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 ( 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.
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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 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.”

With all of the publicity given to a tiny number of American preachers burning the sacred texts of other faiths, the Associated Baptist Press reports on an initiative of the Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First to come together and read each others’ sacred texts, to foster mutual understanding and respect.

WASHINGTON – Christian clergy across the country will organize readings from the Koran and other sacred texts Sunday, June 26, as part of an initiative to counter anti-Muslim bigotry and negative stereotypes of Islam.

Announced in a telephonic press conference May 17, Faith Shared : Uniting in Prayer and Understanding is a project of the Interfaith Alliance and Human Rights First.

“The anti-Muslim rhetoric that has pervaded our national conversation recently has shocked and saddened me,” said Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a religious freedom organization that seeks to unite diverse faith voices against extremism.

Gaddy, an ordained Baptist minister, is also pastor of preaching and worship at Northminster Church in Monroe, La., one of 50 congregations in 26 states recruited so far to invite Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders to read each others’ sacred texts in order to send a message both in the United States and Arab world.

Contrary to highly publicized anti-Islam statements from some U.S. Christian leaders, Gaddy said churches involved in the Faith Shared project “want to read each others’ scriptures instead of burn them.”

Tad Stanke of Human Rights First, a human-rights advocacy organization with offices in New York and Washington, said tactics that show disrespect for Muslims hurt the reputation of all Americans and make it harder for the U.S. to speak with authority on human-rights issues in the Arab world.

Washington National Cathedral will serve as anchor congregation for the June 26 scripture readings.

“Few things are more important for the future of our world than to respect, to honor and to commit ourselves to the well-being of every person,” said National Cathedral Dean Sam Lloyd. “As Americans and people of faith, we must use our great traditions to come together for mutual enrichment and understanding.”

By coming together to read from and hear each others’ sacred texts, organizers believe Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy will model respect and cooperation in ways that create concrete opportunities to build and strengthen working ties between their faiths.

“This initiative is good for religion and good for our nation,” Gaddy said.

Information about how to organize a service and a list of participating churches can be seen at

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