Earlier this month a delegation of Catholic Bishops from the USA visited Qom in Iran and met with leading Shia clergy from the ‘Supreme Council of the Seminary Teachers’. The American delegation was led by the ever-impressive Bishop Richard E. Pates,  chairman of the U.S. bishops’ ‘International Justice and Peace committee’.

The joint declaration reprinted below was an outcome of that meeting. It expresses not only solidarity between Catholics and Shia Muslims but between all ‘peoples of the book’ (Jews, Christians and Muslims). Further, it boldly states a common commitment to humanity, including the goal of dismantling all weapons of mass destruction.

Those who see Iran as a centre of religious bigotry are indeed out of touch. I was in Qom myself earlier this year and had the privilege of visiting the great ‘University of Religions’ located there. It is a unique institution worldwide, I believe, and entirely dedicated to fostering inter-faith dialogue and mutual respect between religious groups. Far from being closed to ‘the West’, my friend Rev. Stephen Sizer (another Anglican priest) was even invited to be on the faculty!

Father Dave

Bishop Richard E. Pates

Bishop Richard E. Pates

June 14, 2014 —16 Sha’bān 1435 AH

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE COMPASSIONATE, THE MERCIFUL

The belief in One God unites Jews, Christians and Muslims, and calls us to work for the common good of the whole human family. It is our conviction that human societies need moral guidance and that it is incumbent on us as religious leaders to share the ethical teachings that flow from our respective traditions.

Christianity and Islam cherish a common heritage that emphasizes, above all, love and respect for the life, dignity, and welfare of all members of the human community. We found this in our recent dialogue between Catholicism and Shia Islam. Both of our traditions reject as reprehensible all forms of transgression and injustice. We oppose any action that endangers the life, health, dignity, or welfare of others. Catholicism and Shia Islam hold a common commitment to peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

These foundational moral values unite us in raising fundamental moral questions regarding weapons of mass destruction. Shia Islam opposes and forbids the production, stockpiling, use and threat to use weapons of mass destruction. Catholicism is also working for a world without weapons of mass destruction and calls on all nations to rid themselves of these indiscriminate weapons.

We call on all societies and persons to respect religion and its role in sharing moral guidance in the public square. As religious leaders, we condemn all forms of disrespect for the religious traditions of others. Just as importantly, we commit ourselves to active inter-religious dialogue that transcends governments and national boundaries and serves the common good of the whole human family. It is our mutual intention to engage in a sustained dialogue based on our shared values.

“I refuse to believe that those who bomb churches and cut off the heads of Christian monks and children in Syria are Muslims like the people our parents and grandparents live together with in peace and harmony.”

(former Jordanian MP, Ghazi Musharbash)

Ghazi Musharbash

Ghazi Musharbash

The brilliant thing about the conference that took place in Amman is that the participants recognise that fundamentalism, whatever religious garb it comes clothed in, is basically the same beast! 

I appreciate that this seems counter-intuitive. Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism seem to be at the opposite ends of the pole. In truth though they are two sides of the same coin! Both are characterised by the same mindless group-think and both share the same propensity for violence.

My understanding is that genuine religion always combines faith, hope and love – all three – and that it’s when one of these fundamental elements is left out that things degenerate into immorality and violence. Fundamentalism, as I see it, is a deadly combination of faith and hope that leaves out love, and when you leave out love you leave out God (see my sermon on the subject here).

The key thing is for Christians and Muslims to recognise is that fundamentalism is a common enemy. In my view, Christianity and Islam differ greatly as religions but fundamentalism really doesn’t deserve the label ‘religion’ at all!

Father Dave

source: Jordan Times

Extremism has no religion, can be fought through education — scholars

Extremism, a major dilemma facing the world today, is an ideology created and nurtured by radicals with a specific agenda and has no relation to religion or its high ethical and spiritual values, participants at a conference said on Wednesday.

Christianity and Islam do not divide people, but seek to bring them together, Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies (RIIFS) Director Michel Hamarneh told The Jordan Times.

“The call in both Christianity and Islam is for the better and brotherhood of human beings, in addition to spreading love and respect,” Hamarneh said at a conference on “Extremism… Reasons and Solution”.

