December 2020

Written by WISDOM on . Posted in Newsletters

Calendar for WISDOM and Other Interfaith Events 
Tuesday, December 1st, 6:00 – 7:00 PM, Let’s Art About It.  See Flyer Below.
Tuesday, December 8, 7:00 PM Five Women Five Journeys
Insight Through Education, Inc.” Irma Blauner, V.P. for Programming, Palm Spring, FL.
Tuesday, December 15th 6:00 – 7:00 PM Virtual Tai Chi with your WISDOM sisters $10.  Registration details coming soon.

Hello Dear WISDOM Sisters!
We are very excited to offer you a chance to connect together in a unique way!  WISDOM is partnering with “Let’s Art About It” – an art therapy studio – to offer a session which can help us keep calm during stress by using the medium of art. The session will take place Tuesday, December 1st from 6-7pm on zoom.  The cost of the session is $25/person, using a discount code, and a portion of the proceeds will go to support WISDOM and its programming.  Details are included on the link.
Registration Link:
Discount code: WISDOM10

Religious Diversity Journeys (RDJ) Continues completely virtually, reaching hundreds of Detroit-Area Seventh Graders for 2020-2021 school year
For nearly 20 years, RDJ has served as a unique experience for thousands of students and adults in Metropolitan Detroit. There is no other program that brings students from multiple communities together to educate young teenagers during a school day and within the context of Michigan’s statewide 7th grade Social Studies curriculum
In pre-pandemic times, RDJ was comprised of six field trips over six months. RDJ participants visited different faith communities and were introduced to a particular faith’s common terms, art, famous figures, holiday descriptions, origin history, prayer and ritual. Students also learned about the historical and contemporary sociology of SouthEast Michigan’s faith and cultural landscapes, practiced civil discourse and civic bridge building skills through peer to peer engagement with diverse student communities.
Pandemic Shift
Due to the pandemic, RDJ’s diversity literacy curriculum is online this year. Remote Journeys are designed to offer engaging enrichment and meaningful activities representing the most important big concepts and essential elements of the RDJ experience. RDJ’s 2020-2021 curriculum is content rich, engaging and solidly rooted in SouthEast Michigan’s diverse faith communities. This year, these “roots” have found a home on the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit website on password-protected pages designed to support this year’s unique needs.
Educational resources for each of RDJ’s five faiths will be presented as “clickable” modules. Enrolled teachers and students are issued a username/password that will allow for unlimited 24/7 access to all appropriate RDJ pages. Remote Journey resources are designed to work well as asynchronous enrichment. Also, a teacher can assign different modules as homework or classwork. This flexibility will allow teachers to direct students to RDJ remote Journey material in a way that supports every classroom community’s unique nature.
RDJ’s Sikhism Journey curriculum began in November. The Hinduism Journey will be available December 1st, Judaism in January 2021, Christianity in February and Islam in March. Remote Journeys will conclude in April with Journey resources from RDJ partners at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Holocaust Memorial Center.
Students will be encouraged to begin their Journey with each faith by clicking a module called “Test Your Knowledge”. This simple pre-assessment is a great way for students to begin thinking about what they might learn about each faith. Then, by following each clickable tile in the order presented, students will “journey” through a series of educational resources that will provide a foundation of basic information on each faith. Tiles further down from the top row offer additional experiences to extend a student’s learning, and then students are encouraged to conclude their Journey with a post-test that offers the prize of a randomly drawn amazon gift card!
What Will Students Experience and Learn on Remote Journeys? Students will learn about similarities in values and ethics that unite individuals of different faiths and will explore diverse cultural traditions that enrich our broader community. Through recorded visits to the local RDJ host communities, barriers of seeing those we do not know so well as “other” will begin to fall.
Each month RDJ will also host Zoom Q & A sessions with local clergy. Zoom Q & A experiences are an aspect of RDJ remote programming where we have already seen success. Spring 2020’s online RDJ programing called “RDJ Anywhere” used Zoom sessions with local clergy to offer an immediate resource in crisis conditions. Zoom RDJ sessions were held in April and May 2020 and attracted hundreds of students, teachers and parents. Program feedback included participant comments including “I liked that it filled me with a lot of information, even without actually being on a physical field trip.”, “Even though we can’t be together, we can still learn new things.” and “As a parent, I am glad this opportunity was offered for the kids. We loved the real field trips, and I’m appreciative that the kids can at least do them virtually now.” We are excited to continue these engaging sessions through the 2020-2021 year.

