In These Sacred Spaces, Judaism, Islam And Christianity Intersect

ShowImageChristians in Muslim countries face violence and harassment. The same goes for Muslims in Christian countries and Israel. And, as Tom Lehrer sang, “everybody hates the Jews.”

This isn’t new information, and many before me have pointed out the irony that the three main Abrahamic religions are so often at each other’s throats. Even if the confrontations are not, as some believe, constant and apocalyptic, it’s certainly reasonable to see Christianity, Islam and Judaism as a kind of Venn diagram of grievances.

It’s reasonable but not entirely correct. As the new “Shared Sacred Sites” exhibition at three New York venues demonstrates, there is no shortage of places where followers of these religions intersect in fellowship and peace.

As its title makes self-evident, “Shared Sacred Sites” is an exploration of places of worship. It’s also about overlapping themes and figures. The exhibition bills itself as “a contemporary pilgrimage,” as it is spread across three sites in midtown Manhattan: the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library (aka, the place with the lions); the James Gallery at the CUNY Graduate Center; and the Morgan Library & Museum.

Despite the enormity of the subject matter, “Shared Sacred Sites” is charmingly modest. In the Schwarzman Building, it occupies a smallish room on the ground floor. This part of the exhibition explores the past: the “shared” city of Jerusalem and the shared scriptural figures of Abraham, Moses and Elijah.

The objects are interesting if not mind-blowing: There are medieval maps and a few of the photographer Félix Bonfils’s wonderful albumen silver prints from the 1870s and 1880s — one of the Western Wall and another of Mary’s Tomb near the Mount of Olives. I particularly enjoyed the compare-and-contrast of the Annunciation. In a pristine 16th-century Book of Hours, Mary appears calm as Gabriel breaks the news. In the gorgeously lettered 16th-century Muslim commentary on the Quran, Mary’s incredulousness is endearingly human: “How can I have a son,” she asks, “when no man has ever touched me and I am not an adulteress?”

A few blocks south of the New York Public Library and the Morgan Library & Museum, at CUNY Graduate Center’s James Gallery, the focus is more contemporary. This part of the exhibition leans heavily on the work of Manoël Pénicaud, a talented French ethnologist who studies and documents interreligious relations across Europe and the Mediterranean.

You can watch Pénicaud’s short films on “Interfaith Bridge Builders,” such as “The Last Rabbi of Crete,” an interview with Nicholas Stavroulakis, the recently deceased Greek-American preservationist of Crete’s Etz Hayyim Synagogue.

Stavroulakis speaks of his well-earned pride in creating “the only synagogue in Europe that has its doors wide open” to people of all faiths, or even no faith at all. The only criterion is the shared values of “pity and compassion for the world.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM FORWARD 

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Scotland’s Evangelical Island Gets Its First Mosque

81854Despite its size and location, the Isle of Lewis off the northwest coast of Scotland occasionally makes national news in the United Kingdom because of its conservative religious practices—including the strict observance of the Sabbath by many on the island.

 Lewis was the site of the UK’s last great revival—beginning in 1949 and carrying on for three years—and remains one of the most devout parts of the country.

Over the years, there have been controversies relating to the operation of ferries to the mainland on Sundays. More recently, a movie theater has opened seven days a week, while a leisure center maintains its Sunday closure. All have drawn media coverage with quotes from Christian spokespeople reported as being “outraged” by the proposals.

The latest twist in religious affairs has occurred in Stornoway, with 8,000 people the largest town in the group of islands. However, it doesn’t involve Christians outraged about Sunday openings, but that a Free Church of Scotland minister was not outraged by plans to build the first mosque on the largely evangelical churchgoing island.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Mosque open houses combat negative stereotypes of Muslims

920x920When the Bear Creek Islamic Center recently held an open house, more than 100 Christians and residents living near the mosque were able to pose questions about whether Islam considers Jesus a God, fosters terrorism and views women as a lesser gender.

“People live with opinions formed from sound bites,” said Kate Sunday, who is a Methodist and came with her husband. “We have dear Muslim friends who go to the mosque, and we wanted to experience what they experience. We differ when it comes to our prophet. But we are all children of God.”

GainPeace, a Chicago nonprofit established to promote better understanding of the Islamic faith, local mosques and other Islamic groups, has held more than 3,000 open houses during the past four years to combat negative stereotypes of Muslims and the Muslim faith.

Open houses have been held in nearly every major U.S. city, with a quarter of mosques holding at least one open house annually in recent years, said GainPeace executive director Sabeel Ahmed.

“We have felt that there are many barriers between Americans, and these barriers are giving rise to Islamophobia,” said Ahmed, a physician, who spoke at the Bear Creek Islamic Center open house. “This event helps us connect as humans. At the end of the day, we find that we have so many things in common.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE 

IN RESPONSE TO THREATS AGAINST MUSLIMS, PASTORS PROTECT THE MOSQUE

maxresdefault (1)ROCHESTER, Minn.—
On Tuesday, community members stood outside of Masjid Abubakar Siddiq, the mosque in downtown Rochester, during prayer times. This is in response to the “Punish a Muslim Day” letters.

Muslims pray five times a day. At each prayer time, someone was outside of the Rochester mosque’s doors greeting people, holding the door open, and having conversations with prayer-goes. Around 1 PM, Pastor Carl-Eric Gentes and Pastor Charlie Leonard of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester manned the doorway.

Pastor Gentes and Pastor Leonard were appalled by the threats made against Muslims in the U.K. “I was surprised that this sort of thing actually happens and that word of this got so close to home—so I wanted to be here,” explained Leonard.

