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Friday, January 7, 2011

INTERFAITH DIALOGUE IN AMERICA

Another lecture we had during the Washington programme I referred to in my Letter From America was that of Imam Yahya M. Hendi, a Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, the first American University to hire a full-time Muslim chaplain. Imam Hendi is also the Imam of the Islamic Society of Frederick, and is the Muslim Chaplain at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He also serves as a member and the spokesperson of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America. Imam Hendi holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Religion from Hartford Seminary, Hardford, CT. He is the President and Founder of Clergy without Borders.
The lecture Imam Yahya gave centred on the strategies of Clergy without Borders in promoting interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution. The basic premise of Clergy without Borders is that all religions contain a message of commitment to improving the world but that too often the differences rather than the commonalities become the subject for discussion. The mutual recognition of the values of our charter is meant to enhance an active pluralism that goes beyond mere tolerance, but one that does not seek to remove the meaningful borders between us, by building bridges rather than constructing barriers. Clergy without Borders is working towards acknowledging, celebrating, and then transcending religious differences. It empowers religious leaders to explore and utilise the resources of their diverse religious traditions in the advancement of world peace: incorporating classical spiritual texts, traditions, and rituals; utilising contemporary conflict resolution disciplines, respecting and embodying religious pluralism. The organisation educates clergy toward greater understanding of other traditions, exploring differences and commonalities in the three Abrahamic faiths of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
After the unfortunate events of 9/11, Imam Hendi mentioned, a mosque was destroyed, burnt in America and the entire community – Christians, Jews and followers of other faiths - came to the aid of the Muslims in renovating it. The Catholic Church was the highest donor with $60, 000 for the renovation work that cost $86, 000. Christians helping Muslims to rebuild a burnt mosque in America…?
Also, Imam Hendi revealed that when Pastor Terry Jones came up with his madness of an ‘International Burn the Quran Day’, followers of all religions in America opposed and saved him from his own delusion.
What lesson is there in Imam Hendi’s lecture for Muslims and Christians in Nigeria? Are our Christian brethren resisting evil….? If the right cheek is smitten, is the right one turned also…? (Matthew 5:39) Didn't Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, adjure the Christians in these words: ‘…But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that which despitefully use you, and persecute you;…. (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28)?
A good Christian cannot intercept and kill travellers on the basis of their faith or because such innocent wayfarers are not Christians.

 Where is the purport of Surah al Hajj verse 40 in preserving the sanctity of cloisters, churches, oratories and synagogues? Have we thrown behind our backs the Prophet’s instructions, even at the time of war, that trees are not to be cut down, properties are not burnt, women and children are spared; that the one who flees from the frontlines and closes his door behind him should not be harmed, and that priests in their places of devotions are not molested, killed or expelled? And if the one who closes his door behind him is spared, where have people got the authority of breaking into dwellings and killing their inhabitants? If no soul bears the burden of another (Al An’aam 6:164), why will a non-Muslim in your country pay for the wrong committed by another non-Muslim elsewhere?
After the conquest of Jerusalem, ‘Umar Ibn Al Khattaab, the Commander of the Faithful and the Second Caliph in Islam came for a visit. He was received by the Bishop of Jerusalem and other key figures. The Commander of the Faithful treated them cordially and spoke to them kindly that they were all amazed at the humility and tolerance of the Commander of the Faithful that brought all to their knees. It set their minds and hearts at ease to see how he was a living example of justice, thus they were reassured that he would honour the peace settlement they signed with him the content of which is:

“This is the protection which the servant of Allah, ‘Umar, the Commander of the Faithful has granted to the people of Jerusalem. The protection is for their lives and properties, their churches and crosses, their sick and healthy and for their coreligionists. Their churches shall not be used for habitation, nor shall they be demolished, nor shall any injury be done to them or their compounds, or to their crosses, nor shall their properties be injured in any way.
“There shall be no compulsion for these people in the matter of religion, nor shall any of them suffer any injury on account of religion….”

The Bishop took Umar around Jerusalem for a sightseeing tour in the following day. The Commander of the Faithful offered the salutational prayer at the David’s niche of the al Aqsa mosque. During the latter part of his tour, and while ‘Umar was at Al Qiamah Church, noon prayer was due. So, the Bishop asked ‘Umar if he could offer his prayer in the church, being Allah’s house too. ‘Umar, however, politely declined the offer on the grounds that should he pray in the church, Muslims later on may take it as a commendable tradition, and end up therefore expelling Christians from their churches, and unpardonable violation of the Pledge of Security Muslims had concluded with them.
The above episode is indeed a memorable one in history, as it brings into spotlight one of the most significant features of Islam, namely tolerance and peaceful coexistence. There is no way Muslims, who abide by the true spirit of Islam and stick to its real essence, could ever persecute Christians or kill them in their place of worship!
 The realisation of and respect for the differences between the two religions and continuous emphasis of what we share in common is the key to goodwill and peace in this country and the world over.

                                                                                                                                                        

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