God bless you, Chris Hedges, for writing this article, though it puts a knot in my stomach!

We Australians are familiar with these barbarities too! My beloved friend, Sheikh Mansour, was deported without trial from this country and thus denied his fundamental right to habeas corpus (see savethesheikh.com for details).

As Hedges says, the issue is not whether these people are innocent or guilty of crimes. The issue is that they get a fair trial!

The unapologetic us of torture is also an issue of course. How can we (the ‘West’) claim the moral high ground over Islamic world when we resort so easily to torturing our prisoners. It is shameful and despicable.

Yes, Hedges is right in that such treatment will not ultimately just be restricted to Muslim people. In the end we all suffer under governments that abandon these basic tenets of morality. Even so, the fact that it is ‘only Muslim people’ who are suffering at the moment does NOT make the situation any more palatable! We must call our governments to account for the way they are treating our Muslim sisters and brothers, whether they are criminals or not!

Father Dave

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges

source: truthdig.com

What Is Happening to Muslims Will Happen to the Rest of Us

By Chris Hedges

Posted on Oct 1, 2012

The decision by the European Court of Human Rights last week to refuse to block the extradition of the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri and four others to the United States on terrorism charges removes one of the last external checks on our emerging gulag state.

Masri and the four others, all held in British jails, will soon join hundreds of other Muslims tried in Article III federal courts in the United States over the last decade. Fair trials are unlikely. A disturbing pattern of gross infringements on basic civil liberties, put in place in the name of national security, has poisoned our legal system. These infringements include intrusive surveillance, vague material support charges, the use of prolonged pretrial solitary confinement, classified evidence that the accused cannot review, and the use of political activities, normally protected under the First Amendment, to demonstrate mind-set and intent. Muslims caught up in the Article III courts are denied the opportunity to confront their accusers and to have their religious and political associations protected, and they rarely find a judge courageous enough to protect their rights. These violations of fundamental civil liberties will not, in the end, be reserved exclusively for Muslims once the corporate state feels under siege. What is happening to them will happen to the rest of us.

“One of the misapprehensions of the last decade is that the government had to go outside the law to places like Guantanamo or Bagram to abridge the rights of suspects in the name of national security,” said Jeanne Theoharis, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College who has been an outspoken critic of the rights abridgement occurring in Article III courts. “But this is not the case. A similar degradation of rights that has characterized the prison at Guantanamo has also affected the judicial system within the United States. The right to dissent, the right to see the evidence against you, the right to due process, the right to fair and speedy trial, the right to have a judge who will be impartial, the right to fair and not disproportionate punishment, and the right not to be punished before you are convicted have been taken from us in the name of national security. It is not just in special secret prisons that this occurs, but also—dismayingly—within the U.S. federal courts.”

This is not about the guilt or innocence of Masri, an Egyptian who lost an eye and a hand as a mujahedeen fighting in Central Asia and who has repeatedly called for violence against the United States and allegedly helped orchestrate violence. This is about the right of all accused to a fair defense and humane detention conditions. Once Masri arrives on U.S. soil he will receive neither. He will, even before he is tried or convicted, endure prison conditions that replicate the brutality suffered by those in our offshore penal colonies, including the one at Guantanamo Bay. He will enter a world of prolonged and psychologically crippling isolation, made worse by the likely application of so-called special administrative measures. He will spend his days in a tiny cell under constant electronic surveillance. At New York’s Metropolitan Correction Center, where Masri and the other men will most likely first be incarcerated, he will never be allowed outdoors. He will be permitted to spend only one hour a day outside his cell, alone in a cage. Masri and the four other suspects could spend years in these conditions before trial. Because of security restrictions, it will take as long as six months for letters from his family to reach him. His lawyers can be prosecuted if they repeat in public what he tells them, especially about the conditions of his incarceration.

And, once he goes on trial, he will be in an Article III court, where national security provisions will almost certainly guarantee his conviction. Once convicted, he and the others are likely to be sent to the federal Administrative Maximum facility (known as ADX), in Florence, Colo., to spend, potentially, a lifetime in solitary confinement. There he will be permitted, at most, an hour a day out of his cell, in a cramped cage nicknamed “the dog run” because it looks like a dog kennel. His meals will be delivered to his cell through a slot. He will not be permitted to work in prison industries or have congregational prayer, an essential tenet of the Muslim faith.