Michigan Muslim woman fights
mug shot hijab policy with suit
She was a domestic abuse survivor, pleading for understanding. Please let me keep my hijab on, she begged the officers. But the police wouldn’t give in, she says, alleging they threatened to make her sleep on a cement jail cell floor with no blanket or pillow if she didn’t remove her headscarf for a mug shot. So the devout Muslim woman did as she was told. In a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court this week, Zainab Chaaban detailed her ordeal and challenged a booking photo policy that she argues is unlawful and humiliating to Muslim women in Michigan. Not only is it unconstitutional for police to strip women of the religious headscarf, her lawsuit argues, but from a practical matter, it’s unnecessary: the hijab doesn’t cover any part of a woman’s face.
Chaaban’s lawsuit is against the city of Detroit, the Detroit Detention Center and the Michigan Department of Corrections. It stems from her arrest on various charges following a domestic dispute outside her ex-husband’s house in Detroit last year. (She was later acquitted on all charges by a jury.) Following her arrest, the 36-year-old Dearborn Heights woman was processed at the Detroit Detention Center, where state corrections officers allegedly forced her to remove her hijab while in full view of a male officer and a male janitor.
“Requiring a Muslim woman to remove her hijab in public is akin to demanding that a secular person strip naked in front of strangers,” the lawsuit states. For Chaaban, who pleaded with five different officers to let her keep on the hijab, the sacred scarf that she had worn since her teenage years, just like her mother and grandmother, the experience was horrifying. “I felt vulnerable. I felt exposed. I felt violated,” Chaaban said in a Friday interview with the Free Press.
After being processed at the jail, Chaaban also was required to wear a copy of her “hijabless” photo on a wristband, which she had to flash to male and female guards during meals and court hearings. Moreover, the suit argues, despite Chaaban being acquitted of all charges in the case, the booking photo she took without her hijab remains a public record and has been released at least twice by the city under Freedom of Information Act requests. Chaaban is not alone. Over the last decade, Muslim women nationwide have successfully challenged mug shot policies requiring hijab removals, in states including California, New York, Minnesota and Michigan, where a woman convinced Dearborn Heights to abandon its no-hijab booking policy in 2015 following a lawsuit. The Council on American Islamic Relations says it has repeatedly tried to convince the MDOC to modify its mug shot policy to align with other state and federal agencies that allow the hijab to be worn, but to no avail. Hijabs are allowed on U.S. passports, permanent residency cards for immigrants and Michigan driver’s licenses. So what’s the hangup with the MDOC?
“There’s a lack of awareness about the religious tenets of Islam and a lack of sensitivity,” argues CAIR-MI staff attorney Amy Doukoure, stressing the hijab is a sacred head covering that represents faith, devotion and modesty. “People need to understand. … It’s not just hair. It’s more than hair,” said Doukoure, stressing the hijab is part of a “deeply held religious belief.” And being stripped of it can be traumatizing, especially in a jail surrounded by men. “Forcing a Muslim woman to remove her hijab in such a public manner where men were present and could see her is not only a violation of Ms. Chaaban’s religious beliefs,” Doukoure argues. “It is tantamount to forcing a woman to walk around completely naked in front of strangers. It is a degrading and traumatizing experience.”
Doukoure argues that there is “no legitimate basis” to force women to take mug shots without their hijab when “every form of government at the state and federal level allow women to cover their hair in all identification photos including passports and driver’s licenses.”
In Chaaban’s case, CAIR said that it tried to discuss the matter with all the parties involved, but that no one at the jail, the MDOC or the city of Detroit would respond. Detroit police and the city of Detroit, however, say the booking photo policy at issue doesn’t involve them. “Neither the City of Detroit nor the Detroit Police Department take photographs of people entering the Detroit Detention Center,” Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in a statement. “The city does not belong in this lawsuit and we will seek to be dismissed from it.” A Detroit police spokesperson declined comment on the suit, beyond saying it doesn’t apply to the department because, she said, Detroit police don’t take the booking photos MDOC officials do. MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz declined comment, stating: “We have not been served with this lawsuit and we do not comment on pending litigation.”
According to CAIR, here is how the defendants wronged Chaaban: MDOC officers took her booking photo; a Detroit police department policy mandated that she wear the wristband with her photo on it, and the city of Detroit released her mug shots under FOIA requests.
Chaaban acquitted, then husband flees country with daughter
Chaaban’s mug shot ordeal started with a dispute on the front porch of her ex-husband’s house. According to her lawsuit, lawyer and Chaaban, here’s what happened: It was April 30, 2019, and she had gone to her ex-husband’s home to pick up her daughter, but he wouldn’t release the child unless she went back to her house to retrieve a pair of pants and a top for his daughter, and brought the clothing back to his house.
According to the suit, Chaaban is a domestic violence survivor whose ex-husband continuously tried to control her.
On the night in question, she had a restraining order against him and the two argued after he allegedly ordered her to go back to her house – something he allegedly often did. Things escalated.
According to the lawsuit, her ex-husband pushed her backward and in an attempt to steady herself, she grabbed him on the arm and they both tumbled off the porch. After they fell off the porch, they both called the police. No one was arrested at the scene. A couple of weeks later, while Chaaban was driving her car a couple of blocks away from her home, she was arrested and taken into custody. Her husband had accused her of assaulting him and trying to break into his house – allegations she calls “outlandish.”
“I kept asking, ‘Why isn’t he the one being arrested?’ ” said Chaaban, alleging the only thing that happened that night was that they both fell off the porch. “The police chastised Ms. Chaaban for being at the ex-husband’s house when she had a restraining order against him. But there was a clear purpose for Ms. Chaaban’s presence at the ex-husband’s house and the restraining order was issued based on her ex-husband’s behavior, not because of (her) ” the lawsuit states.
Following her arrest, Chaaban was transported to the Detroit Detention Center, where she was held in a jail cell for several hours waiting to be processed. Multiple officers kept coming in and telling her that she had to remove her hijab for her booking photo. Chaaban protested repeatedly. “I was just so angry. They were not listening … they kept saying, ‘How are we going to identify you? Don’t you want to get out of here?’ ” she recalled. Exasperated and scared, she gave in, removing the headscarf while a janitor mopped a floor behind her and another man in front of her watched. “I took it off because we weren’t going to get out of there,” she recalled. “Oh my God, it was very strange to me … I felt violated.” Chaaban was charged with malicious destruction of a building, assault with a dangerous weapon and domestic violence for her alleged actions on her ex-husband’s porch. Her case went to trial and a jury acquitted her of all charges. And then her world blew up again.
Following the jury trial, her husband fled the country with her daughter, Chaaban said. On Sept. 27, 2019, she went to the 6th Precinct in Detroit to pick up her daughter – the former couple was doing exchanges at the police station by then – and he wasn’t there. She waited for hours and he never showed.
“I’m sorry. It’s been an emotional year,” she said, her voice cracking.
The last Chaaban learned from authorities is that her now-7-year-old daughter and exhusband are somewhere in India. She said she has been working with the FBI and Missing Children advocates, and clings to hope that she will one day reunite with her daughter. “I’m motivated”, she said, “It’s going to happen.”
Hijab is about faith, modesty, devotion For many observant Muslim women, wearing the hijab is a mandatory aspect of identity and faith. It entails wearing a hijab at all times, whether at home or in public, when the woman is in the presence of men who are not part of her immediate family. While women choose to wear the hijab for a number of reasons, many believe that the headscarf fulfills the commandments of modesty and devotion. Those commandments stem from, among other things, the Quran which is the primary holy book of the Muslim faith – and the hadith, which are the oral traditions carried down from the age of the Prophet Muhammad.
Chaaban, according to her lawsuit, wears the hijab because her faith dictates that no man outside of a woman’s immediately family should see her uncovered hair, head, and neck. For years, she has worn the headscarf every day and believes that her religious faith requires her to do so. “Chaaban’s hijab is core to her identity, and it is an essential part of who she is,” the suit states.
So when police officials ordered her to remove the covering, the lawsuit states, it defiled her personally and violated her religious practice. And the fact that her mug shot can be viewed again and again by men who are not members of her family “is haunting.” “This practice alienates and oppresses faith communities throughout the City of Detroit,” the lawsuit states. ” It lacks justification and must be changed.” The right to wear a hijab is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment and numerous federal civil rights laws, which prohibit the discrimination against women who wear the religious headscarf. Currently, hijabs are allowed to be worn in numerous settings, including:
 A passport and most state driver’s licenses, including in Michigan.
 At the airport and the border
 In public schools and public facilities
 In the workplace.
 If asked, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for you to wear your hijab or headscarf. An accommodation is not reasonable if it causes an employer an undue hardship, such as compromising safety.
In Los Angeles last month, CAIR and the CAIR National Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman who had her hijab forcibly removed by Los Angeles police officers. In New York, a similar lawsuit was filed in April, though that one is a class action case that seeks to block the city of Yonkers from removing hijabs for booking photos and while Muslim women are in custody. If court records are any indication, lawsuits appear to be the driving force behind protecting the rights of Muslim women to wear a hijab wherever and whenever they deem fit. In Long Beach, California, the city council approved a 2017 settlement between a woman who was required to remove her hijab for a post-arrest photograph. The Long Beach Police Department is no longer permitted to forcibly remove the hijabs of female arrestees at any point while they are in custody. San Bernardino County and Orange County also adopted similar policies following lawsuits that settled in 2008 and 2013 respectively. In Hennepin County, Minnesota – which includes Minneapolis – the sheriff’s office implemented a new policy in 2014 allowing female arrestees to keep their hijabs on for booking photos.
In Portland, Maine, a local sheriff publicly apologized after releasing the booking photographs of two Muslim women who had been arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest. The photographs showed each woman without her hijab, which led to the Cumberland County sheriff offering his “sincerest apologies … to the Muslim community for the appearance that we are disrespecting their religious beliefs and practices.”
The Cumberland County Jail procedures require a woman to remove her hijab only in private, without men present, and provide that two booking photographs will be taken, one with the woman’s hijab and another without.
For the lawyers in the new Michigan case, these examples serve as a message to Detroit and Michigan corrections officials: “There is no basis to require the removal of religious head coverings for official government photographs.”  “Like many Muslim women whose religious beliefs dictate that they wear a hijab,” the lawsuit states, “Ms. Chaaban felt exposed and violated without hers. It is as if (she) was naked in a public space.”

