Most U.S. Protestant pastors see Islam as dangerous – survey
Dec 15, 2009 04:18 EST
American Muslims at the Atlanta Masjid of al-Islam mosque, 9 Feb 2007/Tami Chappell
Here’s an interesting survey that was released on Monday by LifeWay Research, which is the number crunching arm of the South Baptist Convention, America’s largest evangelical group.
It says that two-thirds of Protestant pastors in America regard Islam as a dangerous religion. You can see their press release here. The full survey has not been posted on their site.
But in a nut shell, the survey of over 1,000 pastors of different Protestant denominations found that 45 percent strongly agreed with the statement “I believe Islam is a dangerous religion,” while 21 percent agreed to it “somewhat.”
The survey was conducted in October, before the massacre at the Fort Hood army base in Texas allegedly by a Muslim soldier.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said: “… our survey asked whether pastors viewed Islam as ‘dangerous,’ but that does not necessarily mean ‘violent.’ ‘Dangerous’ can be defined in a variety of ways, including from the perspective of spiritual influence. Regardless of the definition, the numbers tell us that Protestant pastors are concerned.”
Given the very conservative cast of the SBC and strong evangelical Protestant support over the years for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some people will automatically take the survey with a grain of salt. But the survey did include clergy from mainline Protestant denominations as well as evangelicals.
Not surprisingly, it found that: “Mainline denomination pastors are less likely than evangelicals to say Islam is “a dangerous religion.” While 77 percent of evangelical pastors either somewhat or strongly agree Islam is dangerous, only 44 percent of mainline pastors feel the same way, and 38 percent strongly disagree.”
It also asked about partisan affiliation and found, according to its release, that: ”The majority of pastors affiliated with the Democratic Party are more likely to strongly disagree than Republicans or Independents. While 61 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of Independents strongly agree Islam is dangerous, only 16 percent of Democrats feel the same way, and 52 percent of Democrats strongly disagree.”
Rural and small town pastors were also more likely than their big city and suburban counterparts to agree with the statement. The same was true of politically conservative pastors compared to those of a liberal bent.
None of this is surprising though one could ask why there are such concerns in rural America — assuming that the men of the cloth reflect their flocks’ outlook — when much of America’s Muslim population is concentrated in urban areas? What do you think?
Interfaith On The Rise In US
by, Delaine Zendran on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
A 2008 study by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which was recently published in Time Magazine, shows that interfaith is on the rise in the United States. The study examined a cross-section of 4,000 American adults and asked them faith related questions on topics such as marriage, family, and religious traditions. The results of the survey paint a more open-minded and culturally diverse picture of the United States than ever before.
According to the survey, 37% of married adults in the U.S. have a spouse from another religion. What I found to be even more shocking was that among Jewish American’s, that figure rises to almost 50% of all marriages.
One of the most interesting statistics revealed by the survey showed that even Americans who don’t belong to an interfaith marriage or family are curious about other religious traditions. The survey revealed that 25% of those polled said that they attend a faith service outside of their own religion occasionally throughout the year (not including weddings and funerals). According to social scientists, Americans are generally more religious than Europeans. These new findings prove that the American passion for religion has come to include a higher level of understanding and respect for other faiths and beliefs.
Amongst the most eager to experience other faith traditions are Protestants. According to the survey 30% of American Protestants said they attended Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or other services occasionally in 2008. Leading this trend are African-American Protestants with 42% visiting other houses of worship. 25% of white Evangelicals also followed suite by visiting other faiths in 2008. However, they are also the most likely to stick to their own kind with more than 50% saying they only attended their own services.
The Pew Forum’s study also examined interfaith marriages, and the effect they have on a person’s willingness to try different faiths. The results proved to be complex. Not surprisingly, the study showed that individuals in interfaith marriages generally tend to be less religiously observant and less likely to attend worship services, than couples that share the same faith. In addition, interfaith spouses are no more likely to attend services outside of their traditions than same-faith spouses. However, 43% interfaith marriages who attend worship services at least yearly and have some degree of religious commitment, reported visiting other houses of worship, while only 30% same religion marriages reported visiting other houses of worship.
One of the most criticized elements of interfaith marriages is the lack of religious upbringing of children. Often, children feel no attachment to either parent’s religion because the parents can’t agree on which tradition to raise the child in. However, the study showed that at least some interfaith families are incorporating religion into their child’s life. Such families said that being part of an interfaith family enriches a child’s faith life and enhances their willingness to experience multiple faith traditions.
Farhana Alarakhiya and Rob Parker are teaching their daughter Sarra the common elements of their faiths. PAWEL DWULIT FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL
As interfaith marriages become more common in Canada, couples are faced with finding a balance between their faiths and cultures during Christmas
For Farhana Alarakhiya and Rob Parker, the biggest issue was what to put on the top of their Christmas tree.
Mr. Parker was accustomed to a star - it had been part of his childhood since his family attended the United Church in his home town of Dundas, Ont. But that symbol made Ms. Alarakhiya uncomfortable as an Ismaili Muslim who immigrated from Kenya with her family when she was 9 and takes her faith seriously. Islam sees Jesus Christ as a prophet, she says, and she felt the star was connected too closely to the image of Jesus as the Son of God.
In the end, they settled on a handmade ornament she found at a craft show that Ms. Alarakhiya calls an "orb" and Mr. Parker jokingly calls an "amoeba."
"I thought it was more in line with both of our beliefs, to symbolize unity and friendship and family," says Ms. Alarakhiya, who, along with her husband, works in Ottawa's high-tech industry.
"I realized it didn't matter as much as I thought," Mr. Parker says.
As interfaith marriages become more common in Canada, couples are faced with finding a balance between their faiths and cultures, particularly on major religious holidays such as Christmas. According to Statistics Canada, roughly one in five Canadian marriages are between couples of different religions - though that figure dates back to 2001, and the number would likely be higher today. The most common mixed marriage is between Protestant and Roman Catholic Canadians, but unions between a wider range, particularly Jewish and Christian (hence Chrismukkah, a pop culture term for blending Hanukkah with Christmas) are also more frequent.
Although interfaith marriages are more likely to include one spouse who isn't particularly religious - such as Mr. Parker - and by nature involve people with a more liberal view of religion, raising a family from different backgrounds isn't without its complications during the holidays. Sometimes, spouses are being introduced to Christmas traditions for the first time. Both spouses often face pressure from parents to preserve their own faith, especially when kids come along.
Parents are part of the stress for Fahdi, a 30-something Muslim professional in Ottawa whose mother and father are unhappy he is dating someone who was raised Roman Catholic. But he says religion would be a hot-spot in his relationship anyway - if he has kids some day, he wants them to be raised in his faith, without even the secular elements of Christmas, which he sees as largely fostering consumerism. "I don't want there to be ambiguity."
