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

Peacebuilding1 cWhen 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.

She looks back fondly on her time at the St. Kizito Catholic Church. “It was an amazing experience and I loved every bit of my stay there,” said Isiaka. “In fact, I found a place in the church where I performed ablution [ritual washing before Muslims prayer], to set up my mat and pray.”

Since the group started in 2011, the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network’s activities have reached more than 10,000 Muslim and Christian women across the country through seminars, meditations, presentations by religious leaders, and dialogue.

The peacebuilding network also offers vocational training in catering, bead making, fashion design, and soap production to a smaller group of women who participate in the annual 21-day seminar. “The empowerment [training] serves as bait to lure more women to the network so that they’ll learn peaceful coexistence,” said Isiaka. The Swiss Embassy provided seed money to get the vocational training started in 2014. Cardinal John Onaiyekan’s Foundation For Peace (COFP), an organization working for peace in northern Nigeria, has sponsored the vocational training in subsequent years.

Sr. Agatha Chikelue started thinking about how to build bridges between Christians and Muslims in 2008, as northern Nigeria disintegrated into violence. Nigeria’s population is evenly divided with 48 percent Muslims and 49 percent Christians. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, while southern Nigeria is majority Christian. Ensuring equal Christian and Muslim political representation at local, state, and national levels is an especially sensitive subject.

FULL ARTICLE FROM GLOBAL SISTERS REPORT 

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Muslim, Christian leaders share story of interfaith friendship

At the back of a banquet hall in New Hope Presbyterian Church beneath an illuminated stained-glass window, Dr. Bashar A. Shala brought his hands together in prayer, looked to the ceiling, spoke quietly and then knelt, bringing his head fully to the floor.

Shala recited in Arabic a verse from the Quran and then translated to a room of bowed heads. Pastor Steven Stone followed him with a Christian prayer, asking God to bless those gathered.

Shala, president of the Memphis Islamic Center in Tennesseee, and Stone, senior pastor of the Christian Heartstrong Church, also of Memphis, led the Castle Rock churchgoers in prayer during a lunchtime gathering following New Hope’s usual Oct. 14 service, then took questions from congregation members.

Both men have been awarded the Freedom of Worship Award from the Roosevelt Institute, the nonprofit partner of America’s first presidential library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, and have been featured in national media outlets. Their mission, they said, is to encourage people throughout the U.S. to see past cultural and religious differences, to foster more curiosity between groups and diminish fear within people hesitant to build such relationships.

It’s a lesson they’ve preached for years through their own story of friendship.

Becoming, and loving, thy neighbor

Stone, Shala and their respective organizations built a national platform starting roughly nine years ago, as their relationship was first forming.

It began when Stone read a local media report about a group of Muslims who had purchased land to build an Islamic center across the street from his church, which he founded and has pastored for nearly 20 years.

Stone’s first reaction was rooted in fear and ignorance, he said. He didn’t know a single Muslim. He didn’t know if he should be concerned about another religious group so close by. So, he prayed.

Shala was among a committee and board searching for land to build a home for the Muslim community in Memphis — a place where they could worship and socialize.

“It was a post-9/11 world,” Shala said. “There were some struggles.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM HIGHLAND RANCH HERALD 

Interfaith dialogue really is relational, accessible

web RNS-Muslim women Washington stateThere is a particular urgency for Catholics to become participants in dialogue with Muslims

Earlier this year while on a train in Europe, I sat down across from an Arabic-looking man who began reading the Quran. My immediate first reaction was apprehension and fear. My immediate second reaction was to check my implicit yet real bias for what it was, Islamophobia.

Most striking to me was this incident happened just a few days after I had finished a book on Muslim-Christian relations that addressed these implicit biases to which Catholics like myself are prone. It is precisely because these biases are so ingrained and because Islamophobia is on the rise that Finding Jesus Among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic by Jordan Denari Duffner is such an important and timely resource.

 

Written primarily for a Catholic audience, the book explores present relations between Christianity and Islam. It does so, however, through the lens of Duffner’s lived experiences with Muslims and the ways in which encountering Islam has helped her find Jesus anew. She never intends the book to be a comprehensive analysis or work of systematic theology. Rather, in her words, Finding Jesus Among Muslims should act as a “facilitator of dialogue.” The book raises more questions than it answers, encouraging readers to go forth and learn more. The author’s rich commitment to Muslims and demonstrated courage in entering vulnerable, liminal spaces inspire readers to become active participants in dialogue.

There is a particular urgency for Catholics to become participants in dialogue with Muslims who are being attacked for their faith in the U.S. and abroad. Duffner succinctly explains how very real and damaging anti-Muslim prejudices in the U.S. are, noting, “In recent years, people have broken into mosques and ripped up Qur’ans, spray-painted vulgar language on the exterior of buildings, shot bullets into signs, and left pig heads, bacon and even feces on the property.” These acts are accompanied by threats of other violence, arson attacks on mosques and even murder.

What has the Catholic response been to these evils? Unfortunately, dialogue and solidarity with our Muslim siblings is largely absent, despite being a mandate of discipleship. A report from The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, which researches Islamophobia, found 70 percent of U.S. Catholics do not know a Muslim personally and just 14 percent have a favorable view of Islam. Few Catholics grasp what the magisterium actually teaches about Islam and about interfaith dialogue generally. As Islamophobia soars in the U.S., the people of God remain collectively silent.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER 

Interfaith Dialogue – What Mary means to Christians and Muslims

img_0029Interfaith Dialogue is an opportunity to gather with people from other faiths and learn from each other on a specific topic. Four speakers from Muslim and Christian traditions spoke about the recognition of Mary and what their holy books say about her.