Black skeptics find meaning in uplifting their community through social justice
Sikivu Hutchinson, left, founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles, and Liz Ross at the Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference in October 2019. Courtesy photo
Black nonbelievers have for years been working to redefine what it means to be atheist, a word too often linked to white spaces mostly concerned with creationism and the separation of church and state.
LOS ANGELES (RNS) – Darrin Johnson would like nothing better than to rid the Black community of organized religion. The way Johnson sees it, Black people “don’t need outside beliefs or higher powers.”
“We have power,” Johnson said. “We are powerful entities. We just need to use that power.” As an organizer with his local Black Lives Matter chapter, Johnson, an atheist, has sometimes felt a bit uneasy meeting in churches and working alongside pastors, who, like him, are calling for Black liberation. For Johnson, Christianity has been the source of homophobia that shunned LGBTQ members in his family and has been used to “protect people that don’t deserve to be protected.”
But, he doesn’t let that deter him.
“My atheism is not a thing of ‘I know better than you and so I’m better than you.’ I love my people be they religious or not,” said Johnson, of Moreno Valley in Riverside County. “I’d rather work with a Black religious person working for Black liberation, than a Black atheist who’s in it for social climbing.”
Black nonbelievers like Johnson have for years been working to redefine what it means to be atheist, a word too often linked to white spaces mostly concerned with creationism and the separation of church and state. Many Black nonbelievers identify as humanists and challenge Christianity for being linked to racism, capitalism and sexism. That can make Johnson and other Black nonbelievers feel out of place. About 80% of Black Americans identify as Christian, according to the Pew Research Center, and the church has played a key role in Black life since the Civil War.  Johnson learned of a Black atheist community about eight years ago as a graduate journalism student at Cal State Northridge. He was a self-described “baby atheist” back then, and for a documentary project, sought to interview other Black secular people. That’s how he found Black Skeptics Los Angeles. The first time he visited, Johnson recalls approaching the South LA home of a group member and hearing voices of people having a good time.
“You would think you were going to a church function,” he said.
“They were welcoming and willing to answer my questions. They gave me their time,” Johnson said. “It made me start to realize there are different kinds of atheism.”
The group started by simply offering space for Black and secular people of color to meet and later expanded to resources for nonbelievers. It now offers scholarships for graduating seniors and aid for secular people of color – especially during COVID-19 – as an alternative to religious and faith-based institutions. Funding has come from secular organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “What’s been a constant is our focus on social and gender justice,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said Black atheists have made strides over the last six or seven years in regard to the overall perspective of the secular movement. People of color appear in more humanist and secular publications and are present in conferences that are sponsored by white-dominated organizations. And, she said, there’s now greater recognition of the specific struggles that Black, Latino and other secular people of color experience around accessing equitable housing and education and public spaces without being profiled by policies such as stop and frisk.
“There’s no longer the presumption that the white atheist movement can just float by without considering their white supremacy, their white privilege and entitlement,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson’s recently released book “Humanists in the Hood: Unapologetically Black, Feminist and Heretical” highlights the group’s mentorship of middle- and high-school-age women of color, helping them think critically about feminism, rape culture and sexual harassment.
“You just do not see those kind of lived experiences being integrated into secular humanist discourse and representation,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson, who grew up in a secular household, recognizes she’s somewhat of an outlier in the Black Skeptics group. Her parents were freethinkers who protested during the Black Power and civil rights movement in the ’60s. Her atheism, she said, is a reflection of her upbringing.
That’s not true for many group members.  “Most folks are coming from a religious family upbringing,” she said. “There’s a lot more trauma with rejecting organized religions, those networks and the dogma and ideology.” Liz Ross, a secular humanist who grew up Catholic, agrees.
Born and raised in the Caribbean, Ross attended a Catholic boarding school and was in the church choir. “We had a sense of community,” she said. Things changed after college when she moved to the Bay Area, where she met a UC Berkeley professor and students who exposed her to issues surrounding social justice, white supremacy, patriarchy and LGBTQ issues. “My movement into becoming a secular humanist was trying to reconcile the conflict between the claim that there was an omnipotent, omniscient God while at the same time the reality showed there was senseless suffering,” said Ross, who is a member of Black Skeptics Los Angeles.
Sikivu Hutchinson, left, founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles, and Liz Ross at the Women of Color Beyond Belief Conference in October 2019. Courtesy photo
Ross is also bisexual, and with the church deeming homosexuality a sin, that was something she had to work through.  “I realized that the church itself was not a space that helped me empower myself, particularly as a Black woman and someone in the LGBTQ community,” she added.
To Ross, the mainstream image of atheism and whiteness can alienate people of color who need “people who look like them to feel a sense of community,” she said. “This is why we try to be vocal through social justice work,” Ross added. “What resonates with the community is ‘How am I going to deal with police violence? How am I going to deal with racism on the job? How am I going to deal with sexual assault?'”
Johnson believes that creating a secular space can be a boon for Black nonbelievers, who often feel they don’t fit in among atheists.
2019 study from Pew Research found that among Americans who identify as atheist, 81% are white, while only 3% are Black.
“I’d like to uplift us and show that you can be Black and atheist because there’s still this idea that being atheist means that you are not Black or that you are trying to work your way into the good graces of white folks,” Johnson said. “My goal overall is just for us to realize how much power we have and how we do matter,” he added.