But other couples say it's not hard to strike a balance. Vonne Bannavong, a Buddhist who immigrated from Laos when she was young, and Robert Lacroix, a Roman Catholic French Canadian, both have a picture of The Last Supper hanging in the kitchen and a meditation room in their Winnipeg home. "We have a respect for each other's faith and symbols," says Mr. Lacroix, though he admits the statues of Buddha took some adjustment. "But I got over that. I realized that's a silly thing."
This year, Mr. Lacroix will go to mass on Christmas eve on his own. "But that's mainly," he laughs, "because she doesn't want to go at midnight."
The Winnipeg couple concedes that their situation is made easier because their children, from previous relationships, are already grown, raised in their respective faiths.
For Sabina Holder, whose Muslim family immigrated from India and whose husband's Roman Catholic family came to Canada from Guyana, Christmas has been a crash course now that her four-year-old son is asking for all the holiday trappings, from popcorn strings on the tree to snacks left for Santa. She's been using her Christian friends as Christmas advisers - down to arranging the e-mail from the North Pole.
"Anything my son wants, we do," she says.
But on the faith side, Ms. Holder adds, "we've kept it pretty simple." A student at a Catholic public school, her son understands his parents come from different backgrounds. "We're still figuring it out," says Ms. Holder. "As long as he knows there are other religions, and Mommy is not Catholic, it doesn't bother me."
There can be fringe benefits to having two distinct faiths in marriage. Elaine Hirji, an accountant in Vancouver, never has to miss opening stockings and presents with her parents on Christmas morning. "There's no competition." Every second Christmas, she and her husband and their two daughters go for turkey dinner with her Ismaili Muslim in-laws - a ritual that includes a small decorated tree to embrace diversity in the family and turkey served with green chili. "I tried to do Christmas crackers one years," she remembers. "That was a disaster, trying to teach 20 people to do that at once."
At Ms. Alarakhiya and Mr. Parker's home, the Christmas tree, chopped down on a family outing, will be decorated this weekend. (Mr. Parker's Santa Claus collection is already on display.) On Sunday, a week after hosting a Muslim friend for an Eid celebration, they are having a holiday dinner for Christian friends. They are careful to teach their 8-year-old daughter, Sarra, who is being raised Muslim, the common themes of their individual backgrounds - the value both religions place on the teachings of Jesus, the importance of family, and care for people in need.
"The example I give to my daughter is: All the religions that are out there, think of them as a string of Christmas lights," Ms. Alarakhiya says. "The colours are all different. But the electricity that runs through them is the same."
January 11, 2010
Churches Attacked Amid Furor in Malaysia
By SETH MYDANS
BANGKOK — An uproar among Muslims in Malaysia over the use of the word Allah by Christians spread over the weekend with the firebombing and vandalizing of several churches, increasing tensions at a time of political turbulence.
Arsonists struck three churches and a convent school early Sunday, and black paint was splashed on another church. This followed the firebombing of four churches on Friday and Saturday. No injuries were reported, and only one church, Metro Tabernacle in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, had extensive damage.
The attacks, unlike anything Malaysia has experienced before, have shaken the country, where many Muslims are angry over a Dec. 31 court ruling that overturned a government ban on the use of the word Allah to denote the Christian God.
Though that usage is common in many countries, where Arabic- and Malay-language Bibles describe Jesus as the “son of Allah,” many Muslims here insist that the word belongs exclusively to them and say that its use by other faiths could confuse Muslim worshipers.
That dispute, in turn, has been described by some observers as a sign of political maneuvering, as the governing party struggles to maintain its dominance after setbacks in national and state elections in March 2008.
Some political analysts and politicians accuse Prime Minister Najib Razak of raising racial and religious issues as he tries to solidify his Malay base. In a difficult balancing act, he must also woo ethnic Chinese and Indians whose opposition contributed to his party’s setback in 2008.
“The political contestation is a lot more intensified,” said Elizabeth Wong, a state official who is a member of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, an opposition party. “In Malaysia the central theme will always be about the Malay identity and about Islam. The parties come up with various policies or means to attempt to appeal to the Muslim Malay voters.”
Mr. Najib condemned the violence, saying the government would “take whatever steps it can to prevent such acts.”
In an interview, the main opposition figure, Anwar Ibrahim, implied that the government was behind the current tensions. “This is the last hope — to incite racial and religious sentiments to cling to power,” he said. “Immediately since the disastrous defeat in the March 2008 election they have been fanning this.”
The government has appealed the court decision and has been granted a stay. The dispute has swelled into a nationwide confrontation, with small demonstrations at mosques and passionate outcries on the Internet.
The tensions are shaking a multiethnic, multiracial state that has tried to maintain harmony among its citizens: mostly Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population, and minority Chinese and Indians, who mostly practice Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.
About 9 percent of Malaysia’s population of 28 million people are Christians, most of them Chinese or Indian. Analysts say this is the first outright confrontation between Muslims and Christians.
But race has become a staple of political discourse in recent years, and religion has been its vehicle, said Ooi Kee Beng, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
“Religion has become a much more useful tool for parties who depend on playing on ethnic divisions,” Mr. Ooi said. “They find it difficult to talk about racial issues but possible to talk about religious issues. We are seeing the result of that political opportunism over the last two decades.”
January 11, 2010
Let’s Talk About Faith
By ROSS DOUTHAT
Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbor, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit — and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.
That’s the theory. In practice, the admirable principle that nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs often blurs into the more illiberal idea that nobody should ever publicly criticize another religion. Or champion one’s own faith as an alternative. Or say anything whatsoever about religion, outside the privacy of church, synagogue or home.
A week ago, Brit Hume broke all three rules at once. Asked on a Fox News panel what advice he’d give to the embattled Tiger Woods, Hume suggested that the golfer consider converting to Christianity. “He’s said to be a Buddhist,” Hume noted. “I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. ”
A great many people immediately declared that this comment was the most outrageous thing they’d ever heard. Hume’s words were replayed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, to shocked laughter from the audience. They were denounced across the blogosphere as evidence of chauvinism, bigotry and gross stupidity. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann claimed, absurdly, that Hume had tried to “threaten Tiger Woods into becoming a Christian.” His colleague David Shuster suggested that Hume had “denigrated” his own religion by discussing it on a talk show.
The Washington Post’s TV critic, Tom Shales, mocked the idea that Christians should “run around trying to drum up new business” for their faith. Hume “doesn’t really have the authority,” Shales suggested — unless of course “one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytize.” (This is, of course, exactly what Christians are supposed to believe.)
