Interfaith Trolley offers tour of religion in America

By Bob Smietana Religion News Service

CHICAGO (RNS) — In America’s third largest city, it’s possible to get a crash course in the world’s religions in a journey of just a few miles — from the University of Chicago’s majestic, ecumenical Christian Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on Chicago’s South Side to the humble Masjid Al-Taqwa, which meets in a converted stable, still under renovation a 15-minute ride to the south.

On Orthodox Christian Easter (April 24), 70 or so passengers took that ride on the Interfaith Trolley, a tour of sacred spaces inspired by this month’s convergence of Ramadan, Passover, Easter, Vaisakhi (celebrated by Sikhs), Ridvan (observed by Baha’is) and Ram Navami (a Hindu holiday).

Perhaps more reminiscent of speed-dating than a comparative religion course, the tour made brief stops at five religious sites across southeast Chicago, hearing from a series of faith leaders and lay people from different religious groups.

“This was a beautiful event, far more beautiful than I expected,” said Kim Schultz, coordinator of creative initiatives at the InterReligious Institute, part of Chicago Theological Seminary. “The words shared and the community shared really struck my heart.”

“This is an incredible opportunity to come together to educate our communities and shape the public narrative about what it means to live well together amidst our religious and cultural diversity and difference,” organizers said in announcing the event.

At the Rockefeller Chapel, Mayher Kaur, the leader of the Sikh Student Association gave an overview of Sikh practices and explained that Sikh gurus worked to overcome India’s caste system. A Hindu student told participants about Ram Navami, a Hindu holiday that fell on April 10 that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, whose story is told in Ramayana. Shradha Jain, a Jain student spoke of her faith’s beliefs and the April 14 festival of Mahavir Jayanti, marking the birth of Jainism’s founder.


Christians and Muslims: Sharing Joys and Sorrows


Message for the month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr 

Dear Muslim brothers and sisters, 

As all of us know, the pandemic caused by COVID-19 has taken away the lives of millions of persons around the world, including members of our families. Others fell sick and were healed, yet they experienced much long-lasting pain and suffering from the consequences of the virus. As you celebrate the month of Ramadan that concludes with Eid al-Fitrour thoughts turn in gratitude to Almighty God who has protected all of us in His Providence. We also pray for the dead and the sick with sorrow and hope.

The pandemic and its tragic effects on every aspect of our way of life have drawn attention anew to one of those important elements: sharing. For this reason we thought it opportune to address this issue in the Message we are pleased to send to each and all of you.

We all share God’s gifts: air, water, life, food, shelter, the fruits of medical and pharmaceutical advances, the results of the progress of science and technology in diverse fields and their application, the ongoing discovery of the universe’s mysteries… The awareness of God’s bounty and generosity fills our hearts with gratitude towards Him and, at the same time, encourages us to share His gifts with our brothers and sisters who are in any kind of need. The poverty and precarious situations in which many people find themselves because of the loss of employment and the economic and social problems related to the pandemic make our duty of sharing ever more urgent.

Sharing finds its most profound motivation in the awareness that all we are and all we have are gifts from God and that, in consequence, we have to put our talents at the service of all our brothers and sisters, sharing what we have with them.

The best form of sharing springs from genuine empathy and effective compassion towards others. In this regard, we find a meaningful challenge in the New Testament: “If anyone is well-off in worldly possessions and sees his brother in need but closes his heart to him, how can the love of God abide in him? Children, our love must be not just words or mere talk, but something active and genuine (John 3, 17- 18).

However, sharing is not limited to material goods. Above all, it involves sharing one another’s joys and sorrows, which are part of every human life. Saint Paul invited the Christians of Rome to “rejoice with others when they rejoice, and be sad with those in sorrow” (Romans 12, 15). Pope Francis, for his part, affirmed that a shared pain is halved and a shared joy is doubled (cf. Meeting with the pupils of Scholas Occurrentes, May 11, 2018).


This April, Chicago has a rare opportunity for interfaith cooperation

Holidays important to a number of faith communities will converge this month for the first time in decades. In a time of rising faith-based bigotry, this should be a moment for Chicagoans of diverse backgrounds to learn about each other.

By Hind Makki, Sara Trumm Apr 2, 2022, 4:03am EDT

As leaders in our own faith communities and in inter-religious circles, we are anticipating a spring filled with holy days of multiple religious traditions.

