What can Catholics learn from Muslims about encountering God?

Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, embraced by one fourth of the global population and with three and a half million adherents living in the United States. Yet dialogue between Christians and Muslims is fraught, given differences in theology, ethics, history and contemporary political realities. Benedictine Br. David Steindl-Rast offers this slim book, 99 Names of God, as a beginning point for Christians to enter into the devotional life of Muslims in the hope of opening up dialogue between them.

Steindl-Rast is well positioned to do this. Born in 1926, he was awarded a doctoral degree in psychology and anthropology from the University of Vienna. He entered the Benedictine monastery at Mount Savior in Elmira, New York, in 1953 and was co-founder of the inter-religious Center for Spiritual Studies. Although best known for his writings on gratefulness, he has been engaged in interfaith dialogue since 1966, in both Christian-Buddhist and Christian-Muslim discussions.

99 Names of God
99 NAMES OF GOD By David Steindl-Rast219 pages; Published by Orbis Books $20.00

His insight is that if Christians can explore a principal devotional ritual of Islam, namely repetition of the Koranic names of God, this will give them a starting point to appreciate what can seem like a strange and inaccessible religion to some Christians. All three of the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are “people of the book,” each has a written scripture and all name God.

Steindl-Rast is clear about why humans name. In their encounter with God, who is understood as “Thou,” they make clumsy attempts to address and call by name the transcendent yet intimate reality. He attests that this naming expresses the human experience of God, but only indirectly the Ultimate Reality encountered. All these 99 names are related and connected but none singly or together can capture God. Steindl-Rast analogizes these names both as a prism that refracts God’s resplendent beauty and as windows onto God’s mystery.

Some of these names of God derive from human intellect and reason, including the “almighty,” “the powerful,” “the sovereign.” Others arise from the intimacy of the encounter, such as “the merciful, “the compassionate,” “the ever-forgiving.” The devotional purpose of repeating these names is to bring one closer to the encounter that produced them. Naming is a stammering attempt to “call to” Ultimate Reality experienced as “Thou.” Christians should find here a ritual practice familiar to them.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER

Putting Black at the center of interfaith

(RNS) — Every January, the city of New York hosts an interfaith breakfast that gathers my fellow New Yorkers who work to improve the lives of people in the five boroughs of NYC and beyond.

Gathered under one roof for several hours are representatives of the many different faiths that can be found in our city: Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and so many others assemble, not only to celebrate our diversity but to address pressing social justice issues, including racial equity, systematic racism and racially biased policing.

Interfaith coalitions have long taken up racial justice causes, most famously in the civil rights movements of the ‘60s, and New York’s is one of literally hundreds of similar gatherings I have attended in my life as a Black Christian minister.  

RELATED: Black religious leaders, stand with our LGBTQ family

Yet, interfaith organizations themselves have often not taken racial equity work seriously. Some of the great interfaith organizations of the early 20 century, such as the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), have either actively discouraged the participation of Black leaders or passively signaled their disinterest by ignoring the struggle for racial justice that their Black and brown neighbors and their religious leaders were facing. 

This is despite the interfaith mingling that is woven into the history of Black people in America in traditional African religious traditions, Islam and Christianity as well as other faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., has more than 1,000 religious artifacts that demonstrate the breadth of faith expressions among Black people since the first enslaved people from Africa brought their Muslim faith to this country.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

House of One: Berlin lays cornerstone for a place for religious understanding

In the heart of Berlin, a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims is getting to work building a home where all three religions can come together. The goal is to overcome conflict and suspicion.

For years it has been just an idea. On Thursday, it begins to become reality. A cornerstone will be laid on the future site of House of One, a building project by ChristiansJews, and Muslims looking for a place to meet. Located in the middle of Berlin, the site is just minutes from some of the city’s most popular and historic areas.

“This is an important project for Berlin,” said Pastor Gregor Hohberg, who helps lead the initiative. “Jews, Christians, Muslims, as well as atheists and people from other religions, have been talking about it for at least ten years.” The city needs a place like House of One, Hohberg added, to offer the opportunity to engage one another. “It’s an extremely important symbol,” he said, calling the site a “place of peace.”

An information pavillion on the building site provided information on the project until 2019

House of One is building on 700 years of Berlin history. Its location is close to where the city began and was the site of the Petrikirche. The 13th-century church had the highest tower in Berlin, and it survived in various forms until the East German communist government tore it down in 1964. The area has been a treasure trove for archeologists, who have found remains of more than 3,000 people buried at the church, as well as ruins of other churches.