Somewhat more plausibly, a few of Hume’s critics suggested that had he been a Buddhist commentator urging a Christian celebrity to convert — or more provocatively, a Muslim touting the advantages of Islam — Christians would be calling for his head.
No doubt many would. The tendency to take offense at freewheeling religious debate is widespread. There are European Christians who side with Muslims in support of blasphemy laws, lest Jesus or the Prophet Muhammad have his reputation sullied. There are American Catholics who cry “bigotry” every time a newspaper columnist criticizes the church’s teaching on sexuality. Many Christians have decided that the best way to compete in an era of political correctness is to play the victim card.
But these believers are colluding in their own marginalization. If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously. The idea that religion is too mysterious, too complicated or too personal to be debated on cable television just ensures that it never gets debated at all.
This doesn’t mean that we need to welcome real bigotry into our public discourse. But what Hume said wasn’t bigoted: Indeed, his claim about the difference between Buddhism and Christianity was perfectly defensible. Christians believe in a personal God who forgives sins. Buddhists, as a rule, do not. And it’s at least plausible that Tiger Woods might welcome the possibility that there’s Someone out there capable of forgiving him, even if Elin Nordegren and his corporate sponsors never do.
Or maybe not. For many people — Woods perhaps included — the fact that Buddhism promotes an ethical life without recourse to Christian concepts like the Fall of Man, divine judgment and damnation is precisely what makes it so appealing. The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume’s remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines — explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.
When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe’s religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.
If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher — including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both — who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?
It’s reasonable to doubt that a cable news analyst has the right answer to this question. But the debate that Brit Hume kicked off a week ago is still worth having. Indeed, it’s the most important one there is.
We have been holding monthly interfaith events in order to explore spirituality from many different traditions. Some monthly events have included talks about mystics and visionaries from various faiths. Other months have featured guided meditations. There have been book launches by interfaith figures such as Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke, (photo above on left) that focus upon influential spiritual thinkers or the search for spirituality.
From 7pm to 8.30pm Dr Naznin Hirji (above photo on right) will speak and lead a discussion on the topic, ‘Experience of the Sacred’. Naznin’s Doctorate is about this area. She is a consultant in Change Management and a long time activist in the Aga Khan Development Network.
Naznin Hirji has a doctorate in Politics, International Relations and Policy Studies with specialisation in the Philosophy of Learning, Faith and Human Development. She also has an MSc in Change Agent Skills and Strategies and a Postgraduate Certificate in Research Methods. She has several years’ experience as an Educator in the area of experiential and existential learning, spiritual leadership and change management using innovative approaches and a passion for Islamic architecture. Naznin represented her community as a Member on the Ismaili Religious Education Board UK from 1992-1995 and as a Member of The Ismaili National Council UK from 1999-2002, both positions incorporating multifaith and multicultural interfaces and global development issues. She has also held several other leadership and Educator positions with emphasis on policy issues. Naznin has worked on various projects within the Aga Khan Development Network including the Aga Khan Foundation, and has long been affiliated with The Institute for Ismaili Studies in London. She has participated in planning Committees on several international events and contributed to the initial thinking for the Festival of Muslim Cultures UK 2005-2006. In 2007-2008 she project-led the planning, research and writing of three Volumes of a community religious education Curriculum, which have been translated for use in Central Asian countries and are also in use in Europe, Canada, East Africa and Russia. Naznin has published several articles and is in the process of writing for an International Handbook on Learning.
Working at individual, group and organizational levels, she has traveled extensively to support the processes of transformation and transition. Her style of work is to blend the artistic, scientific and philosophical in order to inspire creativity in people and to foster openness of approach to lifelong learning.
You are welcome to attend. Kindly RSVP to reserve your place to firstname.lastname@example.org . We look forward to meeting you on Tuesday.
For more information:
This entry was posted on February 12, 2010 at 7:18 pm and is filed under Interfaith. Tagged: Interfaith, one family under God, religious dialogue, spirituality, Universal Peace Federation, UPF. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Morocco Post \ Washington, DC
“THREE FAITHS ONE GOD” PUBLIC TELEVISION INFO UPDATE
The “Three Faiths, One God: Judaism, Christianity, Islam public television documentary compares similarities and differences in religious beliefs and practices that Islam has with Christianity and Judaism. It also examines how people of goodwill in the Abrahamic faith communities are coming to terms with historical conflicts that impact their lives today, the crisis of the fundamentalist approach to religious pluralism, and tearing down barriers to understanding & respect.
The documentary is being broadcast on over two-hundred public television stations nationwide. Reactions to the program from national public television audiences and the media indicate that it is having a powerful impact.
In “Three Faiths, One God” prime-time broadcast on WNET (New York) the ratings reported over 75,000 viewers watched the two-part program. The New York Times in their review called it: “…a thought provoking PBS documentary… ” On Houston Public Television the ratings represented over 50,000 viewers. On Detroit Public Television the ratings represented over 50,000 viewers as well, not including a significant number of Canadian viewers. The documentary is also being used by Public Television Stations as a fund-raising “Pledge” program. Most recently by the PBS flagship station WETA, Washington, D.C. The documentary is subtitled in Arabic.
The interest as expressed by public television audiences has given impetus to and is generating a global educational outreach. The following are examples of the educational outreach impact of “Three Faiths, One God”:
• The State Department had a screening and a panel discussion with some of the documentary’s participants for its personnel at State’s Dean Acheson auditorium. The event was transmitted on closed circuit to our embassies worldwide. The event was so successful that the State Department is now distributing the “Three Faiths” documentary as a public diplomacy outreach initiative through its embassies worldwide. The State Department has reported that it is one of the most requested programs by the embassies.
• The program and its accompanying study guides are being used as resource material for comparative religion courses in universities, colleges and junior colleges throughout the country. The list of hundreds of schools includes such prominent institutions as the Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Vanderbilt University, Cornell University, University of Georgia, University of Michigan and Notre Dame etc. Many public, university and college libraries have added the documentaries to their collection.
• The Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies sponsored a workshop for high school teachers that featured the “Three Faiths” documentary and panelists from the three Abrahamic faiths. Each teacher and administrator was given the documentary and study guide for use in their respective high schools.
• The National Council for Social Studies has officially endorsed the documentary and its accompanying study guide by for use by High School teachers nationwide.
• The World Affairs Council of America also presented “Three Faiths, One God” as part of a national workshop for secondary and middle school teachers.
• Universities and colleges are also holding special interfaith student and community awareness programs. For example, Gordon College, in Weymouth, Mass presented the documentary followed by an interfaith panel for the entire student body and surrounding community. Over 1,000 people attended. The next day there were breakout discussions for students and faculty. Georgetown University screened the program with a follow-up dialogue sponsored by the Interfaith Student Organization.