“Torture is legal in the United States in the form of years of solitary confinement and the use of special administrative measures,” Theoharis said when we spoke by phone. “The Obama administration has not only refused to hold Bush officials accountable for torture, but maintains torturous conditions in federal prisons. And the Obama administration willfully misled the European Court about the conditions these prisoners face.”

Nearly every state now has a “supermax” prison similar to the federal prison at Florence, which former ADX Warden Robert Hood once called “a clean version of hell.” These prisons presage a dystopian world where disobedient citizens are seized, stripped of rights and broken psychologically. Law professor Laura Rovner and Theoharis—who is an outspoken advocate for her former student Fahad Hashmi, being held in the Florence supermax—detailed the corrosion of justice within federal courts in an article in the American University Law Review. They noted that the distortion within the federal legal system “represents a particular way of seeing the Constitution, of constructing the landscape as a murky terrain of lurking enemies where rights must have substantial limits and the courts must be steadfast against such dangers.” The two professors went on to argue that while legal scholars and human rights advocates have examined the dangers of these paradigms in Guantanamo, they have generally failed to acknowledge that “the federal system is similarly infected by such paradigms.”

There are currently an estimated 25,000 prisoners imprisoned in supermax facilities. They are disproportionately Muslims and people of color. Many, including Hashmi, Dritan Duka, Oussama Kassir and Seifullah Chapman, were not found by the courts to be involved in specific terrorist plots but instead were incarcerated under these conditions for their “material support” to terrorism. The prisons are equipped with special housing units for those who do not show a proper deference to authority. These “H-units” hold prisoners under special administration measures, or SAMs. They live in cells of only 75 to 85 square feet. They endure almost complete social isolation and sensory deprivation as well as round-the-clock electronic surveillance. And it is in these units that even the most resilient are psychologically destroyed.

Prolonged isolation, says Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz who has studied the effects of solitary confinement, eventually induces “appetite and sleep disturbances, anxiety, panic, rage, loss of control, paranoia, hallucinations and self-mutilations” as well as “cognitive dysfunction … hopelessness, a sense of emotional breakdown … and suicidal ideation and behavior.” Haney found that “many of the negative effects of solitary confinement are analogous to the acute reactions suffered by torture and trauma victims.”

Masri, a burly man who once was a bouncer in a nightclub, is accused of 11 terrorism charges, including attempting to set up a terrorism training camp in a remote area of Oregon and involvement in a kidnapping in Yemen in 1999 in which three British tourists were killed. He was based at north London’s Finsbury Park mosque, which I visited several times when I was covering al-Qaida for The New York Times. His rhetoric was always incendiary and conspiratorial, assuring him press coverage, which I suspected he coveted. He called the 9/11 attacks a Jewish plot and the Columbia space shuttle explosion “punishment from God.” Richard Reid, the hapless shoe bomber, whose past associations I was investigating in London, attended the mosque. Masri was never an important Muslim leader in Britain or abroad. He made headlines mostly because he sought them. He was jailed last year in Britain on charges of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred. And at that point the U.S. began the process of extradition.

Masri faces the possibility of life imprisonment. He will be extradited with four others, including Khaled al-Fawwaz, a Saudi national, and Adel Abdul Bary, another Egyptian. These two men are accused of having been aides to Osama bin Laden in London and allegedly taking part in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in which more than 200 people were killed and thousands injured. Babar Ahmad, a British citizen in detention since 2004, will also be extradited. He, along with Talha Ahsan, is accused of using his now-closed website, Azzam.com, to support terrorism. Ahmad has been held in custody in Britain without trial for nearly eight years.

The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, handed down Sept. 24 after the men requested that the court block their extradition, in essence certifies that U.S. prison standards are compatible with European human rights. This opens the door for any European nation receiving extradition requests from the U.S. to swiftly turn prisoners over to U.S. authorities. The ruling came despite the fact that 26 human rights groups including the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Human Rights First supported the prisoners’ contention that they would be housed in inhuman conditions in the United States. The human rights groups predicted that the court’s ruling would have “serious implications … for legitimizing the use of conditions of confinement that violate human rights.”

 Chris Hedges is an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and war correspondent specializing in American and Middle Eastern politics and societies.

The following article was first published on the Inside Islam and is absolutely spot on!