A unique project

If all goes according to plan, House of One will stand atop this history within five years. It will be home to a church, synagogue, and mosque, built around a central meeting space, to serve as a symbol of coexistence. The designs call for a 40-meter-high structure of stone and brick. The construction budget of about 43.5 million euros ($53.3 million) has been largely secured.

FULL ARTICLE FROM DW (GERMANY)

American Jews and Muslim interfaith groups resume efforts after Gaza battles

(RNS) — Palestinians and Israelis have begun to clear the rubble and rebuild in the aftermath of the most recent conflict. Meanwhile, in the United States, many Muslim and Jewish groups are seeking to once again rebuild interfaith networks and resume efforts put on pause during the hostilities.

Multiple faith leaders who spoke to Religion News Service admitted that such efforts were strained by the latest battles in the Holy Land. Yet, Muslim and Jewish leaders in the United States have vowed to continue the efforts despite complications imposed by the geopolitics of the Middle East.

“While some in our American Muslim and Jewish communities wish to close down partnerships and see the other side as only an ally or adversary,” said Ari Gordon, American Jewish Committee director of Muslim-Jewish relations, “those who sit at the dialogue table are opening channels to express mourning over the loss of innocent life, lower tensions and help our communities better understand the other. “

Gordon said despite the conflict, such efforts were “firing on all cylinders.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

Muslims and Christians should learn from their shared history

For the last couple of years, billions of Muslims and Christians have been enjoying religious holidays that fall at roughly the same time of year. The end of Easter has coincided with the beginning of Ramadan, and this should not surprise us at all since both great religions emerged from the same historic region and share a common Abrahamic history and culture. However, a cursory glance at social media reveals that few Muslims and Christians realize they are celebrating their holy days concurrently. It is a shame that, instead of seeking commonalities, the relationship between Christians and Muslims has often been characterized by mistrust and misunderstanding.

As the month-long Ramadan festivities near their midpoint, we ask whether it is time for a new era of peaceful coexistence and understanding between all the Abrahamic faith communities. If the answer is “yes,” the path forward should begin by gaining a better appreciation of our shared Abrahamic history and culture. Our stories are intertwined and at crucial moments we are indebted to one another for existing as faith groups to this day.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARAB NEWS

PEACE FEASTS: A NEW CONNECTION FOR MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN COLLEGE STUDENTS

Marquette University senior Anna Buckstaff said she appreciates opportunities to meet Muslims and Christians who are interested in connecting around common core values.

The Catholic from Palatine, Illinois, who attended the Lenten Peace Feast in February with Muslims and Christians, said the experience helped her reflect and deepen her understanding of her own faith.

“I really appreciated how the faiths share an emphasis for tradition and value the time spent with family and loved ones,” she said. “I have really enjoyed being exposed to different approaches to care and value God’s creation.”

She is looking forward to the Ramadan Peace Feast, online from 2 – 3:30 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 18. College students and young professionals are encouraged to participate. Registration is now open.

Peace Feasts, new interfaith meeting experiences, offer Muslim and Christian college students in Wisconsin a chance to learn about each other’s sacred seasons, as well as to connect and build trust. The idea is for young adults of each faith to invite each other to their holiday feasts—this year during the Christian Lent and Muslim Ramadan.

The program is free to participants through financial support from Interfaith Youth Core, described on its website as “a national non-profit working towards an America where people of different faiths, worldviews and traditions can bridge differences and find common values to build a shared life together.”

IFYC was founded by Eboo Patel, a Chicago-based author, speaker and educator who said he was “inspired to build this bridge by his identity as an American Muslim navigating a religiously diverse social landscape.”

What to expect

The Ramadan Peace Feast is the second of a series. Young adults who would like to join in are welcomed, whether they attended Part I or not, said Rev. Nicole Wriedt, San Diego program director of Peace Catalyst International, who with Milwaukee-based PCI program director Steve Lied, is the Christian co-organizer for these events. They collaborate with the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition’s president Janan Najeeb.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WISCONSIN MUSLIM JOURNAL

Interfaith leaders, lawmakers, and community members respond to rise in anti-Asian violence

SACRAMENTO, Calif. —

It was an evening of mourning, recognition and healing at Sacramento’s Parkview Presbyterian Church on Friday night.

Interfaith leaders and people of all backgrounds gathered for presentations, songs, and a candlelight vigil was held to recognize the ongoing prejudice against Asian Americans and other marginalized groups.

“The other day they were talking about that killer who had a ‘bad day,'” Francisco Dominguez, who is of Native American descent, said of the fatal shooting of six Asian women in Atlanta-area spas. “I said, since 1492, there’s been a lot of bad days.”

Other participants said they appreciated the show of solidarity at the vigil.

“I’m hoping events like this is giving us the courage to talk to our non-Asian-American friends and will help us to spread the word,” Sacramento resident Kris Sazaki said.

Christine Umeda’s family was taken to internment camps during World War II. She spoke to the value of allyship, and the historical trauma shared between different communities.

“The Muslim community and the Japanese community have been allies for some time now,” Umeda said. “After 9/11, we understood what they were experiencing, because after Pearl Harbor, all the same emotions and hatred were directed towards [Japanese Americans].”

“Any hatred that’s practiced against any minority or race is an aggression against all of us,” added Imam Amr Dabour of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM KCRA (TV STUDIO IN SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA)

Pope visit favors Shia-Catholic connection; Iraqi Christians remain divided

Iraq (MNN) — Pope Francis made history earlier this month when he visited Iraq. Today, Catholic leaders praise the trip as a “milestone” for relations between the Catholic Church and Shia Islam.

Speaking to Crux last week, senior official Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso said:

For what concerns the relationship between Christianity and Shia Islam, the Najaf meeting is a further step forward for the dialogue of respect and friendship with the Shia community both in Iran and in Iraq, in which both the local Church and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which I preside over, have been involved in for years.

“The main impetus of [the pope] coming is a political framework, not a religious or spiritual framework. The outcomes of that are about building relationships between Muslims and Christians,” Samuel* of Redemptive Stories says.

“It was very interesting and very telling that he visited Shia sites and met with Shia leaders as the primary impetus for his travels, which is something most heads of state would never do.”

The Vatican is the world’s smallest independent nation, and Pope Francis is its appointed leader. As described here, “the general politics and governance of the Vatican City are undertaken by the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope… The Pope exercises ex officio supreme legislative, executive and judicial power over the state of the Vatican City.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MISSION NETWORK NEWS

Myanmar protesters bridge religious divides to counter military coup

Peter, a young father, looked out at the sea of tens of thousands of peaceful protesters surrounding him in a sit-in at a market in his hometown of Mandalay, their bright red and yellow posters condemning the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar.

Moments later, security forces assaulted the crowd, firing tear gas and live rounds. “They arrived as early as possible and start brutally cracking down, shooting, beating, even firing on the street,” says Peter, using a pseudonym for his protection. “A few of our friends died, and a lot were arrested.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with the toll from violence on Saturday.

WHY WE WROTE THIS

Religion has long been a divider in Myanmar – most tragically, in the persecution of the Rohingya. But the urgency of opposing a military coup has brought activists from different faiths together, protesters say.

Peter is Muslim. The friends he lost in the protest earlier this month were Buddhist. Despite Myanmar’s long history of discrimination and violence against Muslims by the Buddhist majority – tensions and fears the military junta seeks to exploit – today on Myanmar’s streets people are showing a powerful solidarity, activists say.

After the coup, different religious groups “are more unified than ever,” Peter says, speaking by phone from Mandalay.

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In diverse and deeply pious Myanmar, protests by religious groups have deep resonance in challenging the legitimacy of those who hold power. Today’s cooperation among different faiths in backing a broader, youth-led protest movement against the junta reflects a decade of efforts at interfaith peace building since the country’s opening to semi-democratic, civilian rule, experts say.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

Much gained from interfaith dialogues

Brookings has been home to an interfaith dialogue group for more than a decade. Participants gather monthly during the school year to meet, greet, eat and discuss topics of mutual concern. The first few times the group gathered, people were on their best behavior, avoiding any hint of provocation and being unusually polite. But as people got to know each other better, as ignorance and misunderstandings disappeared, serious dialogue and deeper relationships developed. No question or topic was off the table.

Known now as the Brookings Interfaith Council, one can access their information and schedule on their web-site. Like many similar community groups, the pandemic has curtailed activities. But when they resume, the group will continue to be an asset to students of world religions at the university and in the larger community.

It’s always a delicious meal. Eating together is a time-tried way of bringing disparate peoples together in a welcoming atmosphere. And where else can one find in South Dakota a room where there may be Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’i, Unitarians, Atheists; all interested in learning from the other?

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BROOKINGS (SOUTH DAKOTA) REGISTER