• The North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), an association of interfaith organizations and agencies in the United States, Canada and Mexico, is presenting a screening of “Three Faiths, One God” followed by an interfaith dialogue at their annual conference. The program and study guide will then be made available to all of NAIN’s interfaith organizations.
• The program was presented by the National Council of Churches at their annual conference of the Interfaith Directors of the Council’s various denominations and is been made available to their member congregations.
• The Ismaili Centers have distributed the documentary throughout the United States as media resource for religious and cultural education to support the teachings of their spiritual leader his highness the Aga Khan, who has emphasized the view of Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith: one that teaches compassion and tolerance and that upholds the dignity of man
• The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Committee of Interreligious Affairs and the Islamic Society of North America are using a special edition of the documentary in a ground-breaking nationwide joint initiative to promote Muslim-Jewish dialogue.
• The documentary is being used for benefit screenings and community dialogue events by a variety of interfaith organizations. For example, at the Riverside Church in New York; in Washington D.C. at the Avalon Theatre, under the auspices of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Washington; we have personally witnessed how intensely the documentary affects multi-ethnic educational audiences and motivates them to dialogue in very lively and moving discussions.
• OASIS, a national education organization dedicated to enriching the lives of mature adults, is presenting seminars around the country centered on the documentary with visiting local interfaith clergy and scholars conducting discussions. Institutions nationwide such as Johns Hopkins University are also showing the documentary in Adult Education or community programs followed by panel discussions.
• Major corporations and national associations are using the programs for diversity training. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield Florida and the National Association of Realtors are using the programs this way.
“Three Faiths, One God” won the Angel Award for productions with the highest moral, spiritual, ethical and social impact. “Three Faiths” also received the Communicator Crystal Award of Excellence which is given to productions whose ability to communicate puts them among the best in the field. The program also received the Videographer Award of Excellence. “Three Faiths, One God” won the Telly Award for outstanding achievement and was selected for a special screening at the prestigious Sun Valley (Idaho) Spiritual Film Festival.
The Islamic Society of Fredrick, Md. recently presented the ISF HAJJ annual award to the filmmakers for their contribution to inter-religious harmony and peace in the world.
March 8, 2010
By ROSS DOUTHAT
Mysticism is dying, and taking true religion with it. Monasteries have dwindled. Contemplative orders have declined. Our religious leaders no longer preach the renunciation of the world; our culture scoffs at the idea. The closest most Americans come to real asceticism is giving up chocolate, cappuccinos, or (in my own not-quite-Francis-of-Assisi case) meat for lunch for Lent.
This, at least, is the stern message of Luke Timothy Johnson, writing in the latest issue of the Catholic journal Commonweal. As society has become steadily more materialistic, Johnson declares, our churches have followed suit, giving up on the ascetic and ecstatic aspects of religion and emphasizing only the more worldly expressions of faith. Conservative believers fixate on the culture wars, religious liberals preach social justice, and neither leaves room for what should be a central focus of religion — the quest for the numinous, the pursuit of the unnamable, the tremor of bliss and the dark night of the soul.
Yet by some measures, mysticism’s place in contemporary religious life looks more secure than ever. Our opinion polls suggest that we’re encountering the divine all over the place. In 1962, after a decade-long boom in church attendance and public religiosity, Gallup found that just 22 percent of Americans reported having what they termed “a religious or mystical experience.” Flash forward to 2009, in a supposedly more secular United States, and that number had climbed to nearly 50 percent.
In a sense, Americans seem to have done with mysticism what we’ve done with every other kind of human experience: We’ve democratized it, diversified it, and taken it mass market. No previous society has offered seekers so many different ways to chase after nirvana, so many different paths to unity with God or Gaia or Whomever. A would-be mystic can attend a Pentecostal healing service one day and a class on Buddhism the next, dabble in Kabbalah in February and experiment with crystals in March, practice yoga every morning and spend weekends at an Eastern Orthodox retreat center. Sufi prayer techniques, Eucharistic adoration, peyote, tantric sex — name your preferred path to spiritual epiphany, and it’s probably on the table.
This democratization has been in many ways a blessing. Our horizons have been broadened, our religious resources have expanded, and we’ve even recovered spiritual practices that seemed to have died out long ago. The unexpected revival of glossolalia (speaking in tongues, that is), the oldest and strangest form of Christian worship, remains one of the more remarkable stories of 20th-century religion.
And yet Johnson may be right that something important is being lost as well. By making mysticism more democratic, we’ve also made it more bourgeois, more comfortable, and more dilettantish. It’s become something we pursue as a complement to an upwardly mobile existence, rather than a radical alternative to the ladder of success. Going to yoga classes isn’t the same thing as becoming a yogi; spending a week in a retreat center doesn’t make me Thomas Merton or Thérèse of Lisieux. Our kind of mysticism is more likely to be a pleasant hobby than a transformative vocation.
What’s more, it’s possible that our horizons have become too broad, and that real spiritual breakthroughs require a kind of narrowing — the decision to pick a path and stick with it, rather than hopscotching around in search of a synthesis that “works for me.” The great mystics of the past were often committed to a particular tradition and community, and bound by the rules (and often the physical confines) of a specific religious institution. Without these kind of strictures and commitments, Johnson argues, mysticism drifts easily into a kind of solipsism: “Kabbalism apart from Torah-observance is playacting; Sufism disconnected from Shariah is vague theosophy; and Christian mysticism that finds no center in the Eucharist or the Passion of Christ drifts into a form of self-grooming.”
Most religious believers will never be great mystics, of course, and the American way of faith is kinder than many earlier eras to those of us who won’t. But maybe it’s become too kind, and too accommodating. Even ordinary belief — the kind that seeks epiphanies between deadlines, and struggles even with the meager self-discipline required to get through Lent — depends on extraordinary examples, whether they’re embedded in our communities or cloistered in the great silence of a monastery. Without them, faith can become just another form of worldliness, therapeutic rather than transcendent, and shorn of any claim to stand in judgment over our everyday choices and concerns.
Without them, too, we give up on what’s supposed to be the deep promise of religious practice: that at any time, in any place, it’s possible to encounter the divine, the revolutionary and the impossible — and have your life completely shattered and remade.
This is the first in a series of reports that will look at new efforts — driven largely by American faith leaders — to bridge old divisions among the nation's and the world's believers.
NEW YORK | When FaithHouse Manhattan has its twice-monthly interfaith gatherings, the guest list is a carnival of religious belief and creed.
An Islamic Sufi dervish greets you at the door, but the program director, an Episcopalian, makes the announcements. A rabbi, a female Muslim and a Seventh-day Adventist share leadership of the meeting.
