare you. What in the world do you think you are?”

Church services in Nigeria resumed last month but are limited to an hour, a severe test for some in a country where worship can spill from a Sunday morning into the afternoon.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE STAR TRIBUNE

The Macdonald Center at Hartford Seminary

20160627: Hartford Seminary photography (Shana Sureck Photography)

Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations

The Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations is the country’s oldest center for such study, opening in 1973.

The Macdonald Center challenges scholars, students, the media, and the general public to move beyond stereotypes and develop an accurate awareness and appreciation of Islamic religion, law and culture.

It is committed to the premise that through intensive study and academically guided dialogue, mutual respect and cooperation between Muslims and Christians can and must develop.

The Macdonald Center is an academic unit within Hartford Seminary dedicated to scholarly research, teaching, and publication. It is responsible for the focus area of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations in the Master of Arts in Religious Studies program, a Graduate Certificate in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, the Islamic Chaplaincy Program, the Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, and global study tours.

Under the Seminary’s aegis, the Center edits the scholarly journal, The Muslim World, which is published quarterly and reaches subscribers in 65 countries.

WEBSITE FOR CENTER HERE

Racial Justice and Interfaith Cooperation

Another opportunity for an interfaith coalition to come together and move forward together for a just world.

Eboo Patel July 14, 2020

Recently, my Muslim family joined a Hindu family and a Jewish family at a protest for racial equity near our home on the North Side of Chicago. A couple of days ago, my older son and I went to an event on the near South Side with fellow Muslims. As we talked about the verses of the Qur’an and the values of Islam that inspired our involvement, I made sure to point out the people wearing crosses around their necks, the clergy with collars or kippahs, the religious scripture prominently displayed on several signs. On the way back, I talked about how Sikhs were setting up makeshift kitchens to feed protesters, a sacred practice called langar. 

I want my kids to know from an early age that racial equity is an interfaith movement. It is imperative across religious traditions, and therefore a site where people from different faiths meet, get inspired by one another, deepen their own convictions and advance a cause that we view as a sacred command. 

I was considerably older than my children are now when I realized the powerful relationship between racial equity and interfaith cooperation. In fact, I remember the exact moment. It was early December of 1999 and I was at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa. I had gone largely for personal reasons, namely because my own spiritual journey had been deeply influenced by multiple religious traditions. But then Nelson Mandela spoke, and what he said changed everything. 

He began by pointing out into the cape, towards Robben Island, where he spent over 25 years in prison and uttered these words: ”I would still be there if it were not for the Christians, the Jews, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Baha’is, the Quakers, those from indigenous African religions and those of no religion at all, working together in the struggle against apartheid.”

Marcel Proust famously said that the true journey of discovery was not in seeing new landscapes but in developing new eyes. It felt like Mandela had given me new eyes. In South Africa, a movement of racial equity had been a site for interfaith cooperation. I had taken a range of courses on race in college, but my explorations into faith had been largely private, and mostly about my own personal spirituality. The idea that racial equality could be advanced through interfaith cooperation was brand-new and totally inspiring.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INSIDE HIGHER ED

Abu Dhabi Marks Interfaith Effort a Year after Pope’s Visit

Youannis Lahzi Gaid, Mohamed Hussein El-Mahrassawy, Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel SalamABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Interfaith leaders gathered on Monday in Abu Dhabi to mark one year since Pope Francis’ historic trip to the Arabian Peninsula, a visit that saw leading Muslim clerics gather alongside the pope to promote co-existence.

The United Arab Emirates has worked to promote itself  over the past year as a beacon of religious tolerance, despite it’s hard limits on political speech. The majority of the country’s population are not Emirati Muslim citizens, but foreigners, millions of whom are Christian and Hindu.

Abu Dhabi hosted Monday’s meeting to showcase its continued efforts in promoting interfaith dialogue as it prepares to break ground this year on a compound that will house a mosque, church and synagogue side by side. The Abrahamic House of Fraternity project is due to be completed in 2022.

In the neighboring emirate of Dubai, an unmarked villa has already been turned  into a synagogue.

Expat worshippers pray in front of St. Mary's shrine at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Oud Metha, as Catholics  await a historic visit by Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai, UAE, Jan. 18, 2019.
FILE – Expat worshippers pray in front of St. Mary’s shrine at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oud Metha, in Dubai, UAE, Jan. 18, 2019.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf states, have been expanding their outreach to Christian groups, like evangelicals, and Jewish organizations. The effort coincides with a broader alignment of political interests and ties emerging between Gulf Arab states and Israel, which share a common foe in Iran.

A U.S. rabbi, a representative of the Catholic church and a trained sheikh from Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Islamic learning, attended Monday’s briefing where they discussed ongoing interfaith efforts.

Senior Rabbi at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, Bruce Lustig, insisted his participation on this visit was “apolitical.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM VOA NEWS 

What’s the Church’s relationship with Islam?

Muslim-1

Scholar: Church urges Catholics to engage in dialogue, cooperation with Muslims on peace and social justice issues

Lonsdale priest Father Nick VanDenBroeke apologized Jan. 29 after remarks he had made in a homily about Muslim immigration and Islam being “the greatest threat in the world” sparked national controversy. “My homily on immigration contained words that were hurtful to Muslims. I’m sorry for this,” said VanDenBroeke, pastor of Immaculate Conception, in a statement. “I realize now that my comments were not fully reflective of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Islam.” In a separate statement, Archbishop Bernard Hebda noted he had spoken with Father VanDenBroeke Jan. 29 and reiterated that the Catholic Church holds Muslims in esteem, quoting Popes Benedict XVI and Francis.