‘Nostra Aetate’ anniversary statements
spotlight rising anti-Semitism
Oct 28, 2020
Marking the 55th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s landmark document that redefined the Catholic Church’s relationship with other religions, two major Jewish-Christian interfaith partners have exchanged statements hailing the progress between the two religions and calling attention to rising anti-Semitism around the globe. The two messages were released on Oct. 28 by the heads of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, referred to Nostra Aetate as the ” ‘Magna Carta’ of Catholic-Jewish relations” in his statement, adding that “in pondering the mystery of the Church itself … the Second Vatican Council was drawn to exploring its relationship with the descendants of Abraham.”
“We are inseparably linked in the essential foundation of faith in the God of Israel, and we are united by a rich common spiritual heritage and the legacy of a longstanding shared past. Christianity has its roots in Judaism; the latter constitutes the nucleus of its identity,” wrote Koch.
Rabbi Noam Marans, chair of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, said, “Jews have welcomed the Church’s outstretched hand and created the religious, communal, and academic structures and responses necessary to partner with Catholics in an era that transformed two millennia of enmity into a blessing of amity.”
The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations is the largest representative body of world Jewry in dialogue with the Vatican, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other ecumenical initiatives.
Marans went on to highlight the “amplified” friendship between the two faiths, as evidenced by “papal visits to synagogues, to the horrific yet sacred sites of the crimes of the Holocaust, and to the State of Israel following the establishment of Vatican-Israel diplomatic relations in 1993.”
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. In a speech June 14, 2019, at the Great Synagogue of Rome, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the two states are partners in combating anti-Semitism.
“The Holy See and the State of Israel are called to join forces to promote religious freedom, religion and conscience, as an indispensable condition for protecting the dignity of every human being, and to work together to combat anti-Semitism,” he said. On Wednesday, that call was repeated again.
“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise and the physical threat to Jewish communities and individuals is very real, we are grateful for the steadfastness of Pope Francis, who has forcefully and repeatedly spoken out against this scourge,” wrote Marans. He recalled Francis’ words in 2013: “Due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!”
“Likewise,” Marans said, “we stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters as they face serious religious freedom infringements.” Originally the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations had planned to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Nostra Aetate in São Paolo at the end of this month, however the global pandemic forced a cancellation of the joint meeting.
[Christopher White is NCR national correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @CWWhite212.]