The night's program at FaithHouse, in a posh office just off Fifth Avenue, was the Jewish holiday of Purim. Oranges, nuts, apricots and hamentaschen, a Jewish holiday pastry, were offered as snacks. Participants put on costumes to act out the biblical story of Esther.
"People who have a hunger for religious experience can have a taste of it here," said Samir Selmanovic, the Adventist co-leader. Born in Croatia to a Muslim father and a Catholic mother, he helped found FaithHouse 18 months ago. Then he wrote a book, "It's All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian," on the plethora of religions that Americans are increasingly sampling.
FaithHouse is probably the only multireligious church in the country, but its jumble of faiths and practices is becoming less unusual in today's religious marketplace.
In a world in which sectarian divisions fuel some of the most violent and dangerous confrontations, the interfaith movement — once thought as irrelevant — has emerged as a force in American religion like never before.
The movement has made for some unlikely bedfellows, such as an emerging think tank for Jews and Mormons in Salt Lake City.
It involves unlikely alliances, such as when one of the most conservative Christian pro-life groups staged a news conference on Capitol Hill in September applauding a Muslim prayer service on the Mall.
It involves unlikely allies, such as leading Christian "emergent" leader Brian McLaren, who was roundly criticized during Ramadan last year when he fasted the entire month out of solidarity with Muslims.
It involves unlikely support, such as that offered by the Obama White House, which has identified interfaith work as a public policy goal. President Obama's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has an "interreligious dialogue and cooperation" task force that includes a female Hindu priest, an Orthodox Jewish layman, a female Muslim pollster, a nondenominational evangelical Christian pastor, a pastor and black civil rights leader, and a Muslim youth worker.
It benefits from some unlikely backing. Some of the biggest movers and shakers in the interfaith movement are governments in Muslim states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan.
Heads — or former heads — of state are likewise involved. Soon after British Prime Minister Tony Blair retired, he founded an interfaith foundation in London to "promote respect and understanding about the world's major religions and show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world."
Not since 1950, when the National Council of Churches was founded, has this much energy been aimed toward alliances across religious barriers.
Some say the lessening of fervor among evangelicals — the Southern Baptists, for instance, have been losing members several years in a row — is responsible.
Others say the presence of the first U.S. president whose father was a Muslim is what's spurred interest.
Others point to Sept. 11, 2001, a bolt out of the blue that was a wake-up call to Islamic leaders around the world.
"There has been a huge outpouring of interfaith effort since Sept. 11," said Padraic O'Hare, director of the Center for Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. "This is not a luxury. It's a necessity, whether there is a God or not."
His center added the word "Muslim" to its title in October 2008, a sign that the nation is evolving from a Judeo-Christian society to a society based on the three major Abrahamic religions.
Many say natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in January, have thrown together disparate religious charities like never before.
Many point out that it's not American Christians but minority religious groups — Muslims, Mormons and Jews — who are providing the energy and creativity for this movement.
Whatever the reason or cause, people are talking to other people like never before.
Jews, Muslims in Potomac
One of the newest interfaith initiatives is the annual "twinning" of synagogues and mosques, an effort sponsored by the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding to build bonds between Jews and Muslims. About 100 mosques and synagogues in North America and Europe "twinned" in November, double the amount that participated in the first Weekend of Twinning in 2008.
Two local participants were Congregation Shirat HaNefesh in Chevy Chase and the Medina Center in Potomac, which brought together a group of immigrant Muslims and suburban Jews. They agreed to meet on a Sunday afternoon for a combined worship service at a private home that serves as an informal mosque.
As a black velvet banner with Koranic sayings hung over the fireplace mantel, several dozen men sporting yarmulkes and kufis (the round cap that male Muslims wear) sat on the floor. Rabbi Gerald Serotta of Shirat HaNefesh had his arm flung around one of the Islamic worship leaders.
About 75 people turned out for the gathering, which had all the women clustered in the back. The Jewish women grouped themselves awkwardly against a wall and pulled on head scarves while the Muslim women gave them sympathetic smiles.
A speech by Rabbi Serotta suggested that Islamic and Jewish conceptions of God were basically equal.
"We don't understand why God has chosen more than one path for humanity," he told the group. "God created different paths so you'd compete in goodness."
After Saif Qargha, a teacher from Afghanistan, gave a short instruction on the five pillars (basic tenets) of Islam, everyone lined up to pray. At the chant of the muezzin, Muslim and Jew alike dropped to their knees, then touched their heads to the floor in a form of prayer in mosques.
Afterward, the participants shared a rice and chicken dinner.
"This is a good idea," said Musood Rad, a Muslim from Hyderabad, India. "This brings our hearts together."
Daniel Spiro, one of the Jewish participants and a Department of Justice attorney, said such meetings are essential for world peace. He is a co-founder of the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington. "In an era where many people are turned off by God, Muslims are some of the most devout lovers of God I've found," he said. "It's like mining for diamonds, and you'll find diamonds in Islam."
Wherever interfaith activity is happening, a synagogue is bound to be nearby. In Washington, it's the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. On one day, the temple may be hosting classes for gentile women to learn Jewish rituals. The next day, a Muslim iftar service is held to observe Ramadan.
One workshop last fall, staged by Yes We Can: Middle East Peace, brought together several hundred people to Sixth & I. Mazen Faraj, a Palestinian Muslim whose brother and father died at the hands of Israeli soldiers, sat next to Robi Damelin, a Jewish woman whose 28-year-old son was killed by Palestinian snipers.
"We aren't just two kooks coming out of the Middle East with strange ideas," Ms. Damelin told listeners seated in the rose-colored pews. "We want you to leave here with some hope."
Meredith Jacobs, who does family programming at Sixth and I, said many American families are living the interfaith life on the ground. She leads popular classes for gentile women married to Jewish men who wish to learn some basic rituals for the Sabbath and for Jewish holidays.
"It's intermarried families who show up here," she said. "There's nothing else out there in society for them." Bimonthly interfaith dinners at Sixth & I have been packed with guests to the point that Washingtonian magazine features the synagogue's ethnic meal offerings in its Best Bites column.
"This is where the culture is going," said Ms. Jacobs. "This is where American religion is going."
Are Evangelicals buying in?
Evangelical Christians have been more resistant to interfaith dialogue but are slowly climbing on the bandwagon, especially with Muslims. Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., has had three such evangelical Christian-Muslim dialogues. The last one, an April 2009 gathering, attracted 30 scholars.
In August, the Rev. Brian McLaren, founder of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville and a leader in the "emergent church" movement among evangelicals, announced on his blog that he and some friends would fast during the Muslim month of Ramadan.
"We are not doing so in order to become Muslims: we are deeply committed Christians," he wrote. "But as Christians, we want to come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them. Just as Jesus, a devout Jew, overcame religious prejudice and learned from a Syrophonecian woman and was inspired by her faith two thousand years ago, we seek to learn from our Muslim sisters and brothers today."
