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The Future of Jewish-Muslim Relations on College Campuses: Hope or Hopeless?

Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, one of only 11 full time Muslim chaplains at a U.S. University.

by Imam Abdullah T. Antepli

I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.

Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.

I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.

But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.

I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?” Growing up in Turkey, the first book that I read about Jews and Judaism was at the age of 12 or 13 — a children’s version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was very sophisticated propaganda that put modern pictures of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities atop verses from the Torah and other Jewish teachings, in an attempt to prove the inherent evil of Judaism.. Not every single Muslim is born and raised as an anti-Semite. But it’s not uncommon.

I spent a number of years believing that something is innately, irredeemably wrong about Jews and Judaism. But believing in a God of love and God of mercy and compassion, I was able to go through a life journey that removed that poison from my system. I still consider myself a recovering anti-Semite because old habits die hard and modern challenges keep scratching the old wounds.

Rising bigotry is not unique nor is it one-way. Islamaphobia among the Jewish community is increasing, too, poisoning many Jewish hearts and minds and taking deep root here in the U.S. as well as other parts of the world.

As Muslims and Jews, we have every reason to be worried about the future of our religions. Vis-à-vis Jewish-Muslim relations, we have every reason to do all that we can to build bridges between our communities. As Jews and Muslims it is in our self-interest.

I see the 20th century as the time when world Jewry came to terms and reconciled with Christianity. I see the 21st century as the time Jews and Judaism can come to terms and reconcile with the global Muslim community.

That brings a moral imperative to America’s shores. Yes, anti-Semitism may be poisoning Muslims around the world and it’s changing us for the worse.  But it is American Muslims and American Jews who must model what the 21st century will look like. We live in a country with influence and civil liberties; on college campuses in particular, Jews and Muslims have the room to exemplify a fruitful Jewish-Muslim engagement for the rest of the U.S., world Jewry, and the Ummah, the Muslim world.

An important place to start is to diversify our sources of information about each other. I invite you to consider, when does Islam as a religion and Muslims as people come to your attention? Or when do Jews, Judaism and Israel come to Muslim attention?

When it comes to information on college campuses, we have to stop inviting fringe speakers who only serve to firm up extremist images of the other. There also needs to be bilateral Jewish-Muslim conversation. Interreligious sharing is wonderful, but Jews and Muslims share similarities, a common history, as well as similar theological and judicial foundations. Bi-lateral discussions, especially on U.S. college campuses, are a must if we are to be an urgently needed light for the world.

A Voice from Sinai is calling on American Jews and American Muslims, “If there’s going to be any reconciliation, any coming to terms, it will be you. You will exemplify this to the rest of the world.”

Imam Abdullah T. Antepli is this year’s Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue honorary lecturer; this commentary is distilled from that lecture. The JP II Center is located at The Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City hosted this year’s lecture. Educated in his native Turkey, Imam Antepli is an international leader in Muslim-Jewish dialogue.

All Things in Common

Clarence Jordan, “spiritual father” of the global humanitarian organization Habitat for Humanity.

by Ezra Millstein
from HabitatWorld Magazine

I like Clarence Jordan.

But if he were around for his 100th birthday this year, it’s unlikely he would feel honored by a virtual befriending or an electronic thumbs-up. Clarence — the Greek scholar, theologian, community-builder, social critic, prophet and farmer — would have wanted those thumbs in the dirt instead, planting seeds of justice and mercy. Or poking the ribs of the slothful to prod them into action or to jolt selfish numbskulls into radical generosity. These things Clarence would enjoy for a birthday celebration.

Clarence and his wife Florence, who would also be 100 this year, founded Koinonia Farm, a Christian community located just south of Americus, Georgia. This fall, Koinonia commemorates the Jordan birthdays as well as the 70th anniversary of their community. Habitat for Humanity’s founder Millard Fuller claimed that Clarence was the spiritual father of Habitat. This anniversary is an opportunity for all of us who are Habitat adherents to listen to Clarence, reflect on our calling and renew our commitment to this work.

Clarence as a spiritual ancestor carries personal meaning for me. I’m marking one other anniversary this year: Forty years ago, in 1972 as a sophomore in college, I read Dallas Lee’s book The Cotton Patch Evidence and first learned about Clarence and the Koinonia Farm “experiment.” I was deeply moved, but to explain why that book was so formative in my experience I have to back up four more years.

Click here to read the full article

September 19th, 2012 at 10:55 am

What People Talk about Before They Die

By Kerry Egan
From CNN

As a divinity school student, I had just started working as a student chaplain at a cancer hospital when my professor asked me about my work. I was 26 years old and still learning what a chaplain did.

“I talk to the patients,” I told him.

“You talk to patients? And tell me, what do people who are sick and dying talk to the student chaplain about?” he asked.

I had never considered the question before. “Well,” I responded slowly, “Mostly we talk about their families.”

“Do you talk about God?

“Umm, not usually.”

“Or their religion?”

“Not so much.”

“The meaning of their lives?”

“Sometimes.”

“And prayer? Do you lead them in prayer? Or ritual?”

“Well,” I hesitated. “Sometimes. But not usually, not really.”

I felt derision creeping into the professor’s voice. “So you just visit people and talk about their families?”

“Well, they talk. I mostly listen.”

“Huh.” He leaned back in his chair.

A week later, in the middle of a lecture in this professor’s packed class, he started to tell a story about a student he once met who was a chaplain intern at a hospital.

“And I asked her, ‘What exactly do you do as a chaplain?’ And she replied, ‘Well, I talk to people about their families.’” He paused for effect. “And that was this student’s understanding of faith! That was as deep as this person’s spiritual life went! Talking about other people’s families!”

The students laughed at the shallowness of the silly student. The professor was on a roll.

“And I thought to myself,” he continued, “that if I was ever sick in the hospital, if I was ever dying, that the last person I would ever want to see is some Harvard Divinity School student chaplain wanting to talk to me about my family.”

My body went numb with shame. At the time I thought that maybe, if I was a better chaplain, I would know how to talk to people about big spiritual questions. Maybe if dying people met with a good, experienced chaplain they would talk about God, I thought.

Today, 13 years later, I am a hospice chaplain. I visit people who are dying – in their homes, in hospitals, in nursing homes. And if you were to ask me the same question – What do people who are sick and dying talk about with the chaplain? – I, without hesitation or uncertainty, would give you the same answer. Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters.

They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

Click here to read the full article

February 13th, 2012 at 10:48 am

Acknowledging Our Theological Need for Each Other

by Anantanand Rambachan
CPWR Trustee

Our world has always been characterized by religious diversity, both across and within religious traditions. We have held different beliefs about the absolute, described it differently, and adopted a variety of ways and practices for attaining life’s ultimate goal. What is new about our religious diversity is the fact that it is rapidly becoming a feature of the landscape of many societies where a single tradition was predominant. Our awareness of other religions has never been as great as it is today. We are growing also in the realization, some more slowly than others, that this diversity is here to stay. The world’s religions have emerged from colonialism with a renewed sense of purpose and universal relevance.

We understand better today, our political need for each other in the light of the interdependent character of our lives. All of our religious traditions, in addition to what they proclaim and teach about individual human destiny and fulfillment, also imagine and include a social vision of the ideal human community characterized by justice, peace, and prosperity. Any religious tradition which is today concerned about the social order and its transformation is challenged to reach across historical frontiers, find common values with people of other faiths and strive together to overcome human suffering. Our hopes for just and peaceful communities will only be realized together or not at all.

Less clear, however, is our understanding of the theological need for each other. Our traditions generally understand themselves as theologically self-sufficient and independent and with little or no need for a religious ‘other.’ Our relationships with people of other traditions have not always been informed by theological humility and gratitude. If meaningful human relationships, however, are nurtured in the gratitude of humility and in recognition of the need for an ‘other,’ then our articulation of the theological value of persons of other traditions becomes important. Where do we discern our need for the religious ‘other’ that urges us to seek relationships? Where do I locate my religious need for you? What is my value to you theologically? Are we convinced, at the core of our traditions, of our need for each other? It seems to me that our focus today is on articulating the political dimension of interreligious relationships with much less focus on the theological in this sense. Although there may be urgent contemporary challenges that explain this choice, I want to make a plea for deeper reflection on our theological need for people of other faiths.

The political significance of people of other faiths is not an argument made only by religions and those who observe them. Many have articulated powerfully the pragmatic value of building relationships and of cooperating with people of other faiths. There is also a transient character to such arguments, dependent as these are on the exigencies of the moment. The political arguments needs to be enriched by and grounded in our more profound and enduring self-understanding of our theological needs.

In my own case, as a Hindu, my most profound theological need for my neighbor of another faith arises from my tradition’s teaching that Truth (brahman/sat) is always more than we could define, describe or comprehend with finite words and minds. As the Taittiriya Upanisad (2.9.1) reminds us, brahman is “that from which words turn back with the mind.” The constitutive nature of brahman eludes all direct definition. The consequence of such a radical sense of our human limits ought to be deep attentiveness and openness to considering and learning from multiple ways of speaking about the ultimate that occur in different traditions. It is the wise, after all, as Rg Veda (I.164.46) reminds us who speak differently (“The One Being the Wise speak of in many ways”). By attributing differences of speech to the wise, this text invites a respectful and inquiring response to theological differences. We must not associate wisdom only with our way of speaking, as precious as this must be to us. The possibility for mutual theological enrichment, learning, and sharing is a significant justification for entering into interreligious relationships.