For the first time since 1991,Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Baha’is, Hindus, Buddhists and Indigenous nations will observe holidays simultaneously. In April, this includes celebrations of Ramadan, Passover, Easter, Vaisakhi, Mahavir Jayanti, Theravada New Year and the Gathering of Nations.

This convergence, happening amid rising intolerance and discrimination, is the perfect time to connect, lift one another up and uphold our shared ideals: Treating our neighbors with dignity and respect, ensuring religious freedom for all.


Our traditions, Islam and Christianity, call on us to know one another, welcome the stranger and to not slander one another. While the unprecedented global refugee crisis continues to grow, some say we must fear newcomers. Religious extremists and nationalists hijack our moral and ethical values, turning plowshares of cooperative living into swords. Coming together amid differences is not an easy path, but is rewarding for individuals and communities. We are better together than apart.

In our interfaith work, we witness solidarity and the building of meaningful relationships. A small interfaith group in Hyde Park began refugee resettlement in their neighborhood in 2016. It now has more than 225 supporters and is helping 10 families find self-sufficiency in their new lives.

One year, they hosted a quiet but unforgettable celebration of Nowruz (New Year marked in many countries along the Silk Road) with a refugee family in their new home. They were careful to celebrate in a way that would not re-traumatize the children — without crowds or the loud bang of fireworks.


In Burkina Faso, Muslims and Christians show how to live as one


Feb 7, 2022

by Janet E. Deinanaghan

Sr. Ojonoka Acheneje, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, distributes food to internally displaced persons in the Diocese of Nouna, Burkina Faso. (Courtesy of Janet E. Deinanaghan)

Sr. Ojonoka Acheneje, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, distributes food to internally displaced persons in the Diocese of Nouna, Burkina Faso. (Courtesy of Janet E. Deinanaghan)

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country bounded by Mali, Niger, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. The country obtained its independence in 1960 from France and was then known as Upper Volta. The name Burkina Faso — which means “Land of Incorruptible People” — was adopted in 1984. The capital, Ouagadougou, is in the center of the country.

Burkina Faso is a predominantly Muslim country (61%), with 19% Catholic, 15% following traditional religions, 4% Protestant and about 1% nonreligious. The seat of the Roman Catholic archbishopric is in Ouagadougou, and there are several bishoprics throughout the country.

I am a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul, missioned to Burkina Faso in 2017 to work in the Nouna Diocese as an English language teacher. After three months of an intensive French language course in Togo — because I am from Nigeria and knew no French — I arrived on Nov. 28. I was sent to teach English language in our new inclusive school that had just opened in October that year.

I had a mixed feeling of fear and excitement, going to a different country and learning a new culture and way of life totally different from what I was used to in Nigeria. The good thing was that another of my sisters, Sr. Ojonoka Acheneje, was sent to the same school — I to teach and she as bursar — which made the experience more agreeable.

Students of the Daughters of Charity's inclusive school in the Diocese of Nouna, Burkina Faso, pose for a photo after the opening Mass for the new academic session. (Courtesy of Janet E. Deinanaghan)

Students of the Daughters of Charity’s inclusive school in the Diocese of Nouna, Burkina Faso, pose for a photo after the opening Mass for the new academic session. (Courtesy of Janet E. Deinanaghan)

My first surprise in arriving in Burkina Faso as a missionary was the free spirit and simplicity of the people there. Coming from a background in Nigeria where Christianity has become a “badge” people wear around like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ days did, I was profoundly struck with the simplicity of faith practiced among the people here.


Christians And Muslims: Agreements And Disagreements On God And Christ

When various Christians try to engage Islam, pointing out that despite the various (and significant) differences which exists between the two faiths, they still worship the same God, other Christians quickly speak up and say it is impossible because of those very differences. It is as if they believe God is created by one’s own thoughts about God, justifying Feuerbach and others like him in saying God is created in the image of humanity instead of humanity in the image of God. If mere opinion about the various characteristics of God establish belief in a different God, no two people will worship the same God, as no two people have identical notions about God. However, God is beyond us, and our opinions about God do not form or shape who God is but only reveal what we think about God. Those differences can be important as bad ideas about God can lead to all kinds of terrible actions by those who believe them, and for this reason arguments concerning which representation of God best exemplifies the divine nature can matter, but they do not matter in relation to the question of whether or not people are seeking after and believing in the same God. Christians and Muslims share God in common, and indeed, believe many of the same things about the divine nature, including elements which come from revelation (and so not reason alone):

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.[1]


In Muslim-majority UAE, an interfaith beacon is found

Rabbis expect a new interfaith complex will further promote cross-religious dialogue

Though the United Arab Emirates is famously known for its luxurious malls and towering Burj Khalifa skyscraper, a diverse interfaith project may soon become one of the nation’s most notable structures.