The big breakthrough for our church community came when we first held a fellowship meal with the community from the Imam Husain Islamic Centre. It turned out to be the first of a number of such meals, and with each joint gathering our communities grew in affection and mutual respect for eachother.

There is a saying in Arabic that translates something like, “how can we be enemies when we have broken bread together?” This is certainly our experience.  When we, as people, sit down and do normal human things with eachother we recognise our common humanity. Why did it take us so long to figure this out?

Father Dave

Theres No Substitute for Personal Relationships

Posted: 25 Apr 2012 12:10 PM PDT

For the past four years, the Inside Islam project has been one of a few creative initiatives educating Americans about Islam as part of the Academia in the Public Sphere program. The idea is a good one, encouraging resource-wealthy institutions to interact with the larger public on contemporary and relevant issues. And we aren’t the only project trying to educate, connect, and facilitate dialogue around both controversial issues and more mundane topics related to Islam and Muslims. Muslimah Media Watch, Muslim Matters, and Loonwatch are some of the other active web-based platforms writing about Islam and Muslims. More recently, Crash Course and other internet-based learning tools are reaching out. In only three days, over 100,000 people viewed Crash Course’s latest video on the early history of Islam and Muslims. Click below to see it for yourself.

However, although Inside Islam, Crash Course, and others are educating Americans about the diversity of Muslims and Islam, there is no substitute for real life experience. Personally knowing a Muslim is more valuable and effective in dispelling fears about Islam and Muslims than any fact sheet or list of books on Islam.

A substantial decrease in hatred and fear toward Muslims and Islam will have to originate from increased interactions between people, not just from online blogs or YouTube videos. The field of psychology tells us that it would likely take a sizable shift in mainstream western media’s portrayal of Muslims in order to change most non-Muslim’s negative perceptions of Islam. A grassroots approach, combined with a smaller shift in media tone is likely to be much more effective.

If you’re reading this as a Muslim, consider going out of your way to meet more non-Muslims in your daily life. Whether it’s at the grocery store, a sporting event, or the local park, make an intentional effort to reach out to non-Muslim community members; even if that means just giving an extra smile or head-nod to those in your workplace.

If you’re a non-Muslim who has Muslim friends, think about introducing other groups of friends to your Muslim friends. Have a cookout, hold an ice cream social or a movie marathon of your favorite film series. One simple event over a few snacks at your house could be the only bridge that some people may have to interact with Muslims in a genuine social setting. You may not think it’s a big deal because you have Muslim friends and you’re aware that they’re people just like everybody else. But it may be an eye-opening experience for some of your friends who haven’t had any substantive interactions with Muslims in their life.

If you’ve yet to meet a Muslim, whether due to your geographic location or simply the lack of opportunity, online initiatives like this one can be quite helpful in getting started. On our Inside Islam radio shows, Jean learned about amazing interfaith service projects that are reshaping communities across the globe. The 2011 Hours Against Hate project was so successful that it has continued another year, and volunteering as part of 2012 Hours Against Hate is another great way for anyone to meet people of different faith backgrounds.

And yet, despite myriad interfaith efforts in the US and elsewhere, sometimes it’s hard not to be cynical about raising awareness about Muslims and Islam. A number of well-funded and organized hate groups continue to falsely portray Islam in a negative light and its believers as threats to a peaceful world order. But the willfully ignorant have been around since the beginning, and unfortunately they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

Thus it is important to remember that hate groups do not represent the majority of people, in America, among Muslims, or anywhere in the world. Most Americans who have had limited personal interaction with Muslims have negative feelings towards Islam and Muslims, but are nowhere near embracing an active hatred. It is this majority group of people who would most benefit from getting to know Muslims on a personal level. Instead of their views on Islam being predominately shaped by what are largely prejudicial and uninformed media conglomerates, perceptions could be influenced by personal interactions and relationships with real-life Muslims.

Can a single personal relationship alter ones perceptions of an entire group of people? Have your own views of religious groups been altered by a single interaction with someone from that faith tradition? What will it take for mainstream western medias framing of Muslims to shift to one of factual accuracy and greater nuance? Please share your thoughts below.