Six months later, he said, the 28-day fast, which involves going without any nourishment during daylight, was "very difficult."
"A few days into it, I remember thinking that I had huge respect for a billion people in the world who do this," he recalled. "It was the first time I had not drunk anything from dawn to dusk."
He kept e-mail contact with two Muslim friends during those four weeks, "which certainly enriched our friendship," he said. "For Christians who are interested in building interfaith relationships, this would be a wonderful step.
"What many Muslims feel about many Christians is a lack of piety and self-discipline," he noted. "When we want to build a bridge, we have to show some good faith."
Sometimes evangelicals and Muslims come together for a common cause, as happened in September when about 3,000 Muslims showed up on the Mall just west of the Capitol for a Friday afternoon prayer rally. While most evangelical outlets disparaged or ignored the gathering, the National Clergy Council, the Richmond-based Hillside Missions and the Christian Defense Coalition teamed up for a news conference to celebrate it.
"Our whole purpose," said Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, "was to say Christians are not the enemies of Muslims and that the heart of Christ reaches out to all groups. We also want to celebrate the wonderful traditions of America that say no one — regardless of their faith — should be persecuted and harassed by the government."
Numerous Christian groups were invited to participate in the news conference, he added, but none came.
"People make the mistake of thinking interfaith outreach is going to the lowest common denominator," said Kristopher Keating of Hillside Missions, "but it's every person freely worshipping God according to their own traditions."
One of the clergy at the FaithHouse gathering, Rabbi Justus Baird, directs Auburn Theological Seminary's Center for Multifaith Education. He said work with other religions needs to begin at the seminary level, where would-be clergy would be trained on how to interact with members of other faiths. Although some seminaries have put up barriers because of the extra course load, a number of them offer courses in other religions, according to a survey of 150 seminaries completed last fall.
The survey, conducted by Auburn Seminary, found that 49 percent of the surveyed schools offered five or more courses while 29 percent offered two or fewer. Islam and Judaism were the most studied religions. The leading institution, Luther Seminary in Minnesota, offered 43 courses.
Course titles ranged from "God and the New York Times" offered by Wake Forest University Divinity School in Winston Salem, N.C., to "American Buddhisms: An Experiential Introduction" offered by Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.
"The narrative that America is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world," Mr. Baird said, "is taking hold."
Inter-faith dialogue and the Imam of Ismailis -Article
The events of 9/11 and its aftermath have created a pressing need for interfaith dialogue to ensure global peace and common ownership of our mother earth. Unfortunately the Muslim world has no single voice to represent it in the negotiation table, It was because of this reason that Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, while leading a delegation of the Khilafat Movement made an emotional appeal to the then British Prime Minister, Lloyed George to save the Turkish Khilafat as it represented the unity of the majority Islam ie the Sunni sect. If this symbol of unity was abolished, there would be no one left with whom other faiths would talk to evolve common grounds to solve common problems. Other members of the delegation were astonished that His Highness was supporting an institution which had adversarial relationship with his predecessors.
According to Aga Khan it was no time to renew wounds. It was time for healing and unity to save Muslims. Brothers can have differences at home but if it comes to common enemy or common causes they should be one. How true and prophetic were these words that the Muslim world has yet to realize. Our prejudices and historical hangovers still cloud our memory and block our mind to recall the golden words of His Highness which he expressed as President of the League of Nations while welcoming Egypt to its membership. A leading Indian Muslim intellectual, Mushir Hussain Kidwai, lauded the speech of His Highness saying that only the Aga Khan could have uttered those words in the defense of Islam because the blood of the Prophet’s family ran through his veins. After the speech Muslim delegates raised their heads high. The speech followed a recitation from the Holy Quran, the first in the history of international organizations.
The present Aga Khan being heir to that glorious tradition is silently carrying forward that work almost single handedly. Even his followers are incapable of appreciating this work to extend him helping hand in a meaningful way. They consider it as an activity and are unable to see the link between the process and its outcome in the historical or present context. Perhaps they do not have the mindset and exposure to those historical facts that make Ismailis the most unique sect for having given unprecedented sacrifices to preserve those values of our great religion that we today take for granted.
Since 9/11 Islam has entered its most critical and defining age. Most of us are angry and hold others responsible for our plight and are out to take revenge, which at times borders on suicidal course. Others are hiding their heads in the sand saying that they are neutral. Instead of benefiting from the knowledge and resources of the West as common heritage we are creating enemy psychosis and are forgetting the lessons of the peace accord at Hudaibiya. In this age of madness the Aga Khan’s happens to be the only voice of sanity. He is establishing Islamic Centres in key locations around the world and is engaging scholars from all faiths to come together to forge unity on common issues and meet threats facing human race particularly the world of Islam and its future on this planet. He is establishing institutions to transfer knowledge and leap frocking opportunities for Muslims. By doing so he has emerged as Imam of humanity and the sane voice of Islam and its most acceptable face for other faiths. If his so-called followers do not have the capacity to lend him the helping hand, should others not come forward and support him in this gigantic task? Are they still not capable of rising above their prejudices and hangovers to recognize and accept the realities of today? Do they know that past is another country, present belongs to them and future may never come? Let us come out of our petty mindedness and narcicism and value critical friendship. The level of our mental bankruptcy was amply exposed during the recent debate on my article about the working of Ismaili institutions. We still have a long way to go before we are able to value diversity and pluralism that His Highness so ardently advocates. If his professed followers lack in this quality what can be said about others.
Will the efforts of His Highness to promote inter-faith harmony go waste because his followers are incapable of understanding and implementing his vision and other Muslim sects are locked up in their own version of history and refuse to accept the contributions of Aga Khan for the world of Islam and the Sub-Continent as President of the League of Nations and All India Muslim League, the second position was taken over by his spiritual follower later on ? My answer to this question is a big No. His so-called followers and detractors will be consigned to the dustbin of history and from their ashes would rise the true version of Islam that would unite humanity and usher in global peace in line with the literal meaning of the word ‘Islam’ (peace) and that resurgence shall be led by the Prophet’s progeny.