Effecting Change Through Interfaith Interconnectedness
By Marcia Bronstein
Relationships require forging ties with others and bridging differences. Relationship building is the most challenging part of advocacy, the work I cherish the most. It requires communication, trust and the ability to work together on each other’s issues. And advocacy work also requires compassion.
With the beginning of each New Year, Jews start reading the Torah from the beginning with the book of Genesis. This is the biblical story of creation and it is marked with sin and mistakes. Just after God finishes creating the Earth and everything in it, God makes humans. Adam and Eve were given one rule – eat whatever you like from this world, except for one tree. But they eat from that tree and fail. The next generation fails even worse when one of their sons murders the other. The world seems to have a depressing start, as we appear doomed to harm one another and disappoint our creator.
A prime example is the American Jewish Committee’s relationship with Germany after World War II. When others in the Jewish community wished to abandon Germany, AJC engaged, seeing the beginnings of change, and wanting to be a part of the process of growth after the tragedy of the Holocaust. AJC rejected the idea of collective German guilt, choosing instead to emphasize policies that encouraged democracy. In 1945, AJC became the first American Jewish organization to begin working in Germany, and AJC has remained resolute to strive for a better future, while never forgetting or minimizing the crimes of the past. In 1988, AJC opened its Berlin office.
Another example is when the Catholic Church began to consider profound new teachings about Jews and other faith traditions in the Second Vatican Council. Many Jews were skeptical. How could a document make up for a millennium of anti-Jewish teaching? But that is what “Nostra Aetate” did, and AJC engaged with church leadership at every level. Our director of interreligious relations at the time, Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, was the only rabbi to attend the Second Vatican Council. AJC was criticized by some factions of American Jews, who wished to wait and see before engaging. AJC saw the signs of a genuine desire to change and we engaged, we wanted to be a part of the shift. It takes hard work and courage to fix relationships. Our beliefs call us to do better and be better.
The final example of forging ahead came in January 2020. To mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, AJC partnered with the Muslim World League to bring a delegation of 60 Muslim and Jewish leaders from 28 countries together in Poland, to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust in that Nazi death camp and to honor Jewish life with the Jewish community in Warsaw.
Until relatively recently, the Muslim World League, based in Mecca, promoted an ultra-conservative vision of Islam that fed into negative views about Jews, Christians and even about other Muslims with differing views. However, here too, we have seen change and a genuine desire to reach out in recent years. Again, AJC refuses to sit on the sidelines; we want to be a part of effecting change.
This is not simple. It is not without politics, risks and even acceptance of deep disagreement, but our belief that the world can evolve compels us to take risks to help shape the world for the better. Our tradition teaches that in the fall holiday season God plans the fate of the world for the year ahead. The period is built on the notion of repentance, growth and change. It means we are not free to simply accept our own shortcomings, but we need to do our best to overcome them. And it also means that we must accept with compassion the shortcomings of others when they have demonstrated their own growth and change.
My wish for us as individuals and as religious communities is that we demonstrate the courage to move relationships ahead and compassion to heal divides with others, even when we feel they have wronged us. This is a sign of leadership and an act of service to our creator.
Marcia Bronstein is the regional director AJC Philadelphia/SNJ.