The two-day event, which aims to spread the values of the Amman Message, hosted Muslim and Christian religious and political figures, as well as university professors from around the Middle East.

The Amman Message, issued in November 2004, “sought to declare what Islam is and what it is not, and what actions represent it and what actions do not. Its goal was to clarify to the modern world the true nature of Islam and the nature of true Islam,” according to its official website.

“The desired result is that decision makers attending the seminar will have a positive impact on the people around them, spreading awareness among the younger generation, but most importantly taking decisions that will positively change the existing conditions,” Hamarneh added.

In his opening address, he noted that the social and economic circumstances, such as unemployment and the different classes of society, have played a major role in nurturing extremism.

Hamarneh said media and education in “our societies” play a great role in creating extremism and extreme reactions, manipulating the minds and feelings of impressionable youths.

Mohammad Abu Zaid, a guest speaker from Lebanon who is a judge and professor of Islamic thought at the University of Saida, said the results of research and studies he conducted show that poor economic conditions in any society nurture extremism and terrorism.

He added that poverty alone does not create extremism, but is a major contributing factor.

Husni Ayish, Jordanian author and intellectual, told The Jordan Times that a serious society which seeks positive change should first start reviewing its educational system.

He warned against radical teachers and professors who spread extremist thought among their students, in addition to media outlets which, instead of raising awareness against terrorism, are but “extremists who encourage this exact thought”.

Ghazi Musharbash, a former MP, said Western media’s attack on the Middle East affects all Arabs, Christians and Muslims alike, “for the benefit of the Israelis”.

“The Western media tries its best to show that Arabs are terrorists, but the reality is that Israel is the terrorist country since it occupies Palestine,” Musharbash added.

“I refuse to believe that those who bomb churches and cut off the heads of Christian monks and children in Syria are Muslims like the people our parents and grandparents live together with in peace and harmony.”   

He added that it is crucial that the media, along with decision makers, should use the West’s own language to address its people and leaders. “We should be direct, instead of beating around the bush.”

Speaking at the event, Awqaf Ministry Secretary General Mohammad Roud said extremists and moderates are found in every religion, calling for differentiating between Islam and wrong practices in the name of Islam.

The media, he said, can play either a positive or negative role in feeding or reducing the impact of terrorism. 

“It is our role as decision makers, professors, preachers, priests and pastors to raise our children properly” to serve humanity and not give way to extremism, Roud added in a speech delivered on behalf of Awqaf Minister Hayel Dawood. 

Father Imad Twal, a Catholic priest, said accepting the other as is and granting all citizens, regardless of their religion, their rights is the only path to reaching and practising freedom.

The conference, supported by the EU, is organised by the RIIFS in cooperation with the ministries of awqaf and planning, and the British Council.

This is a beautiful video from #MyJihad.

The setting is Cairo, Egypt.  Imam Mazhar Shaheen from Omar Makram Mosque attends the Qasr El-Dobara church for Christmas, along with a goodly number of his own congregation.

The testimony of Imam Mazhar is that the experience of standing alongside each other in the battle for a new Egypt has formed a new unity between the Christians and Muslims of Egypt. That unity has always been there as Egyptian Christians and Muslims have lived and fought alongside each other over the generations, but the ordeal of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt has made the bond even closer!

The visit of the Imam reminds me very strongly of my dear friend Sheikh Mansour visiting our small church here in Dulwich Hill during Easter of 2010.

This video is a message of hope for Egypt. It is also a message of hope for all humanity – that the unity we discover in working together for a better world is more powerful than any of the differences that divide us!

Father Dave

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If you can’t view this video, click here.

And unless you understand Arabic, make sure you have the captions turned on.

Against the backdrop of a recent fire in Kenya’s Embu county, which destroyed the property of 17 families, a joint Christian-Muslim congregation prayed together and held a fundraiser for those affected by the local disaster. This was an encouraging thing to take place ahead of the country’s general elections.