This article was originally published on Inside Islam

Lebanese Archbishop Speaks of Solutions in the Middle East

ROME, APRIL 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Born in the mountains of Lebanon in a small village called Akoura, Archbishop Paul-Mounged El-Hachem was appointed in 2005 the Apostolic Nuncio of Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Apostolic Delegate in Arabia, which includes Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need interviewed the archbishop.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about how you came to this position?

Archbishop El-Hachem: For 29 years I had been a professor of Islamic Law at the Lateran University. In 1997, I sponsored a conference in Lugano [Switzerland] on Christian-Muslim relationships in Lebanon and the Middle East. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, attended. Pope Benedict XVI, knowing the importance of having better Christian-Muslim relationships, called and asked me to be Nuncio to that area of the world. I was 71 years old at that time.

Q: There is a misconception that there are no Christians in the Arab and Gulf States and in fact there is a large community?

Archbishop El-Hachem: We have very large Christian communities in all the Gulf countries. Let us take Kuwait for example: The population is about 3.1 million, of which 1 million are Christians. The Catholic population is about 400,000 the majority are Filipinos and Indian.

Q: The majority of Christians are in fact foreign workers?

 Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes labourers but also professionals, such as doctors and engineers. It is almost the same proportion in every country and we can say that the Christians constitute at least a third or a quarter of the population.

Q: Notwithstanding this important minority, the life of a Christian in the Gulf States is not always easy?

Archbishop El-Hachem: It varies from country to country. In Kuwait we have three Catholic churches – officially recognized as churches. The other communities, Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox have their own churches.

Q: In many of these countries Christians face various restrictions. In some countries like Saudi Arabia, the Church cannot construct churches, whereas in Qatar an opportunity has been given to the Church. Is there generally ‘freedom of religion’ or only ‘freedom of worship’ and if so what is the difference?

Archbishop El-Hachem: Indeed in Qatar, I inaugurated a big Catholic Church in Doha, one of the biggest Catholic centres in the world. The Emir of Qatar gave 600,000 square metres to build 16 Christian churches. Now let me answer the important question you posed, the difference between religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Lebanon is the only country in the Arab world and the Middle East that openly declares in Article 9 of the constitution that every Lebanese has the complete freedom of conscience, which means that he can believe, he can choose the religion he wants and if he wants he can change from one religion to the other; a Muslim can freely become Christian and Christen can convert to Islam without any difficulties. This is well entrenched in the law.

Q: …but Lebanon is an exception….

Archbishop El-Hachem: It is an exception, but we have to recognize that Lebanon is an Arab country. It is a founder and member of the Arab League. It is a founder and member of the Conference of the Islamic countries and yet it has in its constitution that freedom of conscience, and it is only in Lebanon.

Q: So this is the model that we would like to see?

Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes that is what we hope and the model we would like to see. This is what inspired Blessed Pope John Paul II to call Lebanon as more than a country…

Q …A message to the world…

Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes, a message to the world. In the other countries, unfortunately we have religious freedom but with restrictions. In Saudi Arabia for example, we cannot have churches and yet we have priests there working without difficulties on the condition that they do not openly manifest or proclaim the gospel. In the Emirates for example, we have enough churches, Catholic schools, and the freedom to teach catechism in the churches but not in our schools. In Kuwait, the Muslim students in Catholic schools receive Islamic instruction and yet the Christians students are not allowed catechism classes despite that fact that the Christian population in these schools is about 60%. The government response is: ‘you have full freedom to teach catechism on Friday and Sunday in your church’.

Q: So the governments in these countries, for the most part, take the position: You are a guest, you are a minority in our country. You have the freedom to worship but you do not have the freedom to evangelize. Church services have to be within the churches or on church grounds and there is no freedom of conscience in a sense that if a Muslim wishes to convert he is forbidden.

Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes, that is true and I have to say that in some countries – even in Kuwait – there are some cultural centres that officially are supposed to give foreigners an idea about the Kuwaiti culture and Muslim religion, but in reality these centres are for proselytizing and the conversion of Christians to Islam. This is highly encouraged but never is a Muslim officially allowed to convert to Christianity.

Q: If we assume that the majority of Muslims wish to live in peace and are moderate, why do not we hear from this silent majority? Why is it that we only hear from the fundamentalist and we only hear about the violence against Christians?

