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?

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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

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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.

With interfaith exhibit, Boston’s Abrahamic faith groups revisit their shared roots

Sinan-Hussein-Welcoming-the-StrangerBOSTON (RNS) — Just over a year ago, the day after the deadly mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, more than a thousand locals gathered together on the Boston Common to mourn and pray.

As the Rev. Amy McCreath, dean of the historic St. Paul Cathedral that overlooks America’s oldest park, watched people of various faiths unite once again to mourn another national tragedy, she was hit with an emotional realization.

“I looked out over the crowds of people, and it was so clear that all of them really want a peaceful future,” she remembered. “We want to work together against violence, but we don’t even know each other. Unfortunately, the odds are good that something like that will happen again, and we need to be prepared to support one another and defend one another.”

That’s part of the reason the Episcopal cathedral agreed to host a new interfaith art exhibit that explores the faith and life of Abraham, the shared spiritual forefather of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions — and launched an accompanying interfaith book study to spotlight Abraham’s wives, Sarah and Hagar.

The two-year touring exhibition “Abraham: Out of One, Many,” is curated by the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler of Caravan, an international art non-profit affiliated with the Episcopal Church. After premiering in Rome in May, the show began a 20-month U.S. tour at Nebraska’s Tri-Faith Initiative this fall.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE 

Women’s interfaith network builds bridges amid Nigeria’s violence, Muslim and Christian mistrust

Peacebuilding1 770LAGOS, NIGERIA — When Fatima Isiaka, a religious Muslim teacher, asked the cab driver to drop her off at St. Kizito Catholic Church in Abuja, the driver thought she was lost. “The cab man that took me to the church, a Muslim, was surprised to see me enter a church,” Isiaka recalled of the summer 2014 meeting. “He told me, ‘This is a church!’ I said, ‘Yes, I know.’ ”

Isiaka was part of innovative effort to bring Christian and Muslim women together in hopes of fostering religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence. The Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network was first started in 2011by Sr. Agatha Ogochukwu Chikelue, of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy congregation, and local Muslim businesswoman Maryam Dada Ibrahim.

Isiaka, an observant Muslim who wears a grey jilbab, a long head covering and robe, the traditional dress of some Nigerian Muslim women, is a respected Muslim leader in Abuja. Today, she serves as deputy director in the network’s Abuja branch.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER 

Muslim professor devotes his life to bringing Jews, Muslims together to find common ground

 

In the anti-Semitic and secular town in southeastern Turkey where Abdullah Antepli grew up, no one expected him to work in interfaith Jewish-Muslim relations one day. They were proven wrong.

In August, the now 46-year-old was ranked among the NonProfit Times Power and Influence Top 50, in honor of his work co-founding the Muslim Leadership Initiative, also known as MLI.

The MLI recruits engaged, pro-Palestine American Muslims, ranging from scholars to journalists. These participants are connected with a credible Zionist institution, the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI), whose stated mission is to help “strengthen Jewish peoplehood.” During the program, members learn to critically understand the complex religious, political and socioeconomic issues of people in Israel and Palestine, Antepli said.

“I am extremely proud of this cutting edge social and educational experiment that we were able to initiate,” Antepli said.

In his brand-new office in Rubenstein Hall, the Sanford School of Public Policy’s new associate professor of the practice and long-standing associate professor of interfaith relations at the Divinity School apologizes for “the mess” in his perfectly tidy bureau. His office does, however, overflow with books, most of which are religion-themed.

“I never go anywhere without a book,” Antepli said. His gem at the moment is “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.

Dressed in a grey shirt tucked in black pants with sleeves rolled up, Antepli first gives off the impression of a restless businessman. But the father of two’s hearty “salaam—meaning “peace,” a common greeting in Arabic—immediately lets those who walk through his door know that he will gladly share his time.

A resentful child

Antepli, the University’s first Muslim chaplain and inaugural director of Muslim life at Duke from 2008-2014, grew up during a critical time in southeastern Turkey when religion was despised.

Although his parents were not religious, they were anti-Semitic, he said. His upbringing quickly led him on a path of resentment toward the Israelis. He recalled as a child scapegoating the Jewish community for the grievances of Muslim everyday life.

“The seductive thing about hate is that it gives simple black and white answers to complicated questions,” Antepli said.

Muslim friends and teachers introduced Antepli into the world of Islam and he promptly came to devour the religion. His religiosity just happened to emerge simultaneously with the Israeli-Palestine conflicts.

FULL ARTICLE FROM DUKE CHRONICLE

Muslim leader meets Pope Francis, calls for Islam that sees no ‘infidels’

StaqufThe leader of the largest independent Muslim organization in the world met Pope Francis this week to present his vision for a more peaceful future and greater human fraternity.

Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf leads the 50 million member Nahdlatul Ulama movement, which calls for a reformed “humanitarian Islam” and has developed a theological framework for Islam that rejects the concepts of caliphate, Sharia law, and “kafir” (infidels).

The Indonesian Sunni leader told CNA that he was “thrilled and excited” when Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb signed in February the Abu Dhabi declaration on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” because it expresses the vision of  “compassionate Islam” his organization has advocated for for decades.

The sheikh has specific recommendations for concrete steps to achieve the pope’s aspirations of peace and human fraternity. He came to Rome to share them with the pope.

Staquf said that Abu Dhabi declaration requires “decisive follow-up” with actions, not just words.

Just weeks after the Abu Dhabi declaration, Nahdlatul Ulama hosted a conference in Indonesia with over 20,000 Muslim scholars in attendance. At this conference, Muslim clerics and scholars issued an “ijtihad” stating their theological reasoning for prohibting the term “kafir” meaning “infidel” to describe one’s fellow citizens.

“We cannot just pretend that there are no problems in Islamic views. There are problems there. You need to acknowledge that so that we can work for the solution. If you do not acknowledge the problem, you cannot resolve it,” Staquf told CNA.

“In Muslim-majority societies, you can see more attitudes of discrimination and persecution toward minorities … so the Islamic world needs to develop the whole religious system that will integrate the Islamic world harmoniously with the rest of the world,” he said.

Central to these proposed changes to Islamic theology is how Muslims are called to interact with non-Muslims, Staquf explained.

“We need for Muslims to view others as a fellow human being, fellow brothers in humanity. We should not attack on the basis of different identities,” he said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ANGELUS