The night began with a Welcome to Country, and interfaith prayer for peace and verses sung from Chapter Three of the Muslim Quran:

  1. God chose Adam, and Noah, and the family of Abraham, and the family of Imran, over all mankind.
  2. Offspring one of the other. God is Hearer and Knower.
  3. The wife of Imran said, “My Lord, I have vowed to You what is in my womb, dedicated, so accept from me; You are the Hearer and Knower.”
  4. And when she delivered her, she said, “My Lord, I have delivered a female,” and God was well aware of what she has delivered, “and the male is not like the female, and I have named her Mary, and have commended her and her descendants to Your protection, from Satan the outcast.”
  5. Her Lord accepted her with a gracious reception, and brought her a beautiful upbringing, and entrusted her to the care of Zechariah. Whenever Zechariah entered upon her in the sanctuary, he found her with provision. He said, “O Mary, where did you get this from?” She said, “It is from God; God provides to whom He wills without reckoning.”

Mary in Islamic tradition

Shaikh Mohammad Hamed from the Mayfield Mosque, began by saying: “To present Mary, we need more than one lifetime.”

In the Islamic tradition she is a perfect example of chastity, obedience, devotion and piety.

Chosen by Allah above all other women as the mother of the highly ranked prophet Jesus, she is the “Mt Everest” – model for all people to aspire to.

Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran and the only female to have a chapter of the Quran named for her. She is one of few characters whose life is written about in detail.

They Are All Daughters of Abraham

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About a decade ago, while a student at TCU’s divinity school, the now Rev. Dawn Anderson rolled her eyes when a Muslim woman showed up to talk to her class.

Oh no, she thought, “This woman is going to tell us about how men are better than women,” recalled Anderson, the newly appointed associate pastor at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church.

“I had no idea; I’d never met a Muslim before,” Anderson continued. “But it was quite the opposite. She started telling us about some of the feminist ideas in the Muslim religion, like how women get a lot of protections they don’t necessarily get in other religions.”

Anderson said many of her preconceived notions about Muslims stemmed from what she saw on television.

“You just assume all Muslims are like that,” she said.

Today, Anderson said her ignorance about the culture has been replaced with a kinship, a kinship that has grown through Daughters of Abraham meetings.

Daughters of Abraham is an interfaith group that formed following the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PARK CITIES PEOPLE

In blockaded Gaza, Muslims, Christians live in harmony

thumbs_b_c_7dfaf5fa79778619ce1afb811b9013f5By Mohamed Majed

GAZA CITY, Palestine

The friendship between two Palestinians — Hatim Hiriz, a Muslim, and Kamal Tarzi, a Christian — reflects the religious and cultural coexistence that has always characterized the Gaza Strip.

Tarzi, 56, accompanies his friend, Hiriz, 47, who is blind, to and from the mosque each day and helps him perform everyday tasks.

In the Gaza Strip, where Christians and Muslims have long lived in harmony, their friendship isn’t considered unusual.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Tarzi said that the two communities had lived side by side since time immemorial.

“This is always how it has been in Gaza,” he said.

Tarzi recalled how he first met Hiriz 15 years ago, with whom he has since established a strong bond of friendship.

“Hiriz, who used to work as a pharmacist, lost his sight six years ago while preparing a prescription,” he said.

“Before going blind, he used to frequently pray at the mosque, so I decided to help him,” Tarzi added.

“Now I accompany him to the mosque each day, waiting for him outside while he prays,” he said. “When he is done, we come back together.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM AA

Beyond Tolerance: Honoring the Call to Love our Neighbors

Masjid-Al-Madina-750x400Last week, members of the church where I serve in Springfield, Ohio, were graciously invited to attend a service at Masjid Al-Madina, a mosque that I have probably driven past at least a 1,000 times.

Each time I previously drove past the mosque, in the recesses of my mind, I thought, “They are in their world, I am in mine, and we have nothing in common.” It never crossed my mind that the mosque would be a place where friendships could form.

I had no idea what to expect. Inaccurate stereotypes had led me to believe that Muslims were reserved, distrustful, unfriendly, and completely uninterested in my Christian faith. To my shame, I believed these stereotypes to be true…until last week.

Prior to the events leading up to last Friday, I did not know a single Muslim with whom I could have a cup of coffee or tea and share a good story. In fact, I had never had a casual conversation with a person of Muslim faith. Never.

All of that changed dramatically for me over the last three days.

About 50 people from my church, male and female, young and old, were warmly welcomed to Al Madina Mosque for a Friday afternoon prayer service designed to help educate non-Muslims about their faith. Imam Yunus Lasania, his wife Zarina, and so many others (too many to name) extended a warm welcome. In fact, it was one of the warmest and most gracious welcomes I have ever received. They invited us back for dinner that night.

Instead of being reserved, they exuberantly welcomed us with open arms. Instead of being distrustful, they went out of their way to answer any question that we had, even hard ones about things like jihad and Sharia law. The Imam told self-deprecating jokes to put us at ease. They asked honest, deep questions about my Christian faith, and I realized that in many cases my faith was as mysterious to them as there’s was to me. We discovered areas of commonality, and we talked candidly of deep and significant differences. It was perhaps the most natural and easy conversation about Christianity that I have ever had with people who embraced a faith other than my own.

Yunus pointed out verses in the Quran that talk about the Muslim duty to protect the Christians and Jews who live in their midst. These verses come from the Ashtiname of Muhammad, a covenant signed by the Prophet Muhammad to protect Christians and Jews until the end of time. When Imam Yunus addressed members of his own congregation, he gave historical examples of times when Christians extended hospitality and protection to Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RED LETTER CHRISTIANS