The Abrahamic Family House, a religious complex which will house a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, is currently under construction in Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi.

Named after Abraham – the shared patriarch of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – this historic interfaith complex is the first of its kind in the Muslim-majority UAE, and offers a display of religious unity not often seen in the Middle East.

The structure, designed by Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye OBE, features three houses of worship composed of equal cubic volumes and exterior dimensions to ensure that no one building outweighs another.

Though the complex’s sites share these similar features, each one is completely unique – drawing on a variety of religious motifs to influence the architectural themes within.

The composition of the mosque is intended to evoke the sequences of Islamic worship, the synagogue’s interior draws from the layered leaves of Sukkot palm fronds, and the church uses light and water to pay homage to elements within Christianity.

“The design aims to both meaningfully represent, and support diverse communities… unlocking a contemporary spirit that draws from tradition but looks towards the future – a future defined by acceptance, inclusion, and peace,” the project’s website explained.


Seattle’s Interfaith Community Sanctuary includes Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus

Jamal Rahman is cofounder and Muslim Sufi imam at Interfaith Community Sanctuary in Seattle. He is a popu­lar speaker and author on Islam, Sufi spirituality, and interfaith relations. Interfaith Community Sanctuary won second prize in the 2020 UN World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize from A Common Word.

Tell us about how Interfaith Community Sanctuary became a reality. Where did the idea come from?

In 1992, I was very keen to establish community in Seattle. I left my previous career and began teaching self-development classes. I was trained in Sufism, the mystical side of Islam, so that’s what I taught. I was surprised by how many people came to take the classes.

In seven years we had a few hundred people. From there we started to ask: What does it mean to have an interfaith worship service? We were people of different religions, mostly Christians but also Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. All of us were looking for a connection to something higher and deeper.

What kind of worship could we do that unites everyone? There are a few things that transcend the boundaries of religion. One is silence. There’s no such thing as a Jewish silence or Islamic silence; it’s just silence. So, we decided, let’s just practice silence in each of our Sunday worship services.

Second, music. Everybody loves music. We had chanters from different traditions, so we added chanting. I would always quote Rumi, “Music is the sound of the spheres. We have been part of this harmony before.” And once we chant and sing and play music, it keeps our remembering fresh and it doesn’t matter what your religion is.

Food is how we came to know the other on a human level. We built that in as well. So we focused on silence, chanting, and food.

Over time, we came to say that we focus on essence, not form. We asked: What is the experience, the taste, we want? We would also say that we wanted to move from a knowledge of the tongue to a knowledge of the heart. That can come from personal relationship, connection, spiritual companions in your life, music, silence, and sharing different spiritual practices.

Every tradition says a person is to become a better human being, a more developed human being. And everyone wants to be of service to God’s creation in a genuine way. Rabindranath Tagore has this wonderful poem: “I slept and dreamed: / Life was joy. / I awoke and found life was service. / I served and lo, service was joy.”


Archbishop Tutu: A lifelong witness to human dignity, just peace and interfaith solidarity


Dr Rashied Omar with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. South Africa has a unique and unparalleled interfaith and interreligious solidarity movement, thanks in large measure to the wise leadership and sterling contributions of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, says the writer.
Dr Rashied Omar with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. South Africa has a unique and unparalleled interfaith and interreligious solidarity movement, thanks in large measure to the wise leadership and sterling contributions of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, says the writer.

This article was written in October of this year by a South African Muslim leader. It is a fitting tribute to a man who exemplified the spirit of Christ as a bridge builder between people of various religious convictions. We pass it on to honor the memory of Archbishop Tutu who passed away yesterday at the age of 90.