We believe that Islam is a way of life which stands for diversity and pluralism. His Highness stands for these cherished goals and he is bound to succeed with help or no help from his followers or other Muslim sects. A great majority of human race values his efforts and supports him. If we do not want to share in the glory of his success it would be our own misfortune. We have already forfeited our claim to be his worthy followers, as has been borne out by the writings on these pages, what difference would it make when we are counted out in the final equation. After all Allah blesses those who want to be blessed and those on the suicidal course are bound to end up in ignominy. It is not too late yet. Every one of us should contribute in the inter-faith dialogue first by being transparent about ourselves, admitting our mistakes, asking for forgiveness and making corrections. In this information age nothing can be hidden. A building can never be raised on false foundation nor can it survive. If we do not have the capacity to contribute in the efforts of the Prophet’s progeny to project the true image of Islam and promote inter-faith harmony, we have no right to hamper these efforts for mundane things. The history of Muslim sects including Ismailis is replete with examples of sorts testifying to their successes and failures to understand the true mission of Islam and the resultant rewards and punishments must be pondered over to draw lessons. Human life and survival on this planet is too serious a business than many of us understand. The mission of Allah’s last prophet is bound to be fulfilled because that is Allah’s promise. Sooner than later the West itself would realize it and His Highness is doing just that.
May 24, 2010
Many Faiths, One Truth
By TENZIN GYATSO
WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.
Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.
Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.
Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.
An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions.
A main point in my discussion with Merton was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism. In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus’ acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering.
I’m a firm believer in the power of personal contact to bridge differences, so I’ve long been drawn to dialogues with people of other religious outlooks. The focus on compassion that Merton and I observed in our two religions strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us.
Take Judaism, for instance. I first visited a synagogue in Cochin, India, in 1965, and have met with many rabbis over the years. I remember vividly the rabbi in the Netherlands who told me about the Holocaust with such intensity that we were both in tears. And I’ve learned how the Talmud and the Bible repeat the theme of compassion, as in the passage in Leviticus that admonishes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In my many encounters with Hindu scholars in India, I’ve come to see the centrality of selfless compassion in Hinduism too — as expressed, for instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, which praises those who “delight in the welfare of all beings.” I’m moved by the ways this value has been expressed in the life of great beings like Mahatma Gandhi, or the lesser-known Baba Amte, who founded a leper colony not far from a Tibetan settlement in Maharashtra State in India. There he fed and sheltered lepers who were otherwise shunned. When I received my Nobel Peace Prize, I made a donation to his colony.
Compassion is equally important in Islam — and recognizing that has become crucial in the years since Sept. 11, especially in answering those who paint Islam as a militant faith. On the first anniversary of 9/11, I spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, pleading that we not blindly follow the lead of some in the news media and let the violent acts of a few individuals define an entire religion.
Let me tell you about the Islam I know. Tibet has had an Islamic community for around 400 years, although my richest contacts with Islam have been in India, which has the world’s second-largest Muslim population. An imam in Ladakh once told me that a true Muslim should love and respect all of Allah’s creatures. And in my understanding, Islam enshrines compassion as a core spiritual principle, reflected in the very name of God, the “Compassionate and Merciful,” that appears at the beginning of virtually each chapter of the Koran.
Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. As a species, we must embrace the oneness of humanity as we face global issues like pandemics, economic crises and ecological disaster. At that scale, our response must be as one.
Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author, most recently, of “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together.”
September 7, 2010
Building on Faith
By FEISAL ABDUL RAUF
AS my flight approached America last weekend, my mind circled back to the furor that has broken out over plans to build Cordoba House, a community center in Lower Manhattan.I have been away from home for two months, speaking abroad about cooperation among people from different religions. Every day, including the past two weeks spent representing my country on a State Department tour in the Middle East, I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels.
We have all been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become. The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship.
Many people wondered why I did not speak out more, and sooner, about this project. I felt that it would not be right to comment from abroad. It would be better if I addressed these issues once I returned home to America, and after I could confer with leaders of other faiths who have been deliberating with us over this project. My life’s work has been focused on building bridges between religious groups and never has that been as important as it is now.
We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons.
Above all, the project will amplify the multifaith approach that the Cordoba Initiative has deployed in concrete ways for years. Our name, Cordoba, was inspired by the city in Spain where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in the Middle Ages during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims. Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures.
Our broader mission — to strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology — lies not in skirting the margins of issues that have polarized relations within the Muslim world and between non-Muslims and Muslims. It lies in confronting them as a joint multifaith, multinational effort.
From the political conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians to the building of a community center in Lower Manhattan, Muslims and members of all faiths must work together if we are ever going to succeed in fostering understanding and peace.
At Cordoba House, we envision shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children. There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths. The center will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
I am very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11, as are my fellow leaders of many faiths. We will accordingly seek the support of those families, and the support of our vibrant neighborhood, as we consider the ultimate plans for the community center. Our objective has always been to make this a center for unification and healing.
Cordoba House will be built on the two fundamental commandments common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: to love the Lord our creator with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We want to foster a culture of worship authentic to each religious tradition, and also a culture of forging personal bonds across religious traditions.
I do not underestimate the challenges that will be involved in bringing our work to completion. (Construction has not even begun yet.) I know there will be interest in our financing, and so we will clearly identify all of our financial backers.
Lost amid the commotion is the good that has come out of the recent discussion. I want to draw attention, specifically, to the open, law-based and tolerant actions that have taken place, and that are particularly striking for Muslims.
President Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg both spoke out in support of our project. As I traveled overseas, I saw firsthand how their words and actions made a tremendous impact on the Muslim street and on Muslim leaders. It was striking: a Christian president and a Jewish mayor of New York supporting the rights of Muslims. Their statements sent a powerful message about what America stands for, and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations.
The wonderful outpouring of support for our right to build this community center from across the social, religious and political spectrum seriously undermines the ability of anti-American radicals to recruit young, impressionable Muslims by falsely claiming that America persecutes Muslims for their faith. These efforts by radicals at distortion endanger our national security and the personal security of Americans worldwide. This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse and, essentially, our future to radicals on both sides. The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost. It is a paradigm we must shift.
From those who recognize our rights, from grassroots organizers to heads of state, I sense a global desire to build on this positive momentum and to be part of a global movement to heal relations and bring peace. This is an opportunity we must grasp.
I therefore call upon all Americans to rise to this challenge. Let us commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 by pausing to reflect and meditate and tone down the vitriol and rhetoric that serves only to strengthen the radicals and weaken our friends’ belief in our values.
The very word “islam” comes from a word cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew. The Koran declares in its 36th chapter, regarded by the Prophet Muhammad as the heart of the Koran, in a verse deemed the heart of this chapter, “Peace is a word spoken from a merciful Lord.”
How better to commemorate 9/11 than to urge our fellow Muslims, fellow Christians and fellow Jews to follow the fundamental common impulse of our great faith traditions?
Feisal Abdul Rauf is the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and the imam of the Farah mosque in Lower Manhattan.
Sermon from Sunday, August 29; 11 am service
Preaching: Rev. Deborah C. Lindsay on Islamophobia
Across America today, we are seeing an increase in fear and suspicion of people of Muslim faith. Rev. Deborah Lindsay reflects on the urgent need for understanding and peace-making, and she says a true Christian message is one of respect and understanding for all people of all faiths and traditions. After all, we are ALL created in the image of God.