They stayed outside of the front door for about an hour while people prayed inside. They hoped that their presence would help the Rochester Muslim community feel secure and comfortable during prayer, despite the threatening letters. “I’m sure that’s still in the back of the mind of many people worshipping today, and no one needs to worship with that concern in the back of their mind,” said Gentes.

FULL ARTICLE FROM KIMT NEWS

Islamic community at Arizona State University plans interfaith events after anti-Islamic incident at local mosque

2e9d4a8b-e9ff-4eaf-9617-ed83ad12301e.sized-1000x1000The Muslim Students’ Association at ASU and the Islamic Community Center of Tempe have organized several “interfaith love” events after two women were charged with felony burglary and a possible hate crime after they posted a video of themselves and their children opening the community center mosque’s gate, taking pamphlets and flyers and insulting Islam.

Two days after the event, the ICC held an interfaith “Love and Coffee” event inviting non-Muslims into the mosque and helping to educate them about the Islamic faith. According to Ahmad Al-Akoum, the interfaith and outreach director at ICC, there were over 200 people in attendance.

Al-Akoum was emotional describing the event and the support the mosque has received from the community.

“We wanted to bring as much love in the face of the hate and bigotry, and it was overwhelming,” Al-Akoum said. “It was a big, beautiful display of love and tolerance and understanding. I believe we got our message out.”

Johnny Martin, a religious studies senior and founder of Sun Devils Are Better Together, is a white American Muslim who converted to the religion. He said the viewpoints of the women who attacked the mosque are familiar to him.

“I have family members who have the same Islamophobia that would compel someone to do something so drastic and disrespectful,” Martin said. “This is something that terrorizes the Islamic community.”

MSA is organizing an Islam Awareness Week that includes several interfaith events where non-Muslims can learn about the Islamic faith. MSA hopes the events will help destigmatize Islam.

FULL ARTICLE FROM STATE PRESS 

Hurricane Irma: New Tampa mosque opens as shelter for first time

504372478_19960061_8colTAMPA — For now it’s their hurricane shelter, but Muslim rules about removing your shoes are still being observed at a makeshift shelter set up at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.

More than 500 people are planning to hunker down at the makeshift shelter set up at the mosque’s multicultural center, which is now full. Most are Muslim, but the shelter was open to all people and is providing refuge for at least 50 non-Muslims, said Aida Mackic, a shelter organizer who is also the interfaith and youth program director with Council on American-Islamic Relations

Three large conference rooms are being used as the main sleeping quarters. One is for men, one for women, and there is a common area for families who want to remain together.

In each are dozens of cots, sun beds, quilts and other make-do beds.

“We’ve had to turn some people away,” said Mackic. “There was even one woman who turned up with a bird in a covered cage.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM TAMPABAY.COM

At an Arkansas Mosque a Vandal Spreads Hate and Finds Mercy

Abraham Davis was sitting on a thin blue pad on the concrete floor of Cell 3 in a jail in western Arkansas when a guard came around with stamped envelopes and writing paper.

The first person he wrote to was his mother. Abraham, just shy of 21, had barely spoken to her since his arrest a few days before, and he had a lot to explain.

It all began on a night last October when he borrowed her white minivan and drove to the home of a friend. They’d gotten drunk on cheap whiskey. Kentucky Deluxe. Abraham agreed to drive his friend to a mosque in town. His friend drew swastikas and curses on the mosque’s windows and doors while Abraham stood watch in the driveway.

The next day, the vandalism was all over the news. Abraham watched the reports over and over on his phone, his stomach curdling with regret.

Even now, as he was facing up to six years in prison for the act, Abraham could not explain why he had done it.

He had grown up in Fort Smith, a city of tall oak trees and brick churches that has the look of a faded Polaroid. His father, charismatic but violent, died when Abraham was 5, leaving him with a feeling of powerlessness so intense that he has been trying to conquer it ever since. “Most of my life I’ve spent trying to train myself to become something that’s too strong to be broken through,” he said. Life has teed him up for a fight, and he walks tilted slightly forward, as if someone is pulling him with an invisible wire.

As a poor student in the high school on the wealthier side of town, Abraham often felt like an outsider. He walked, not drove, hung out on playgrounds, not in restaurants. He got into a lot of fights. He did poorly in school, but he doesn’t remember his teachers seeming surprised. Expectations were low, and he bent to fit them. He slept a lot in class. At 18, he dropped out.

Fort Smith has two country clubs, several golf courses, a Talbots and a symphony orchestra. But a proliferation of pawnshops and a circuit court crowded with indigent defendants are reminders of the grinding poverty all around, in the rural areas of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.

For years, those divisions had been etched into the city’s geography. Poorer families lived on the north side of town and wealthier families on the south. Race followed the same pattern, with the south predominantly white and much of the city’s black population in the north.

But time has scrambled those old lines. Latinos came here to work in the poultry industry. Pho shops dot the city’s main drag, property of Vietnamese who began arriving as refugees after the fall of Saigon. R & R’s Curry Express serves deliciously spicy North Indian food at a Finish Line gas station.

Abraham Davis drove his mother’s white minivan to the mosque last October.
Pho shops dot the city’s main drag, started by Vietnamese who began arriving as refugees after the fall of Saigon. Other nationalities also call Fort Smith home now.
The tombstone of Hud Davis, Abraham’s and Noah’s biological father, in Fort Smith. Noah often visits; Abraham does not.
Hisham Yasin in the office of his used-car business.

Muslims from different countries came, too — some to study, some to work in the city’s growing medical industry. Many had money. Hisham Yasin did not.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES