Monday, June 8, 2009

Hope for Interfaith Peace Is On The Rise

Time for some hope-mongering! Over the past couple weeks, our hope for greater interfaith respect, peace, and collaboration has increased exponentially. Why? Because of all the signs we've seen around us. Here are just a few examples.

President Barack Obama just delivered a brilliant speech to "the Muslim world." It was a speech marked by wise nuance and needed recommendations. He even brought up three of the elements of the just peace theory: truth, respect, and security. As Valerie Elverton Dixon, a just peace scholar, said: "President Obama was right to remind us that peace on earth is the will of God. He was right to remind us that it is our work to do." Hopefully this speech has planted the seeds that are needed to bring forth renewed hope for peace and understanding among religions around the world. Religion can be a powerful force for peace - or for violence. As the top diplomat of the USA, Hillary Clinton now has the responsibility to help inspire people to choose to use religion as a powerful force for peace. It seems like the seeds planted by Obama could be brought to fruition in powerful new ways by Clinton.

Peace among religions is even blooming in rural areas of the world where there isn't as much interfaith exposure. Stephannie Fox-Dixon, a high school student in rural Iowa, just wrote an outstanding article about a 19th century Muslim leader named Emir Abd el-Kader. She talked about Abd el-Kader's heroic faith, values, and leadership. Fox-Dixon also connected his work for a more just and peaceful world to similar work done by people such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Susan B. Anthony. Her article won the first annual essay contest in Elkader, Iowa. Just the fact that there is such an award is a hopeful sign. The quality of the winning essay is icing on the cake! Clearly hope is on the rise even in rural places.

John W. Kiser, the organizer of the essay contest won by Fox-Dixon, has written two great books detailing the stories of heroic Christians and Muslims. Monks of Tibhirine is the "true story of Christians willing to die serving a Muslim flock during the political nightmare that unfolds in Algeria during the 1990s." Commander of the Faithful is a biography of Emir Abd el-Kader (1808-1883) who was a much respected Muslim leader in Algeria - and around the world. Abd el-Kader was even honored by Abraham Lincoln. In our post-9/11 world, stories of heroic Muslims are important for all people to celebrate.

More and more Christian groups are collaboratively working with Muslim groups. As an example, Sylvania United Church of Christ in Sylvania, OH is building a home through Habitat For Humanity with the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. Their shared values have united these groups. The Third Pillar of Islam, Zakah, makes charitable support for the less fortunate as central as daily prayer. The words of Jesus, found in Matthew 25:31-46, commands Christians to treat "the least of these," as if they were Christ himself. Therefore, out of their shared commitment to social justice, these Christians and Muslims are working together to build a better world.

Rock musicians are also joining the effort. Bono, the leader singer of U2, used his popularity to spread the message of interfaith peace during the Vertigo tour. When he sang the song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in Chicago, he wore a "Coexist" headband. Halfway through the song, he pointed to the headband and said: "There's some graffiti sprayed on a wall not too far from here. It says, 'Coexist.' Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, it's true. Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, it's true. All sons of Abraham. Father Abraham. Where are you now? Father Abraham. Look what's been done. Son turned against son. No more. No more. No more." By the third time he chanted "no more," the entire crowd was chanting with him. Somehow Bono makes working for interfaith peace seem cool and exciting. We definitely need prophets like him.

These modern signs of hope for interfaith peace are deeply rooted in all three Abrahamic traditions. The Qur'an says: "O Humanity, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another" (49:13). The Talmud says: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace...Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace" (Gittin 59b). The Bible says: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9). It's time to more proactively follow the commands of our Scriptures and the leadership of Obama, Fox-Dixon, Kiser, Sylvania, Bono, and the many other peacemakers in our world.

Hope for greater interfaith respect, peace, and collaboration is on the rise. We just need to keep hope moving in that direction by taking action in our local communities and spheres of influence.

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