Archbishop El-Hachem: What you are saying is very, very important. The Western countries must have a better understanding of Islam. Their behaviour and interaction should not provoke and encourage the fundamentalist and the fanatics to take power. I am absolutely sure that the events of September 11 were not approved by the majority of the Muslims. It was an action taken by some fundamentalists, fanatics like Bin Laden. This fanaticism and violent reaction was a response against the behaviour of some countries. The other issue, which altered, dramatically, the behaviour and mentality of many Muslims is the Israel-Palestinian issue.

Q: That is the heart of the matter?

Archbishop El-Hachem: That is the heart of the matter. The other is the consequences of the way in which the State of Israel was founded and how the Israelis behave towards the Arabs. If we go back to history and describe the reception the Jews received from the Arabs when they came to the Middle East prior to the founding of the State of Israel we discover a very friendly reception. Before the founding of the State of Israel more than 500,000 Jews were living in Egypt. More than 200,000 were living in Beirut, Lebanon, and more than 300,000 were living in Yemen in a perfect and harmonious relationship. The first Jews who immigrated to Palestine received a very hospitable reception from the Arabs. They sold them land. They lived a peaceful coexistence until the founding of the State of Israel. Since that time, and the fact that the Jews have declared Jerusalem as their own, the Muslims have felt humiliated. All this contributes to a deeper antagonism and provokes the further radicalization of Islam.

Q: What is the answer?

Archbishop El-Hachem: The answer is peace. The answer is what the Holy See has suggested from the very beginning; two states for two peoples with defined and secured boundaries and to re-introduce the good relations the Jews and the Muslims had prior to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

Q: Concerning the radicalized relations between Christians and Muslims there have been suggestions favouring the idea of a ‘positive secularization’, which I suppose is another variant on the separation of state and faith?

Archbishop El-Hachem: In the western countries that is possible. The idea of secularization is not possible in the Middle East. The idea of secularization is a concept that does not exist in the Middle East for both Christians and Muslims because in the Middle East people are by nature religious. It is much better to speak about citoyenneté, ‘citizenship for all’ whereby the citizens are allowed to pursue their own religious values. Islam is not just religion but is both religion and culture. Every act of a Muslim has both a religious and cultural value. I will never forget when the then President of Lebanon, President Rafic Al-Hariri prior to his assassination, wanted to introduce the idea that religion should only be taught in the mosque or the church. One of the prominent leaders of Hezbollah told me: ‘What is Hariri thinking? He wants to remove God from Lebanon, he cannot do it…God has the right to be in Lebanon’.

Q: So this then is the thrust of the argument; it is for the recognition of the citizenships regardless of religious tradition?

Archbishop El-Hachem: Yes, to recognize equality, independent of religious belief; that all have the same rights, duties and obligations to be recognized and entrenched in the law of the state. The ideal for us is the constitution of Lebanon and for that I think Lebanon can be our model. I think the other important program for the Muslim world today is to understand democracy, the rights of man and to realize the importance of all forms of liberty. One of the greatest decisions of the Second Vatican Council, which for me, was a wonderful act of courage, is the declaration of religious freedom that states that every human being has the full right to have any religion he wants – and that is great and beautiful.

* * *
This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
— — —
On the Net:
For more information
www.WhereGodWeeps.org  and www.acn-intl.org


An article from The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups uniting behind a faith-based approach to the BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement.

For many, faith was both a source of solidarity and a cause for action at this weekend’s national Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference — whether they attended the event or not.

On Saturday, the panel discussion “A Faith-Based Approach to BDS” brought together leaders from national Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups to examine the ways that “interfaith coalitions can be used to promote the [BDS] movement,” according to discussion moderator Susan Landau, who works with Philadelphia Jews for a Just Peace.

During the panel’s question-and-answer session, many audience members asked how they could get more involved in the BDS movement through their churches, synagogues and mosques.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb from Jewish Voice for Peace — a grassroots movement that works to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians — said young Jewish people, who might feel “alienated” by their synagogues’ compliance with Israeli actions, “come back into Judaism through their Palestinian human rights work. They find community there.”

Gottlieb, who spoke at the panel, added, “There is a generational shift in the Jewish community. People see what’s going on in the Middle East, and they are not so easily fooled about Israel’s human rights abuses.”

Panelist Natalia Cuadra-Saez from the United Methodist Kairos Response — a pro-Palestine group — also believes that through her work with BDS, “church is relevant again.”

“It’s not just about hollow words and hypocrisy,” she said. “When we see our churches taking action for something, we come back to them.”

