Interfaith

Radicalization Is Not a ‘Muslim Problem'

Image via evgdemidova/Shutterstock

Extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaida are trying to radicalize young Muslims through well-produced and elaborate online videos and sweeping Twitter campaigns targeted at disaffected young men and women around the world.

Three London school girls recently ran away to join ISIS in Syria after encountering recruiters on Twitter. A Sunday school teacher in Washington state secretly converted to Islam and planned to leave home to join the only Muslims she knew — Isis recruiters she encountered through social media. In Virginia, a local imam meets with young men and women whose families fear they will answer the call of ISIS sent through their cellphones.

As one member of the local law enforcement told our group of 17 international journalists, “There is a terrorist in your pocket and it is talking to you all the time.”

Calling on Thomas Merton for Racial Justice and Healing

Photo via Jim Forest / Flickr / RNS

Thomas Merton portrait by John Howard Griffin. Photo via Jim Forest / Flickr / RNS

If the influential Catholic writer Thomas Merton were alive today, he would likely have strong words about police brutality and racial profiling.

Back in 1963, Merton called the civil rights movement “the most providential hour, the kairos not merely of the Negro, but of the white man.”

His words echoed May 16 among black pastors at a conference, titled Sacred Journeys and the Legacy of Thomas Merton, hosted by Louisville’s Center for Interfaith Relations. The event marked the 100th anniversary of Merton’s birth.

Q&A: How Would You Respond If Your Christian Daughter Became a Muslim?

Photo courtesy of Dan Raybon / RNS

Patricia Raybon with her daughter Alana Raybon. Photo courtesy of Dan Raybon / RNS

Alana Raybon was baptized as a child in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She attended youth activities and vacation Bible school and even sang in the choir. But today, she wears a headscarf and worships Allah.

Her mother, Patricia, describes Alana’s conversion to Islam as “heartbreaking,” and yet, they’ve found a way to love each other despite the faith divide. They share their struggles in Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace, a book that begs a vital question: how would you respond if your Christian child converted to Islam?

Religion News Service talked to them about their experience. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Alana, tell us the story behind your conversion.

Alana: I developed a love and reverence for God in church, but I couldn’t connect with the idea of the Trinity. I didn’t let my mother know about these feelings, and patiently waited to feel a connection to this concept. In my 20s, I began searching for spiritual enrichment and came upon the concept of Islamic monotheism — the idea of God being one, solely, without any associate. I became inspired to learn more about Islam and converted to the faith as a junior in college and called my mother to share the news.

Q: How did you react, Patricia?

Patricia: I was devastated. A daughter can call from college with all sorts of news — forgetting her mother is still dealing with her own life. In my case, my husband and I had hit a low point in our marriage, my widowed mother had come to live with us, my other daughter was closing a business, and my husband had a cardiovascular emergency. In all of that, Alana called from college to say, “Mom, I’m a Muslim.” Emotionally, I had run out of steam. So I thanked her for calling, asked how her classes were going and if her car was running OK. Then after a few minutes of such talk, we hung up. Looking back, it was my oddest reaction ever to a phone call.

 

A Journey Toward Radical Welcome

Photo via Vibe Images / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Vibe Images / Shutterstock.com

I had the sense, as a child, that God’s goodness and mercy would only follow me all of the days of my life if I was “good” and Christian. And I had the sense that good and Christian was a narrow way.

This meant two things. First, only “good” people, loving and kind people, people who had not erred or strayed or made mistakes or broken the law or never “back-slid” were the sheep worthy of grace and mercy. Second, only Christian people were in the fold. Not Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs — no, the steadfastly loving God had only space for those of us who accepted Jesus and our Lord and Savior AND who had lived sinless lives.

My child-like sense of “good” shifted when I was a teen serving as an elder in the Seventh Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Being up close and personal with my pastor, the late Rev. Oliver Brown, III and the adults around the table were first- hand lessons of the wide-open space of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

These good people — ordained people — were flawed and funny. They fussed and fought. They forgave each other, as God forgave them. My idea of good stretched and breathed and exhaled judgment and inhaled, experientially, that only God is good, that God in Jesus Christ shows this goodness in a particular way, and that all of God’s people are flawed and loved.

As a young adult before seminary, living life in the world, working, loving, breaking up, making up, having growing pains about identity and purpose and vocation, my spiritual muscles strengthened around the concept of the good shepherd who would love me enough to come and get me if I wandered.

Jesus is the ideal shepherd, the model shepherd, the best kind of shepherd; the one who makes the promises of God available to all of God’s people by laying down his life for the sheep.

I had not yet made the leap but most certainly have now to John 10:16.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

This loving Shepherd has a huge and diverse flock. 

Is the U.S. a Model of Interfaith Harmony for a Violent World?

Photo: Robin Marchant / Getty Images for SiriusXM / RNS

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (right) hosts a minister, a rabbi, and an imam. Photo: Robin Marchant / Getty Images for SiriusXM / RNS

Is religion the cause of so much of the violence racking today’s world? Or is faith just one of many factors? Or collateral damage?

Those are tough questions, the kind that are usually posed to religious leaders, not by religious leaders.

But Cardinal Timothy Dolan wanted to switch things up on his weekly radio show, so he invited a minister, a rabbi, and an imam to tackle that issue. What sounds like the opening line of a joke was actually an in-depth discussion of “the rise of religious intolerance.”

“I don’t know if there would be anything more pertinent today, or more timely today, than religious harmony, or the lack thereof,” Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, said March 31 in opening a special edition of his program on the Catholic Channel of the SiriusXM network.

“The elephant in the room is that today, whether we like it or not, religion is often the cause of scandal,” he said.

“Religion is supposed to be an overwhelmingly positive force that brings people together, that increases love and understanding, human progress and human enlightenment.”

But many people today — believers and nonbelievers alike — see religion as the opposite, he said, and “that keeps the four of us up at night.”

A Muslim Actor Plays Jesus. It Works.

Screenshot from 'Killing Jesus' trailer.

Screenshot from 'Killing Jesus' trailer.

In a world surging with anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the persecution of Christians, a Muslim is soon to portray Jesus in a film called Killing JesusBased on Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s bestselling book of the same name, the film seeks to capture the human dynamics and political milieu around the controversial death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Haaz Sleiman, a Lebanese-born American Muslim, was chosen to play the lead as the Jesus character. His selection makes him virtually the first actor of Middle Eastern descent to ever play the role in any mainstream film.

While National Geographic’s attempt at authenticity should be celebrated, the casting of Sleiman has, instead, stirred quite the controversy.

Imagine — in a context where religious tribalism is growing fiercer, a Muslim is embodying the role of a Palestinian Jew and central figure to Christianity. Is this a heretical impossibility or is this a picture of something beautiful?

On Tuesday, I sat down with Haaz to explore the uniqueness of this moment in his career and how the experience of embodying the life and teachings of Jesus has left him forever changed.

What immediately stood out is the grace with which he is handling the criticism from Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Rather than worrying about the controversy, Sleiman feels lucky to have had the opportunity. For him, it was the “ultimate experience as an actor” as he had been “heavily shaped” by Jesus during his childhood. Growing up in a Muslim home, he was taught to revere Jesus as the prophet equal to Mohammed who had come to reveal the beauty and potential of humanity. To play this role gave him a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “become the character that he truly believes in.”

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