To further explore the relationship between the Catholic Church and Islam, The Catholic Spirit interviewed Rita George-Tvrtkovic´, an associate professor of theology at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. She specializes in medieval and contemporary Christian-Muslim relations. Her books include “A Christian Pilgrim in Medieval Iraq: Riccoldo da Montecroce’s Encounter with Islam” (Brepols, 2012); “Christians, Muslims and Mary: A History” (Paulist Press, 2018); and a co-edited volume, “Nicholas of Cusa and Islam: Polemic and Dialogue in the Late Middle Ages” (Brill, 2014). She earned her PhD at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and is the former associate director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

George-Tvrtkovic´ will be speaking at the University of St. Thomas Feb. 18 on “What Muslims Can Teach Catholics about Christianity.” The Catholic Spirit received her responses via email. They are edited for length and clarity.

Q. What does the Church teach in general about Islam?

A. The basis for all Catholic relationships with Muslims today is the Second Vatican Council document “Nostra Aetate” (“On the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions,” 1965). The document’s introduction says that “the Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in (other) religions” and encourages interreligious dialogue in general, but it also has two sections devoted to Judaism and Islam in particular.

Section 3 on Islam says that the Church regards Muslims “with esteem” and outlines areas of theological agreement (that God is creator, merciful, powerful, revealer; that Christians and Muslims believe in judgment and resurrection of the body; that they have similar practices such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving; and that they revere some of the same figures, such as Mary).

Areas of disagreement are also mentioned, the most prominent being how Christians and Muslims understand Jesus (Christians believe he is the Son of God, while Muslims consider him a prophet). Section 3 ends with a plea to engage in dialogue and cooperation with Muslims on peace and social justice issues. Since Christians and Muslims are the largest and second largest religions in the world, respectively, it seems especially urgent for our planet that Christians answer this call to collaborate for the common good.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Religions can be part of the solution for peace, not the problem, faith leaders say

primopiano_7362

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — When John Lennon wrote his hit song “Imagine,” eliminating religions and the divisions they entail was in his view a necessary condition for “living life in peace.” A meeting of religious representatives in Rome this week made the case for shifting that paradigm.

The Abrahamic Faiths Initiative group united 25 religious leaders representing millions of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faithful to discuss practical ways of promoting peace and fraternity at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome Jan. 14-16.

Attendees included Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies; Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome; and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem and all Palestine.

Many peacemaking efforts have failed because they didn’t consider the religious implications of their initiatives, according to Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, who also attended.

“I think the world is crying for this movement,” Brownback told Religion News Service in an interview on Thursday (Jan. 16), adding that even though the world might not want to talk about religion, the matter cannot be ignored.

“If we’d involved the religious actors 30 years ago in the Middle East peace negotiations and discussions, saying ‘OK, this is what we are thinking about, what do you think? Help us build the peace,’ we might be somewhere today,” he said.

“We still don’t have peace in the Middle East and the prospects don’t look particularly good.”

Brownback underlined that Christian, Muslim and Jewish faithful all source back to Abraham, creating a communality that can be built upon. “I just think the people who would divide have gotten out ahead of the people who would unite. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” he said.

In its final statement Thursday, the AFI members vowed “to seek to serve those of other faiths and no faith” and condemned those who “use the name of God, or the teachings of Abraham, to incite bloodshed or to oppress others.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

At Christmas, Christians and Muslims take time to talk about loving Jesus, and each other

GettyImages_460629094.6(RNS) — In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections, when we felt the country needed a message of unity and hope, the Rev. Andy Stoker, of First Methodist Church in Dallas, and I released a video on Facebook about our friendship called “An Imam, A Pastor, and A Dream,” in hopes that it would inspire others.

It spread rapidly online, with millions of views within the first few days. Those who commented saw in that five-minute clip the type of connection they wished to see in their own communities.

Little did we know just how far it would reach. Shortly after its release, I got a phone call informing me that ISIS had made a video about our video. In theirs, they referred to me as “the Apostate Omar Suleiman” and called for their followers to assassinate me [dfw.cbslocal.com].

I was unnerved by the news, but I knew I had to tell Andy what had happened before he found out through some other source. When I called, he not only didn’t shy away, he began the conversation that led to our next effort together. We decided in the wake of ISIS’ threat that we weren’t going to let any fools stop us from being brothers. Not here, and not thousands of miles away.

That spring of 2017, we began offering a month-long class about Jesus in Islam and Christianity. For four weeks, our Christian and Muslim communities came together to discuss Jesus in our respective faiths. The pews at First United Methodist were full, according to the Reverend Andy Stoker.

The tranquility and bonds formed over that month had captivated us all. At the end of our last session there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.

Rev. Andy and I had started with the birth of Christ, then went on to his life, ending with our differences on the meaning of the crucifixion, then finally came to Jesus’ second coming. In the first two weeks, we found little difference in how our two faiths viewed Jesus in birth and life.

Jesus is no ordinary figure to Muslims. He is one of the highest prophets and messengers of God, born of a virgin, chosen as the one to restore justice to this earth in its final days, and distinguished in the hereafter with a special place in paradise. He is mentioned in the Quran 25 times, with an entire chapter named after his honored mother, Mary.

Muhammad said about his relationship to him, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

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.