Faith has also informed the political views of pro-Israeli individuals at Penn and in the greater community.

“I hope my faith inspires my politics, and that my politics are consistent with my faith,” said Bill Borror, senior pastor of Media Presbyterian Church in Media, Pa.

However, Borror, who was one of 14 signers of a recent statement denouncing the BDS movement’s rhetoric, believes that American Christians should think strategically about what will bring a just peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“To think pragmatically is an extremely Christian idea,” he said.

College sophomore and Hillel’s Israel Sector Intern Josh Cooper said that personally, his faith contributes only partly to his support for Israel.

While he believes the question surrounding BDS is largely geopolitical, his relationship to Israel “is not just political and academic, but also rooted in my Jewish faith,” he said.

“Israel is still a very religious factor in my life, but not to say it biases me in my position towards BDS. Social justice is also a major religious factor in my life.”

Saturday’s panel also featured Rev. Graylan Hagler, national president of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice and Cyrus McGoldrick from the Council on Islamic-American Relations.

Panel members explained what each of their affiliated religious groups have done — and can still do — to advance the BDS movement and refute pro-Israel arguments.

Hagler censured pro-Israel Christians for their unilateral support of Israel, urging them to “unhitch [their] theology from Christian Zionism.”

“From a traditional Christian perspective, the response is always if you harm Israel, you will be harmed,” he said. “But there is a difference between the Israel of the Testaments and the Israel of today.”

This sentiment was echoed in Gottlieb’s qualification of Israelis’ right to land in the Middle East, the belief in which she said has culminated in a “terrible sin committed towards Palestinians.”

She added, “The concept of [Jewish] ‘chosen-ness’ is dependent on ethics, but we have really lost our right to claim that land because of our chosen-ness.”

While some of the speakers drew on scriptural and ethical arguments, other speakers used the floor to encourage specific actions that would directly support the BDS movement.

Cuadra-Saez cited a mandate in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which discourages investment in companies “that directly or indirectly support the violation of human rights.”

The UMKR, she said, has drafted a resolution advising United Methodist Church leaders to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard for their “involvement in the Israeli occupation,” according to the resolution.

“[Founder of the Methodist Church] John Wesley said, ‘Do no harm,’” Cuadra-Saez said. “Well, we do do harm when we profit from those who profit from occupation.”

McGoldrick captured the common theme of the discussion — escaping the “common culpability” of less active supporters and “turning principle into action.”

“In Islam, if you believe in something you must act on it,” he added. “This isn’t something just to discuss academically — it’s about life and death.”

It is encouraging to see that respectful dialogue between our two faiths is a goal which is being pursued worldwide. Here we see that a joint Islamic-Christian movement in the Philipines seeks to educate the youth to engage in peaceful inter-faith dialogue.

Source: Asia News

Zamboanga – “Spreading a culture of dialogue between Christians and Muslims means educating young people to get to the bottom of their faith and encourage them to work together for the good of their communities”, says Fr Sebastiano D’Ambra, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Zamboanga (Mindanao) and founder of Silsilah, a movement for interreligious dialogue speaking to AsiaNews. Active since 1984, over the years Silsilah has become a beacon for Muslims and Christians in Mindanao, for forty years, victims of the war between Islamic rebels and the Philippine military.

Fr. D’Ambra says: “After years of meetings with Muslim and Christian leaders, we realized that our task was not simply to speak of dialogue, but  way to respond in a concrete to the reality around us.”

In 1986 Silsilah kicked started the Summer Course of Muslim Christian Dialogue to form young leaders of both faiths. For 25 years, the summer courses are organized every year between April and May and the classes continued even in during the most difficult for Christians in Mindanao, such as the murder in Zamboanga of Fr Salvatore Carzedda (PIME) in 1992.

“Over the years we have trained more than 2 thousand young people – says Fr D’Ambra – who now work as a leaders in various areas of the island, in turn creating groups and initiatives between the two religions. ” On 20 September, the movement opened a center for dialogue in Manila, in the district of Quiapo home to the Nazarene sanctuary and the Golden Mosque, symbols of the presence of the two religions in the archipelago.

In Mindanao the initiatives of the Summer Course has also affected areas with Muslim majority hostile to Christians and characterized by ongoing violence. In Basilan, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremists, a few months ago a relationship between the bishop and high Islamic authorities began. They are working to address concrete problems of the city, led by some Silsilah graduates.