If our theologies cannot limit the limitless, we need each other, and we can all learn and be enriched by the ways in which others have apprehended the absolute and by the values they have derived from such encounters and experiences. This is, for me, the most compelling ground to seek out my neighbor of a different faith. My own religious life as a Hindu has been and continues to be immensely enriched and stirred by my encounters with practitioners of other traditions. I benefit immeasurably from the opportunity to converse and interact with fellow pilgrims. We need each other to help us see and understand ourselves better and to deepen out religious lives. Without the voice of the other, the human proclivity toward self-centeredness and self-righteousness may go unchallenged and arrogance and selfishness, rather than humility and compassion, may become the dominant values of our existence. We should not be hesitant to acknowledge this.

Wholly Saturday & The Gaps of Faith, or: Living In/Between the Death and Doubts of Faith

by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza
From State of Formation

They (the Christians) call today “Holy Saturday.”  In fact, I’m on my way to be with them on this (Holy) Saturday.  I’ve not been in a Saturday Church Service in years, and I’m perfectly happy being a sorted and doubting insider on the outside of a dominant religious sector called Christianity.  I have many Christian friends and many friends who have no religious affiliation, then there is me who navigates the “already/not yet” of faith–that agnostic space and place.  I call this the intersection or borderland in/between the death and doubt of faith.  And so, here I sit in my office really trying to live into today–the death and doubt of Saturday, before faith, before the Alleluia, before the bodily or spiritual resurrection.  That’s where I sit today in my light-skinned Mexican body–in the space and place of the borderlands of doubt, of Agnosticism.

Its been several years since I claimed for myself the label “Agnosticism.”  It feels so right on so many days, especially today.  Its almost as if I live for the Holy Saturday.  I can neither say “yes” nor “no,” but I can always say “maybe.”  Yet today, I can say an adamant and astounding “maybe” as I move closer to the time the Holy Saturday service begins.  I wanted solemnity tonight, and I wanted darkness.  I wanted the space for doubt to live.  I wanted to be in a space and place that accentuated my doubt, my “maybe.”  And so, I’m going to stroll down into an Episcopal Church here in Denver, CO and profess my doubt, profess my “maybe.”

Click here to read the entire article

For Atheists and Believers, Ignorance Is No Excuse

From The Huffington Post

Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.

This reputation is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it. To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person. The mythological story told by atheists recounts how religion arose through vast ignorance and perversity. A plague upon humanity, really, infecting the dimwitted or foolish with viral memes about spirits and gods. If there’s no arguing with irrational people or dumb viruses, what’s to be done?

Astonished that intellectual defenses of religion are still maintained, many prominent atheists disparage theology. They either dismiss the subject as irrelevant, or, if they do bother to acknowledge it, slim refutations of outdated arguments for a medieval God seem enough. Atheists cheer on such bold leadership, but what is really being learned? Challenging religion’s immunity from criticism is one thing; perpetuating contempt for religion’s intellectual side is another. Too many followers only mimic the contempt, forgetting that you won’t effectively criticize what you would not understand. The “know-nothing” wing of the so-called New Atheism really lives up to that label. Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.

Click here to read the entire article.

September 28th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Former Judge Kirby Urges Contextual Reading of Bible on Homosexuality

Former High Court Judge and Parliament major speaker Michael Kirby spoke today about the Bible and sexual orientation, reports The Age.  The remarks, given alongside Abdullah Saeed and the Rev. Dorothy McRay-McMahon was part of the Parliament panel discussion Interpreting the Text: Apostasy and Homosexuality.  During the talk, Kirby argued that Biblical sources are often considered selectively and out-of-context, leading to an erroneous and ahistorical interpretation.  Saeed also commented on Islamic theology and sexuality.

To read the full article, click here.

The Patheos Public Square

As you may have noticed, the main page of the Parliament of Religions has been recently energized by a series of images and questions. That’s why we’re so happy to see that our partners at Patheos.com are taking on compelling questions on their own website.

The Public Square is the center of vigorous interfaith conversation at Patheos.com.  With a different subject assigned each week, members are able to wade deep into issues of serious social, political, cultural and theological import.

This week’s discussion revolves around the role of religion in democracy and vice versa. The page offers an overview of the subject (“Does Democracy Need Religion?”), a forum to discuss and blog about the question and survey snapshots and visuals to graphically distill a religious perspective into a tangible format. Finally, a drop down menu on the Public Square page offers viewers the opportunity to access arguments written from within specific faith traditions.

At the Council, we’re betting you have both informed and articulate opinions on the current question of politics and religion. Why not click over to Patheos.com and join the conversation?