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 8, 2021

Rashied Omar

CAPE TOWN – In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, as a young Imam at the Claremont Main Road Mosque, I became inspired and active in interfaith and interreligious activities through the South African Chapter of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP-SA). As a beneficiary of South Africa’s rich and robust interfaith and interreligious solidarity movement, I believe that through my indefatigable passion for interfaith activities, I am not merely honouring, but also giving, profound thanks to the rich and diverse legacy bequeathed to us by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mphilo Tutu.

Our beloved country, the African continent, and indeed the world, can honour the memory and great legacy of Archbishop Tutu by living up to the egalitarian ideals he espoused and continuing the struggles for human dignity, social justice, and interfaith and interreligious solidarity that he champions during his life.

South Africa has a unique and unparalleled interfaith and interreligious solidarity movement, thanks in large measure to the wise leadership and sterling contributions of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mphilo Tutu.

Emblematic of this robust interfaith legacy, is the fact that since the inception of South Africa’s non-racial and democratic parliament in 1994, its proceedings have consistently been inaugurated by interfaith prayers.

During his tenure as secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) from 1978 to 1984, Bishop Tutu became one of the chief architects of South Africa’s robust interfaith solidarity movement.


In Cairo, I sat in on a scriptural reasoning group with Christians and Muslims

Moving beyond amicable consensus to productive discomfort

Early in 2020, before international travel became impossible, my wife and I visited friends who work on interfaith relations and theological education in Egypt. While there we had an unexpected opportunity to sit down with a group of Muslims and Christians for intensive study of our sacred scriptures.

Around the turn of the century, the practice of “scriptural reasoning” or “textual reasoning” was being promoted by theological students and faculty in North America and Europe. David Ford, Peter Ochs, C. C. Pecknold, and others built a tradition that continues in small groups and academic conferences around the world. In the West the initiative began with Jewish-Christian dialogue, later reaching out to include Islam as well. In the contexts in which I became familiar with it—from the reports of colleagues who worked in Bangladesh, during a visit to Oman, and then in Egypt, none of which has a significant Jewish presence—it is a Muslim-Christian collaborative venture.

While staying in Cairo we were invited to serve as hosts for a group that has gathered every month or two for a few years. It’s coordinated by Naji Umran, a Canadian missionary with Resonate Global Mission (the mission agency of the Christian Reformed Church in North America), and his Muslim colleague Hany al-Halawany, a lawyer and interfaith activist. We had been offered the use of a spacious apartment by American church educators Steve and Frankie Wunderink while they were away, a welcoming space for our conversation. Hoping we could emulate the warm hospitality we encountered in every Egyptian home and office we visited, we explored all the fruit shops and bakeries of Abaseya, our bustling central Cairo neighborhood, and laid a table with tropical fruits and Middle Eastern pastries.

Along with the two American visitors and the two organizers, the group that gathered included a Christian pastor and two sheikhs (synonymous with “imam” but more commonly used in Egypt). A few more had been expected, but the vagaries of Cairo traffic kept them from joining us. Issaq Saad is a Presbyterian pastor and a member of the interfaith council of the Synod of the Nile. Sheikh Shaher serves as a cleric and teacher at Al-Azhar Mosque and its affiliated university, world-renowned centers of Islamic life and learning. Sheikh Mohammed Hegazy leads a mosque in Qalyub, just north of Cairo.


Bahrain church project cements Gulf region’s reputation for religious tolerance

DUBAI: It all started when the monarch of Bahrain donated a plot of land to the kingdom’s Catholic community seven years ago. Officially taking matters a step further, in 2014 King Hamad Al-Khalifa met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, reassuring him of Bahrain’s commitment to coexistence and presenting him with a detailed three-foot-long model of a proposed cathedral and its surroundings.

Next year, Bahrain will inaugurate the largest Catholic cathedral in the Gulf region, the latest testament to its longstanding tradition of openness and tolerance.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, expected to open to the public in May, sits on a complex of approximately 9,000 square meters in the expatriate-populated municipality of Awali, located about 20 kilometers away from the capital Manama.

Aside from the cathedral, the palm tree-lined complex will feature a multipurpose building, a spacious courtyard, as well as a two-story parking area. How is it that this small, predominantly Muslim island nation — smaller in area than London — is building a significant monument to the Christian faith?