Catholic encounters with Muslims frame ‘Fratelli tutti’
Oct 20, 2020
Pope Francis, right, with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 4, 2019 (CNS/Paul Haring)
Just days into his papacy, Pope Francis announced that dialogue with Muslims would be one of the priorities of his pontificate. Since then, he has visited numerous majority-Muslim countries, met with Muslim families and leaders, spoken prophetically of the need for Catholics to treat Muslims – particularly those who are migrants – with respect, and performed meaningful gestures that speak to the church’s esteem for Muslims declared at the Second Vatican Council. Though his newest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, never once mentions the words “Islam” or “Muslims,” it is part of the broader legacy that Francis will leave the church on Catholic-Muslim relations, as well as interreligious relations more broadly.
Personal experiences of Catholic-Muslim dialogue frame and inspire Fratelli Tutti. At the beginning of the document, the pope invokes his own namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who met with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil amid the Crusades. He closes the encyclical with mention of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who lived and died among Muslims in North Africa in the 20th century. Francis’ own experiences of friendship with Muslims inform the encyclical, too. He writes that his choice to focus on the theme of “human fraternity” was inspired in part by the joint document he wrote and signed with Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the head of Al-Azhar, a well-known Islamic university and mosque in Egypt. During Francis’ pontificate, the two men formed a friendship, and one of its fruits was the joint document on the values – informed by their respective faith traditions – that they share. Several times throughout the encyclical, Francis cites their joint declaration and quotes a significant portion of it toward the end.  Journalist Claire Giangrave
commented that, “You could almost say this is an encyclical written with four hands. This is Pope Francis and the Grand Imam coming together.”
In the encyclical, Francis also wants to draw our attention to a lesser-known episode from St. Francis’ life. As Christian and Muslim armies were fighting in Egypt in 1219, St. Francis went to the camp of the Muslim sultan in a bid to make peace. The pope calls it an “extraordinary” encounter, writing that St. Francis “did not seek did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God.” Though Francis may have come with the goal to convert the sultan, he did not succeed, and his later writings show him committed to a different interreligious approach: not trying to convert Muslims through argumentation and denunciation, but rather living alongside them in a spirit of loving presence, hospitality and humble service.
Christians should be open about their identity and faith, the saint said, and can witness to the message of the Gospel when they discern it pleases God. For Francis – both the pope and the saint, it seems – one’s fidelity to the Lord is not simply measured by the doctrines we profess but rather how we love others. Love is the ultimate standard; when we love others as siblings in the human family, God is there.
It is not only significant that Francis presented the encounter between the saint and the sultan, but also how he portrayed this encounter. As contemporary Franciscan scholars have observed, the 1219 meeting between Francis and al-Kamil has often been invoked for triumphalist ends and seen as an encouragement to proselytize to Muslims. St. Francis is often depicted in artwork and later renditions of this story as a commanding preacher, rather than as the humble servant of others. Even today, there are debates among Catholics as to which version of St. Francis should be our model for relations with Muslims.
With this encyclical, Francis has let us know where he stands in that debate.
Pope Francis, right, with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 4, 2019 (CNS/Paul Haring)
As a scholar-practitioner of Muslim-Christian dialogue and someone who studies religious pluralism, I was particularly struck by this line in the encyclical, “The Church esteems the ways in which God works in other religions.” Francis goes on to quote Nostra Aetate, stating that the church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which … often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.” Rather than seeing other religious traditions and communities as competitors or threats, Francis wants us to be on the lookout for what is “true and holy” in them, seeing those many things as pleasing to God and even as the result of God’s working among us. This line could also be speaking to what Francis had in mind in the joint document he signed with Imam al-Tayyeb, where they said that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions … are willed by God in His wisdom.”
Many Catholics bristled and pushed back at the notion that God “wills” religious diversity, afraid that it subordinates or relativizes the role of Christ. Without fully explaining what he intended by that passage, Francis in Fratelli Tutti wants Catholics to see other religions as positive forces in the world, which help to achieve God’s purpose of universal human fraternity. Seeing those of other faiths as partners in a common mission, Francis included a Muslim scholar, Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, as a speaker in the event to mark the encyclical’s release. This is the first time a Muslim has presented on behalf of a papal encyclical, speaking among Catholic prelates and from the chairs typically occupied by cardinals in the synod hall.
Abdel Salam, who is a former advisor to Imam al-Tayyeb and works for the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity to implement the joint document, said, “As a young Muslim scholar of Shari’a, Islam and its sciences, I find myself – with much love and enthusiasm-in agreement with the pope, and I share every word he has written in the encyclical.”
Francis concludes the encyclical with two prayers. One uses Trinitarian language and is meant for Christian communities and ecumenical contexts. The other is a “Prayer to the Creator,” which uses language that people of other religions – including Muslims and Jews – may feel comfortable with and could be used in some interfaith settings. During his pontificate, Francis has not shied away from opportunities for forms of interreligious prayer, and the fact that he put together a prayer that could be said by other believers is evidence of his deep esteem for those of other faiths, his confidence in the prayers of non-Christians and his recognition that, even amid our differences, there is so much that binds the human family together.
[Jordan Denari Duffner is a doctoral student of theology and religious studies at Georgetown University, where she focuses on Catholic-Muslim relations. She is the author of Finding Jesus Among Muslims: How Loving Islam Makes Me a Better Catholic (Liturgical Press, 2017) and Islamophobia: What Christians Should Know (and Do) about Anti-Muslim Discrimination, to be published with Orbis in early 2021.]

We have the ability to bridge religious divides’ interfaith leader Eboo Patel tells students in BYU forum

The mark of a truly educated person is understanding those of different religions, interfaith leader Eboo Patel told BYU students in a BYU forum on Oct. 20.
“Imagine some of the causes you might feel strongly about, and where you might encounter Jews alongside you,” Patel said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to lean over to them and to say, ‘Hey, I learned in a class at Brigham Young University about tikkun olam, repairing the world, could you tell me more about that?”
Patel is the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit organization with the mission “to make interfaith cooperation a vital part of the college experience, and ultimately a positive force in our society.” He told students that as professionals in a religiously pluralistic society, they should be prepared to have appreciative conversations with people of other faiths, even those with whom they doctrinally disagree.
That type of cooperation is important, Patel said, because the the success of major social movements can be attributed to religious people of different faiths working together. He cited movements led by Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as examples.
Throughout his address, Patel showed images of religious people cooperating to do good: Jewish and Muslim ambulance drivers pausing for a moment of prayer, a Hindu woman working in a soup kitchen, Christians at a national disaster cleanup. Referencing the recent Hurricane Delta, Patel said, “Whatever damage it causes, the people who will be helping folks after that damage are people of faith.”
Patel encouraged students to think about what they would want to know when interacting with someone from a differing religious background. He said religious literacy will make students better doctors, emergency responders, coaches, teachers, and members of civic and professional communities. Patel said his own life has been deeply influenced by a friend and a former girlfriend who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I think that the people who do not receive some appreciative knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of your ethics, of your history, of the movement west, from the Burned-Over District in New York state through Nauvoo all the way into Utah and what that journey meant, I think that they’re missing something. I think they lack something in their education. And everywhere I go, whether it’s Harvard, or Notre Dame, or Stanford, I point that out,” he said. Similarly, Patel encouraged BYU students to become more informed about other religions as part of their education.
study by Interfaith Youth Core found that only 22% of students dedicated time while in college to learn about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Patel said BYU students have a great opportunity not only to be committed to sharing the gospel, but to cooperation, appreciation and interfaith leadership.
“We have the ability to bridge religious divides,” Patel said. “It’s one of the most important problems in the world today.”

