The Church of Pakistan (CoP) has proposed to replicate the Christian-Muslim dialogue between the Anglican church and leading scholars of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University to foster interfaith harmony and peace in Pakistan.
According to a statement issued by the office of the Church of Pakistan (CoP) Moderator/President Dr Azad Marshall, the proposal was floated during a meeting between the Anglican church leadership and the scholars of the prestigious university of Islamic learning on the sidelines of a high-level event in Cairo where the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby launched the new Anglican province of Alexandria.
The statement said that Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Province of Alexandria Mounir Hanna shared the idea of setting up a research center in Egypt comprising Muslim and Christian religious scholars based on their interactions over the last two decades. Al-Azhar University’s Grand Imam Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb welcomed the idea and assured his full cooperation, the statement added.
(JTA) — After Nazi graffiti was found at a Jewish cemetery in Argentina last week, the local Jewish community wanted to do more than just paint it over.
So on Friday, the local Jewish community of Sante Fe, a province about 300 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, convened representatives of other religious groups for an interfaith ceremony to remove the swastikas painted in the cemetery, one in the area dedicated to the memory of Holocaust victims.
The ceremony included evangelical Christians, Catholics and Muslims as well as representatives from a host of local groups, and it was streamed online. A video showed several people brushing over swastikas painted near the ground, followed by a series of comments from representatives of different groups.
“Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus” by Rachel Pieh Jones. Plough Publishing (Wal-den, New York, 2021). 264 pp., $ 17.99. “Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and Do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination” by Jordan Denari Duffner. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2021). 243 pp., $22. “A World of Inequalities: Christian and Muslim Perspectives,” edited by Lucinda Mosher. Georgetown University Press (Washington, 2021). 253 pp., $34.95.
I recommend all three of these timely books for anyone who wishes to understand the history and present reality of Christian-Muslim relations both within this country and around the world.
The title of Rachel Jones’ “Pillars” echoes the five basic pillars of Muslim faith: There is no god but God, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage.
The book is a personal journal, organized in five sections reflecting the pillars, of the author’s life in the heart of Africa, Somalia, where she and her husband moved to take part in a humanitarian effort to help the local Muslim inhabitants to learn more and achieve a better lifestyle.
She and her family endured many difficulties, from being looked down upon and excluded to fears of the violence that killed three of her Christian friends. But Muslim women come to her aid, teaching her how to interact with Muslim women and men, and bringing her family into their homes so she could better understand.
Jones and her Muslim friends journey together through the Muslim year, learning about each other through dialogue, listening to each other and, hesitatingly, praying together to the one God whom Christians and Muslims both worship.
This very personal story will introduce readers to Muslim religious traditions and, more importantly, to people with whom readers can relate and learn from.
“Islamophobia” details the present-day reality of a negative and largely false set of ideas about Muslims and Islam that has been part of Christian culture since at least the Crusades.
Ignoring what the holy book, the Quran, which is largely based upon the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, actually states, Islam is portrayed as a religion that sees itself as having replaced Christianity and Judaism and is aimed at their destruction and creating a totalitarian structure to take over and rule the world.
Muslims are depicted as anti-women’s rights, as racists and evil slaveholders, as if Christians never “owned” slaves. While some Muslims might hold such views, and some Muslim societies have reflected them, this is not what the Quran teaches.
We Catholics, and Christians in general, have equally been guilty of such departures from the teachings of Jesus. So we must learn not to scapegoat Muslims by blaming them for the faults of our own history, and to a sad extent, the present.
The final third of the book, “Crafting a Christian Response,” provides the reader with a number of things Catholics and all Christians can do today to break the cycle of fear/hate of Muslims, both individually and communally.
Author Jordan Denari Duffner notes the good things that the Holy See has done but argues, correctly in my view, that more can and should be done.
In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it seemed as if we were heading in the right direction as a nation. We became wary of knee-jerk Islamophobia. We began to learn how to mourn and to heal together after the 9/11 tragedy: Jews, Christians, Muslims, members of other faiths and backgrounds. As Americans, we took pride in being one nation.
Now, as we are approaching the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders believe we must march as a nation united, shoulder to shoulder, advancing our common American ideals.
On Jan. 6, 2021, for the first time in our nation’s long proud history, we did not have a peaceful, uneventful transfer of power. Political parties no longer merely disagree about what is best for the country; they vilify one another, country be damned. We treat one another as enemies rather than as fellow citizens. Now we are testing whether our nation can endure. We have begun to hear a war of words on our television screens and other devices every evening.
We must be “dedicated to the great task remaining before us. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” As did Lincoln, whose words we have just echoed, we three religious leaders call upon us all to rebuild and become better together.
We can still proclaim that we are a nation of immigrants and descendants of the enslaved, alongside the indigenous communities who called this place their home long before we arrived. We can declare that diversity is what makes our nation strong and ever stronger. We can celebrate our differences, rather than protest and exploit them. We call upon all of America to work as one to repair the breach. Yes, we will disagree; but we must also show common purpose to work through these disagreements.
(Washington Jewish Week via JTA) — Picture four young adults of different faiths sharing one house for one year. That’s not the premise of a new reality TV show. It’s just reality.
Abrahamic House is an interfaith fellowship program in which four people ages 21 to 35 share a home for one to two years. In exchange for subsidized rent, the residents organize programs and community events.
It’s a concept inspired by the Moishe House group-living program, but instead of involving only Jews, Abrahamic House is home to a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim and a Baha’i.
“We are trying to build bridges,” said Abrahamic House founder Mohammed Al Samawi, 34.
Applications for the D.C. Abrahamic House are open. Once the four fellows have been selected, they will be offered three possible sites for their house, Al Samawi said.
With Abrahamic House, Al Samawi wants to promote collaboration among adults from often hostile religions, and to challenge their stereotypes of each other. With any luck, such success will spread to the broader community.
It is too easy to pin a religious tag on a conflict in a developing country, and for outsiders to rush to the cause of one or the other. But you only have to visit another area in Nigeria without conflict, and its complex causes, to find its refutation.
We are two faith leaders—a Christian pastor and a Muslim imam—from Nigeria, one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world.
In our country of more than 200 million, and where religion is important to the daily lives of almost all, it is unexceptional to find those of both faiths living in harmony in the same ethnic groups, the same local communities, and even praying in the same family homes.
So, it is hard to be told by some from beyond our borders that this is in fact an exception; that Nigeria Is a land of extreme tensions between the Abrahamic faiths, the two great religions on the brink of war and cannot live side by side. Some claim that Christians are persecuting Muslims; others that Muslims are persecuting Christians. But from foreign NGOs and pressure groups—the leaders of which have doubtless never visited our country—we mostly learn we possess a government biased towards Islam, and that Christians in our lands are treated as second-class citizens.
This is not how we see it or experience it. And because it is not, we are obliged to speak out.
The state of religious dialogue is far from perfect in Nigeria. But it is far from being so anywhere: attacks against synagogues in the United States and teachers in France, unfortunately, attest to this. Yet to suggest that Nigeria represents the extremity of tensions is untrue. In many regards, it is where there is equilibrium between faiths.
That is most obvious in governance: a conservative Muslim president and an evangelical Christian pastor vice president oversee a cabinet whose members are equally weighted between Christianity and Islam.
But this doesn’t stop the accusations from outside onlookers. It would seem preposterous to suggest the government is indifferent to Boko Haram’s menace. Instead, they fixate on so-called herder-farmer clashes to argue there is a directed campaign of persecution against the nation’s Christians.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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 Christians, Jews, 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.
(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.”