Rev. Deborah C. Lindsay will be Friday's guest on the True Talk radio show on WMNF 88.5 Tampa. The show will be dedicated to positive Christian reaction to the anit Muslim wave, as well as the attempt to burn the Quran on September 11. The show will open with audio from Rev. Lindsay's August 29 sermon on Islamphobia.
Listen here at 11 am on Friday, September 10.
October 9, 2010
Test Your Savvy on Religion
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Time for a pop quiz.
The New York Times reported recently on a Pew Research Center poll in which religious people turned out to be remarkably uninformed about religion. Almost half of Catholics didn’t understand Communion. Most Protestants didn’t know that Martin Luther started the Reformation. Almost half of Jews didn’t realize Maimonides was Jewish. And atheists were among the best informed about religion.
So let me give everybody another chance. And given the uproar about Islam, I’ll focus on extremism and fundamentalism — and, as you’ll see, there’s a larger point to this quiz. Note that some questions have more than one correct choice; answers are at the end.
1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?
b. Old Testament
c. (Hindu) Upanishads
2. Which holy text declares: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”?
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans
3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?
4. "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” This verse is from:
a. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
b. The Book of Revelation
c. An Islamic hadith, or religious tale
5. Which holy text is sympathetic to slavery?
a. Old Testament
b. New Testament
6. In the New Testament, Jesus’ views of homosexuality are:
a. strongly condemnatory
c. never mentioned
7. Which holy text urges responding to evil with kindness, saying: “repel the evil deed with one which is better.”
a. Gospel of Luke
b. Book of Isaiah
8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?
9. Which of these religious leaders was a polygamist?
b. King David
10. What characterizes Muhammad’s behavior toward the Jews of his time?
a. He killed them.
b. He married one.
c. He praised them as a chosen people.
11. Which holy scripture urges that the "little ones" of the enemy be dashed against the stones?
a. Book of Psalms
12. Which holy scripture suggests beating wives who misbehave?
b. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
c. Book of Judges
13. Which religious leader is quoted as commanding women to be silent during services?
a. The first Dalai Lama
b. St. Paul
1. b. Deuteronomy 22:21.
2. a. Koran, 2:256. But other sections of the Koran do describe coercion.
3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.
4. c. Hadith. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet to be revered.
5. All of the above.
6. c. Other parts of the New and Old Testaments object to homosexuality, but there’s no indication of Jesus’ views.
7. c. Koran, 41:34. Jesus says much the same thing in different words.
8. b. Amos 9:7
9. all of them
10. all of these. Muhammad’s Jewish wife was seized in battle, which undermines the spirit of the gesture. By some accounts he had a second Jewish wife as well.
11. a. Psalm 137
12. a. Koran 4:34
13. b. St. Paul, both in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, but many scholars believe that neither section was actually written by Paul.
And yes, the point of this little quiz is that religion is more complicated than it sometimes seems, and that we should be wary of rushing to inflammatory conclusions about any faith, especially based on cherry-picking texts. The most crucial element is perhaps not what is in our scriptures, but what is in our hearts.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
Master's Candidate in Religion, Ethics and Politics, Harvard University
Posted: November 2, 2010 06:10 PM
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A Global Interfaith Initiative to Change the World
This article was originally written for the Common Ground News Service, a non-profit initiative of Search for Common Ground, an international NGO whose mission is to transform the way the world deals with conflict - away from adversarial confrontation towards cooperative solutions.
More than two thirds of the world's population - over four billion people - identify with one religion or another. Imagine the motivational energy of these four billion people used as a positive force for global social change. Whether tackling issues of poverty, disease, health, energy, education, gender inequality or any urgent challenge facing our world today, the possibilities are endless with four billion minds and eight billion hands working together.
This is the potential power of faith.
Incredible, isn't it?
Designing and developing a movement, a Global Interfaith Volunteer Corps, to professionally bring together members of different faiths in acts of public service internationally, nationally and locally is one possible way to spark this flame. The goal of such interaction is to demystify the "other" through joint engagement in activities and initiatives that benefit not only their own communities but also society at large.
Many believers already serve their communities and each other in a multitude of ways, such as volunteering at their local church, synagogue, mosque or temple. The Global Interfaith Volunteer Corps, however, would be aimed at a much larger concern brought upon our world by rapid globalisation. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, tensions begin to flair. This mounting of tension was best described by His Highness the Aga Khan, leader of the Ismaili Muslim community and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, at a recent speech on pluralism in Toronto:
"The variety of the world is not only more available, it is nearly inescapable. Human difference is more proximate - and more intense.... Almost everything now seems to "flow" globally - people and images, money and credit, goods and services, microbes and viruses, pollution and armaments, crime and terror. But let us remember, too, that constructive impulses can also flow more readily, as they do when international organisations join hands across dividing lines."
Service on the basis of shared beliefs and common ethics can take the shape of local, national and international character. At the local level, multi-faith initiatives can be designed to engage with homeless shelters, heath clinics and special-needs schools. At the national level, joint action plans can be devised amongst faith advocates of all stripes to advance women's rights, children's education and environmental stewardship.
And at the international level, increased collaboration between faith-based humanitarian services, joint statements by different faith communities drawing attention to under-reported injustice and inequity, and inter-religious calls to drawdown global nuclear stockpiles are all possible when walls that divide are replaced with bridges that unite. Such multi-religious endeavours not only introduce one faith base to another, but they also build trust amongst different kinds of believers.
The idea of creating a Global Interfaith Volunteer Corps, then, is not simply about creating acceptance and shared religious understanding. It is also about ingraining a broader ethic of pluralism, of accepting and understanding difference - religiously, ethnically, culturally and linguistically.
The volunteer corps could serve as a global entity to increase collaboration amongst religious institutions, faith-based organisations and faith-inspired initiatives, ultimately becoming a forum from which pluralism of all sorts can develop and emanate.
A group of religious leaders could be appointed to local, national and international community councils of multi-faith action. These leaders must be courageous, open and willing to engage. Above all, they would need to set an example for their followers in both thought and action. Imagine these community councils replicated - town-by-town and city-by-city - across the country and around the world.
The differences among us, while important and pronounced, pale in comparison to our commonalities. Generosity, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, respect, charity and acceptance do not belong to any one religion, but are the raw materials that bind the fabric of our faiths together. This sense of shared commitment to the common good, guided by different religious traditions, is perhaps the biggest resource for meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
We must humanise each other's beliefs by collectively engaging in active citizenship and service to others.
And we must start somewhere, for as famed cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
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