Christians and Muslims again top list of faiths facing hostility worldwide
Nov 10, 2020
Christians top the list for countries where they face either governmental or social hostility, according to a new report issued Nov. 10 by the Pew Research Center. Christians have topped the list each year since Pew started collecting data in 2007. The number of countries where Christians face some form of hostility rose from 143 in 2017 to 145 in 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available. Christians were followed in order by Muslims, Jews, “others,” folk religions, Hindus, Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated. Out of 198 nations studied, Christians faced government harassment in 124 countries, second to Muslims’ 126, and social harassment in 104 countries, one more than Muslims’ at 103. In some nations, both governments and private groups place restrictions on religious adherents. The reason, according to the study’s lead researcher, Samirah Majumdar, is simple: “They are also the largest faith groups in the world and the most geographically dispersed.”
She added, “A striking data point beyond that: The group that seems to be harassed in the third highest proportion is Jews, and they number 0.2% of the global population.” Jews faced some form of hostility in 77 countries in 2018. “We’ve seen this in previous years as well,” Majumdar told CNS in a Nov. 6 phone interview.
The 57-page report showed its Government Restrictions Index is at 2.9 for 2018 – the highest since Pew started recording this in 2007. It started at 1.8 on a scale of 0 to 10, and has never gone below that mark, rising steadily since 2011.
This is Pew’s 11th annual report analyzing the extent to which governments and societies around the world restrict or are otherwise hostile to religious beliefs and practices.  Pew cited, in part, “a rise in the number of governments using force – such as detentions and physical abuse – to coerce religious groups.” It noted that the more authoritarian a government is, the more likely it will harass religious adherents.
“Among the 10 countries with very high levels of social hostilities, there were four authoritarian states, three hybrid regimes and three flawed democracies – India, Israel and Sri Lanka,” the report said. “The five countries categorized as full democracies with high levels of social hostilities are all in Europe – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – and all had reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents.”
In assessing the level of government restrictions, the Middle East-North Africa region ranked highest at 6.2 out of 10. But the region with the biggest leap in governmental restrictions was Asia, from 3.8 to 4.4, “partly because a greater number of governments in the region used force against religious groups, including property damage, detention, displacement, abuse and killings,” the report said. China reached a new peak, at 9.3 out of 10.
“In India, anti-conversion laws affected minority religious groups. For example, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September (2018), police charged 271 Christians with attempting to convert people by drugging them and ‘spreading lies about Hinduism,'” the Pew report said. “The Middle East-North Africa region had the largest share of countries where Christians were harassed in 2018. Of the 20 countries in the region, 19 had some form of harassment targeting Christians – either by governments or social groups,” it added. “Social harassment occurred in 15 countries, the highest share – 75% – since the beginning of the study, while government harassment of Christians was reported in 19 countries in the region, down from all 20 in 2017. For example, in Algeria, a court denied an interfaith couple’s marriage application because one of them was a Christian.”
Governments with an official religion “tend to favor one or two religious groups,” Majumdar said, yet even “religious groups that are favored can also be harassed.” Only two countries, El Salvador and South Korea, had large increases – two points or more – in their overall scores. In El Salvador during Holy Week in 2018, “armed men robbed a priest and his companions on their way to Mass and killed the priest. Then, in July, Salvadoran gang members killed a Protestant pastor for reportedly persuading six members to leave the gang and join his congregation,” the report said.
“Gang members also extorted money from congregations in exchange for letting them operate, or in some cases made them divert charitable donations to gang members’ families,” it added. In neighboring Nicaragua, according to Amnesty International – one of a phalanx of sources used by Pew to formulate its report – the government “committed or permitted” serious human rights violations, including attacks on the Catholic Church and its clergy, especially those who helped protect protesters.
In July 2018, the report said, “police conducted a 15-hour attack on a church in the capital city of Managua that was providing shelter to student protesters; two people died and at least 10 were injured in the police action. And in September, a deputy chief of police assaulted a priest for asking government supporters to turn down ruling-party propaganda music playing outside the church during a funeral.”
The United States came in at 2.3 – “moderate” levels of restrictions in Pew’s terminology. The report cited the synagogue attack in 2018 in Pittsburgh as worshippers were shot during services, killing 11 people and injuring six others in what Pew said was “one of the deadliest assaults on Jews in American history.”
The State Department’s human rights report is a primary source for Pew, but “the State Department doesn’t publish reports about itself, so we actually have to depend on other sources,” Majumdar said, including FBI hate crime statistics and Justice Department reports on religious freedom cases that surfaced over the year. Beyond what appears in the report, “the way we break it down, we can find data on the different groups’ general harassment by the government,” Majumdar said. “We also do religious-denomination breaks of social harassment as well. We can also provide data on countries in general where minority groups are being targeted.”

