An interfaith group gathered in a private home Sept. 21 to head off potential tensions over how Jews and Muslims celebrate Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha, two holidays that overlap this year.
The meeting of the Abrahamic Reunion took on added significance in Jerusalem, where more than a week of violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians on the Temple Mount have spilled into the streets of East Jerusalem.
Two dozen people of various faiths heard a rabbi explain the laws and traditions of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and a Muslim sheikh explain the laws and traditions of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that honors the willingness of Ibrahim (the biblical Abraham) to heed God’s order to sacrifice his son.
The day culminated with an interfaith peace walk between the eastern and western parts of the city. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and considers it part of its capital. The Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
THIS YEAR MARKS the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, the 1965 proclamation on “the relation of the church with non-Christian religions.” I want to celebrate a great theologian whose life intersects with that moment and whose work exemplifies its ethic.
Paul Knitter grew up in a strong working-class Catholic family on the South Side of Chicago and felt the call to the priesthood in his early teens. After four years of seminary high school and two years of additional novitiate training, he joined the Divine Word Missionaries (or SVD), an order whose main work was bringing non-Catholics into the Catholic faith. His regular prayers included the line “May the darkness of sin and the night of heathenism vanish before the light of the Word and the Spirit of grace.”
Reflecting back on this practice in his book One World, Many Religions, Knitter writes: “We had the Word and Spirit; they had sin and heathenism. We were the loving doctors; they were the suffering patients.”
Knitter’s journey took a number of unexpected turns. As he sat with the other seminarians listening to the stories of returned SVD missionaries, he discovered that he was fascinated by the slide shows of Hindu rituals and Buddhist ceremonies. He even detected a hint of admiration in the voices of older SVD priests as they described the elaborate non-Christian religious systems that they encountered on their missions. One brought in an Indian dance group and explained that their performance was developed in a Hindu context but had been adapted to glorify Jesus. Knitter was entranced by the intricacy of the movements, and he found himself wondering whether “sin and heathenism” were the correct terms for a tradition that could inspire such beauty.
On the eve of Yom Kippur and Pope Francis’ arrival to the United States, more than 100 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faith leaders gathered at the National Press Club to participate in the Interfaith Religious Leaders Summit: End Hunger by 2030, hosted by Bread for the World. Participants shared a meal around tables as they reflected on their faith traditions around hunger and poverty, discussed how to best achieve a positive shift in U.S. national priorities by 2017, and publicly committed themselves and their faith communities to help end hunger by 2030.
The summit began with a reception during which everyone — from heads of churches to CEOs of faith-based organizations — shared introductions with new partners and reunited with old friends. Rev. Carlos Malavé of Christian Churches Together greeted everyone with a welcome.
“Tonight we come together as people of faith. If we gather together, as we are tonight, and we commit to each other in this task, we will certainly achieve everything that God is calling us to do,” he said.
Faith communities have long been at the forefront of dynamic and significant change, and they’ve been a driving force behind global efforts in response to ebola, in combating HIV/AIDS, and in famine relief, to name just a few. From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Dalai Lama, people of faith have helped create and sustain social movements — and have recognized the responsibilities that faith bestows.
Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus may all express their religious faith in different ways, but each community shares its beliefs, seeks salvation, and opens its heart through its own moments of reflection and in its own places. We live in the same world — under the same sky — and, because of our shared humanity and faith, we share many of the same hopes and fears.
That’s the instinct behind the "Prayer for Everyone" movement, which we at ONE have been working on with other partners in the Project Everyone coalition.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.”
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 Jesus. Based 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.”
President Obama on Feb. 5 called for an emphasis on what is just about the world’s religions as a way to counter the ways faith has been distorted across the globe.
“We see faith driving us to do right,” he said to more than 3,500 people attending the annual National Prayer Breakfast. “But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”
He urged believers of all faiths to practice humility, support church-state separation and adhere to the Golden Rule as ways to keep religion in its proper context.
“As people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends,” Obama said.
“Here at home and around the world we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom: freedom of religion, the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.”
Fr. Nabil Haddad is a passionate and energetic man. As a Melkite Catholic priest and dean of Old Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, he is especially passionate about fostering peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. This work keeps him very busy, as he travels often to bring his message of peace as far and wide as possible.
The day before we met, Fr. Nabil announced at a press conference a new initiative called Karama. Karama is the Arabic word for dignity. He stressed the importance of coexistence between the Abrahamic faiths and how this can be achieved through education focusing on human dignity and by talking about citizenship. Fr. Nabil said this approach is very successful in reaching the hearts and minds of the Muslim community.
“Do not make the religion of Islam the problem,” he said. “Instead use our vibrant witness – that is what is lacking in other societies.”
A friend mentioned that he likes my blogs dealing with love and compassion and other themes without getting into religion specifically. He said that the mention of God can make things uncomfortable.
My reaction: I know exactly where he’s coming from.
The word “God” has become such a loaded term. We’ve made it that way; God hasn’t done it. And the truth is, I’ve found myself shying away from using the word at times because I’m aware it’s an immediate turnoff to some people. They have the same sort of visceral reaction that we get when we see one of those political attack ads come onto our TV set.
We want to reach for the remote and change the channel.
One of the reasons I started writing blogs was to try to strip away some of the nonsense we’ve attached to the name. And there is so much nonsense. You know what I mean:
That God loves me more than you. God approves of me and those who are like me, but not you and those who are like you. God likes my religion and my way of life, but not yours. God is on my side in any disagreement. God approves of hatred and judgment and killing. God promotes crusades and inquisitions and holy wars.
So much …