“We teach our youth the dialogue and respect for nature – said the missionary – explaining the passages of the Bible and the Qur’an that speak of these matters.” In Balun, a protected area in the center of the island, Christians and Muslims, have joined forces to block mining in the area. With the help of Silsilah volunteers they have collected signatures throughout Mindanao. In January 2010, more than 10 thousand people demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the Manila government against pollution and destruction of protected areas.

The concrete proposal of Silsilah and its work with the new generations has drawn even the most reluctant and conservative Muslim leaders to the movement. Recently the movement translated the letter sent to 138 Muslim scholars to Benedict XVI in 2006 to seek common ground for collaboration between Christians and Muslims into the local language.

Fr. D’Ambra noted that the publication of the document, together with the concrete testimony of Silsilah among the Muslims of Mindanao, many Islamic leaders began to question whether their communities are open dialogue with Christians.

“The letter is signed by many Islamic leaders of the world – he stresses – and this has also pushed even the most entrenched characters to consider the possibility of interreligious dialogue, love of God, love of neighbor, All content common to both faiths. ” In a meeting with more than 500 ulema that took place recently in Zamboanga, a prominent Islamic leader, who has never had direct relations with Silsilah, praised the movement citing passages on the relationship between Christians and Muslims in the Koran.

The priest said the opening of Islamic leaders is possible if dialogue is transformed from a simple strategy in the form of spirituality on which to base one’s life. For nearly 20 years the movement has proposed chastity and community life to young people as an opportunity to give one’s life to interfaith dialogue. The proposal is spreading even among Muslim women, who take a vow of chastity, and without leaving their families, begin the same spiritual journey of serious dialogue with God and neighbour.

An encouraging report from AsianImage.co.uk tells of a planned peace conference in London, to be attended by 12,000 Muslims and people of various faiths.

LONDON – More than 12,000 young people from all over the UK and Europe are expected to attend a ‘Peace for Humanity’ conference in London.

The event is being organised by Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI), an Islamic organisation working for peace and integration and will take place at Wembley Arena.

The conference will be opened by MQI’s founder, Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a leading Islamic scholar and thinker.

He will use the conference to issue a “Declaration for Global Peace and Resistance against Extremism” which will call for end to terrorism and extremist violence. He will launch a drive to secure one million signatures to support the declaration.

The “Peace and Humanity” conference will host a full day of speeches, entertainment, multi-faith sessions and collective public action to spread messages of peace, harmony and cohesion throughout communities and across religions following the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

It will also include a collective peace prayer involving all main faiths 10 years after that called by the late Pope John Paul in Assisi.

Video messages of support will be shown from the Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon. Nick Clegg, the Secretary of State for Local Government and Communities, Rt Hon. Eric Pickles and the Leader of the Opposition, Rt Hon. Ed Miliband.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has also supported the conference.

Ban Ki-moon has also sent a message of support.

The conference will also hear from Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes, Dean of Royal Air Force College Dr Joel Hayward, Sajjad Karim MEP, UK Muslim scholars Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad (also known as Timothy Winter) and Vice-Chancellor of Al-Azhar University, Cairo,prominent young scholar Shaykh Hassan Mohi-ud-Din Qadri, Mrs Ghazala Hassan, Dr Musharaf Hussain.

A special session of collective peace prayer will be held in which religious leaders of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims will perform prayer for global peace according to their respective religion.

Building on previous internationally recognised Minhaj-ul-Quran events, including the Fatwa on Terrorism and the Anti-Terrorism Camp, this event will bring together eminent faith leaders and communities, dispelling myths and enhancing unity in the name of peace.

In his Global Declaration for Peace, Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri will say: “We send a message of peace and fraternity to all of humanity’s innumerable states, nations, communities and individuals along with a call for respect, dignity, compassion, equality, solidarity and justice for, and between, all people”.

“We address our call for peace, tolerance and respect to all people everywhere, but especially to political and religious leaders and decision-makers as well as to scholars, teachers and journalists”.

“We reject unequivocally all terrorism because at the heart of all religions is a belief in the sanctity of the lives of the innocent.

The indiscriminate nature of terrorism, which has in recent years killed far more civilians and other non-combatants than it has combatants.”

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