The looming dangers posed by climate change should spur faith organizations and lawmakers to address its potentially catastrophic impact on vulnerable populations around the world, according to religious leaders, policymakers and other experts gathered virtually yesterday at the G20 Interfaith ForumIn the opening plenary on Day 4 of the G20 Interfaith Forum, hundreds of faith leaders, policymakers and other experts discussed ways in which religious and interfaith organizations can take action to address the threat of global warming.
The G20 Interfaith Forum, which concludes today, is being held in its first ever virtual incarnation by KAICIID and its partners, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), the G20 Interfaith Association and Saudi Arabia’s National Committee for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seeks to preserve natural resources and environmental sustainability and achieve water security,” said keynote speaker H.E. Abdulrahman Abdulmohsen A. AlFadley, Minister of Agriculture and Environment, Saudi Arabia. “It aspires to contribute to food security, protection of ecosystems and the quality of life in general, based on its religious and humanitarian principles.”
“I believe that the ethical dimensions of climate change should have a stronger voice in the global debate,” said keynote speaker H.E. Aksel Jakobsen, State Secretary and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway.
He warned that climate change could push as many as 120 million more people into poverty by 2030. “The science is clear. Climate change is occurring at an alarming rate and human activities are the primary driver. Climate change exacerbates poverty and inequalities and triggers new vulnerabilities. In fact, it threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health and poverty reduction.” 
Climate change is having a catastrophic effect on environments and economies across the world. Recent California wildfires have been exacerbated by global warming; a new study has warned that the Arctic is undergoing “an abrupt climate change event” that will probably lead to dramatic changes. Last month, it was reported that a large ice shelf in Greenland had torn itself apart, worn away by warm waters.
“We are faced by a tragic global food shortage, a global land shortage, a global water shortage, but most critically what we are faced with is a global consciousness shortage,” said Dr. Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary-General of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance. “…(As) people of faith and as leaders of faith, we have the opportunity to embody and to teach conscious living, choosing in every minute the core tenets of our faith: compassion, love, non-violence, care for the earth.” 
Other speakers at yesterday’s opening plenary included His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis of France, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and member of KAICIID Board of Directors, Dr. Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Regional Director for Africa at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, H.E. Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President in the European Commission with the portfolio of Promoting the European Way of Life and Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, President of Green Cross Netherlands.
In 2018, the world’s leading climate scientists warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C. Any temperature beyond 1.5C could significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people around the world. The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also said that urgent and unprecedented changes are required to reach the target, set out by the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.
“Today’s ecological challenges are not only related to globalisation. I would also say they areINTERFAITH LEADERS AND POLICY EXPERTS DISCUSS THE ETHICAL DIMENSION OF CLIMATE CHANGE AT THE G20 INTERFAITH FORUM 2020geopolitical, economic and philosophical…faith-based institutions have the crucial task to raise awareness of the dangers related to the destruction of the natural environment,” said His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis of France, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and member of the KAICIID Board of Directors.
“To surmount the many obstacles that disrupt our focus on enhancing climate action and ambition, every decision, every investment, every action must be founded on the timeless values of selflessness and the singular purpose to touch many lives,” said Dr. Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Regional Director for Africa at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The opening plenary ended with a Q&A session during which Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith, encouraged citizens to equip themselves in matters of theology, as well as solutions to climate change like renewable energy sources.
“Have your sacred text in one hand and the day’s newspaper in the other hand, so that you can make a substantial moral contribution to public discourse about the issues, not only speaking about the issues, not only quoting sacred texts, but to bring those into dialogue to help people understand why these issues matter as moral and religious issues,” he said.
The G20 Interfaith Forum is the culmination of a months-long process of consultations between hundreds of religious leaders and policymakers, experts and representatives of faith-based organizations from 90 countries on five continents collaborating to discuss and identify joint solutions to issues ranging from protecting the global environment, access to education and gender equality to countering hate speech and COVID-19. The opening plenary was followed by panels on protecting ecological spaces, the importance of partnerships address climate change and the rule of law, human rights and religious rights. Ecological challenges: rainforest protection and purposeful action to protect the environment
Participants in the panel discussion on ecological challenges urged immediate cooperation from the international community on environmental protection plans, pointing to the problems the climate crisis has instigated across the globe.
“We live in an interconnected world – a drought or flood in one part of the world can disrupt supply chains or move commodity markets in another with serious implications for the poor and for the vulnerable,” said Dr. Iyad Abumoghli, Director of the Faith for Earth Initiative and Principial Policy Advisor at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
According to Marylita Poma, Communications Officer at the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, particular consideration must be given to the planet’s Indigenous and First People communities, who face a very immediate threat from climate change.
Poma also called on faith-based organizations to champion young people’s voices and support their efforts on environmental policy, because action can no longer be postponed. “Today, young activists are the largest mobilised movement supporting climate justice. We’re no longer the future, because climate change is now our present,” she said.
Participants in the second panel acknowledged the challenge of involving faith communities in environmental protection initiatives, as their credibility and knowledge is often questioned. According to Kiran Bali, Chair of the URI Global Council of Trustees, faith communities can overcome this through evidence-based work and learning the ins and outs of policy. She outlined one recent example from the United Kingdom where faith-based and civil society organizations united to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases. Together, they made targeted plans for policy reform and set clear goals to make their community carbon neutral by 2038. These types of partnerships are vital, according to Prof. Auwal Farouk Abdussalam, KAICIID Fellow and Associate Professor at the Department of Geography at the Kaduna State University in Nigeria, because they ensure that change will be made from both the top down and the bottom up.
“We have the religious leaders, and we have the scientists and policymakers. If you gather them in one room and ask them to bring a solution, that will be a real practical solution, it can be scaled down to the grassroots and community levels. We all know that religious leaders are the link,” he said.
Shifting the discussion from climate change to the rule of law, participants in the third panel called for religious communities to unite on fundamental human and religious rights. Panellists also said that the need for dialogue and mutual respect has been more urgent than ever during the current pandemic.
“The situation of the Muslim and the Jewish communities in Europe, while worrying in general, has become even more acute in the context of COVID-19, whereas you know there have been preposterous claims, made particularly on social media, regarding their role in in propagating the virus,” said Prof. Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights
Claudio Epelman, Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress said in cases like these, religious communities need to stand up for each other, combatting misinformation and fighting for freedom of worship and pluralism.
“I believe that we have to spread the idea that our rights must be reflected in ‘the Other’.” 

A girl and her mother visit a temporary shrine to the Hindu goddess Durga, ahead of Durga Puja festival, in Kolkata, India, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

Buddhist monk Shoten Minegishi lights a candle for peace as Bartolomew I, Patriarch of Constantinopolis, Pope Francis and Haim Korsia, Chief Rabbi of France, look on, during an inter-religious ceremony for peace in the square outside Rome’s City Hall, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

A religious man uses herbs to apply liquor on a worshiper of folk saint Maximon, worshipped mainly by Indigenous people, inside a temple known as Maximon church on his feast day in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. To help curb the spread of the new coronavirus, the festival was limited to local residents who waited in line to enter little by little, and it was closed to pilgrims who travel here from across the country. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

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