AllAfrica.com reports:

[Manyatta MP] Kathuri said the church service had proved to Kenyans that they can help one another other even though they belong to different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. “Whatever little money that has been raised will go to help the victims in a small way,” said the MP. He said the fundraiser was not meant to compensate them but to at least put them back to normalcy “as they start life afresh.”

He said Kenyans from other parts of the country could learn a lot from from the example set in an Embu church “where Christians and Muslims can prayed together, live harmoniously and even help one another.” Kathuri. Muslim leader Hussein Njeru who acted as the spokesman for the Muslims said Muslims and Christians had opted to fellowship together because Islam “has been painted in a bad light for long.”

He advised people to pray for peace and work towards achieving the same, noting that when the country is at war it is mostly women and children who suffer the most. He said whatever happened in Mombasa recently when youths took to the streets to protest the killing of a Muslim cleric should not be taken as religious intolerance.

“All of us despite our religion or other affiliations should act as ambassadors of peace. Even as we vote in the next General Election, it is imperative to vote in people based on their leadership ability and not on other attributes,” said Njeru.

 

Bosnia was the scene of the worst atrocities committed in Europe since the second World War, so it was encouraging to see local leaders of Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Muslim and Jewish communities recently make a joint call for peace between their respective communities.

Serb Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej announced to several thousand people at an annual gathering of the Rome-based Catholic lay community of Sant’Egidio in Sarajevo, “I wish sincerely that new generations grow up without a feeling of hatred and that they be protected from the horrible experience of conflicts”, saying that he wished for future generations in the Balkans to be “freed from the tragic and painful experiences of the past.”

Kenya’s Capital FM reports:

Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, which saw the country’s three main ethnic groups — Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslims — fight each other, left some 100,000 people dead. Relations between the three main communities remain deeply damaged 17 years on.

Muslims make up around 40 percent of Bosnia’s population of some 3.8 million. Serbs and Croats account for 31 and 10 percent of the population respectively.

“We have to carry in ourselves the seeds of peace and plant them wherever we are,” Irinej said earlier during a liturgy in the main Serb Orthodox church of Sarajevo.

Sarajevo Archbishop Cardinal Vinko Puljic and several members of local Roman Catholic clergy also attended the service.

“In Bosnia, everyone prays according to one’s own laws. This city and this country deserve such a privilege,” Cardinal Puljic said.

Bosnia’s top Islamic cleric Mustafa Ceric stressed that “in Sarajevo there was never so much spiritual energy like today”, and remembered the victims of the Bosnian war, notably those during the Sarajevo siege in which some 11,000 people were killed.

“These victims call for our commitment to nourish peace and work on reconciliation, and they call for our sincere engagement in front of God and in front of humanity that we will do everything that no one nowhere in the world lives through such a tragedy,” Ceric said.

Founder of the Sant’Egidio community and current Italian Minister for International Cooperation and Integration Andrea Riccardi called on local communities to have compassion for victims from other sides.

“We should be fair, memories of the war are different, but the pain and suffering found in everyone are the same,” he said.

“The pain is carved into everyone’s heart and the pain of every mother is the same, regardless her ethnic or religious affiliation,” Riccardi said.

The Muslim member of Bosnia’s joint presidency Bakir Izetbegovic stressed that his country was a “crossroad of civilisation and the furthest Western point of both Orthodox religion and Islam as well as the furthest eastern point of Catholicism.”

“If such a Bosnia dies, the example of ‘living together’ will also die in the future,” he said.

This three day gathering in Sarajevo was a step in the right direction, with some 200 religious leaders and officials attending about 30 conferences notably on poverty, immigration, religion in Asia and the Arab world, and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

I like to refer to Dr. Chandra Muzaffar as my friend. In truth, I only met him in person once, but he has always been very gracious to me in correspondence since.

I met him back in the 80’s in his home-town of Penang. Dr Muzaffar had come to my attention because of the way he had stood up for the rights of Christians in his own country (and had been targeted by his government for doing so).

Thirty years later Dr Muzaffar continues to an outspoken and courageous campaigner for human rights worldwide. He is one of this generations ‘elders’  – a man full of wisdom and compassion – and his insights on the developing situation for Muslim people worldwide need to be heard by everyone.

This interview was conducted by GRTV.

Father Dave

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