March through June – Exploring Religious Landscapes – Explore sacred prayers, texts, traditions, ceremonies, rites and rituals across faith traditions. See the InterFaith Leadership Council Flyer below.
Catholic, Muslim and Jewish Kids Unite To Learn, Tell Each Other’s Stories
Dozens of students from religious schools of different faiths met at Chicago Jewish Day School Wednesday to learn about each other’s personal and religious experiences, all while having fun and making friends.
The event, hosted by nonprofit group Poetry Pals, aimed to bring students and communities of different backgrounds together to help understand and appreciate one another.
“We are the only program in the country that is doing this work with elementary schoolers,” said Adam Shames, executive director of Poetry Pals, which organizes events in and around Chicago. “Kids this age are open to new ideas, and we see students years later that still remember the impact our program has had on them.”
Jewish students were joined by fourth grade kids from the Muslim Community Center Academy and Sacred Heart School, a Catholic institution. After an introduction, kids broke into groups and were asked to sit between two students of different schools throughout the program. As Day School staff member Tamar Cytryn told the story of Judaism, students sat wide-eyed and ready with questions from their rounded rows of chairs. Catholic girls in green-plaid uniforms sat huddled with 10-year-old Muslim girls wearing hijabs to read from a Jewish prayer book.
Across the room, small boys wore silky decorated yarmulkes while nearby boys dressed in Muslim Community Center shirts giggled furiously with boys wearing khakis and tiny red ties.
Later, students were able to read from a special Torah script that was found buried in the ground after World War II, beneath the deep red glow of the stained glass panels above. The day’s events culminated in a poem-performance writing session, in which diverse groups jot down facts about themselves, like family country of origin, favorite colors, favorite animals and more. The groups put their stories together to create a “We Are” poem meant to highlight and celebrate the commonalities and nuances between them. “If you think about it, we really are all the people and places that we love,” a Poetry Pals group leader said. That theme was at the core of the Poetry Pals – and the schools. Cytryn told students during her presentation of Judaism that the religion focuses on stories, values and rules designed to make good people who recognize injustice and treat others the way they want to be treated.
Those principles are easily applied to whatever faith non-Jewish students claimed, too, she said.
Mary Ann Ligon, head of third- through fifth-grade students at Sacred Heart, said fourth grade was the perfect age to get students of different religious backgrounds to mingle and see what life is like outside their own “bubble.”
“It’s really the perfect age, they’re open-minded, have no preconceived notions,” Ligon said.
The program also teaches kids to feel pride in their own upbringing, while becoming more comfortable, knowledgeable and understanding of others. Evan Cohen, 10, who is a student at the Jewish school, said he can’t read or write Hebrew, “but I can explain it.” For him, the experience has been great, he said. It makes him proud of Judaism when students from other schools and religions show interest in and ask about his beliefs.
He’s also curious about other religions, he said. Sacred Heart 10-year-old student Pierson Spender, who asked many questions Wednesday afternoon, felt the same way. He said the experience was somewhere “in the middle” of being scary and fun. “It’s a learning experience,” he said, after some thought. Razan Abdeljabar, a 10-year-old Muslim student, said she enjoyed learning about the celebrations, prayers and traditions of Judaism and hopes to make friends with people of different cultures.
It’s become a tradition for students at Sacred Heart, with fourth-graders participating the past five years.
Susan Eggers, whose daughter Louise Goldman goes to Sacred Heart, said her older daughter had experienced Poetry Pals first, and Eggers encouraged her younger daughter to see for herself.
“It’s a great opportunity to meet children of different faiths in a comfortable way, inspired by education and understanding,” Eggers said. “It’s really valuable throughout history, but particularly now.”
Watch this video and learn about the InterFaith Leadership Council’s incredible program entitled
Religious Diversity Journeys for Seventh Graders!!
Amid growing fears about hate and extremism, a leading interfaith group in metro Detroit announced Tuesday extensive plans to increase cooperation among diverse groups, declaring 2016 as: A Year of Faith and Peace.
A range of religious leaders gathered at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn to support the events by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, which will include exchanges and educational events throughout the year at houses of worship across southeastern Michigan. At today’s event at the Dearborn mosque, Catholic, mainline Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Shia Muslim, and Sunni Muslim leaders gathered to show support for the upcoming events. With increasing fear in recent weeks, organizers said the planned events for 2016 taken on an added urgency and importance. “Our community is being captured by fear, and there is too much talk of abandoning some of our most cherished faith values,” Bob Bruttell, chair of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, said. “There is something harmful going in our communities. … The antidote to fear is boldly standing up for our common faith values. So we will stand together with our friends of all faiths; we will unite against fear; and we will stand up for religious freedom.”
Thursday’s interfaith event is one of several that have been held in recent weeks in metro Detroit amid increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric and xenophobia, especially among some presidential candidates, say community leaders. Speakers of different faiths condemned the growing anti-Islam sentiment, releasing statements of solidarity. On the walls of the Islamic Center were some of those statements, including several from Jewish organizations that condemned bigotry against Muslims and Islam. “All people must be treated with respect,” said Fr. George Shalhoub of St Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox in Livonia. “We stand in solidarity with our friends and neighbors.”
“Islam is a religion of peace, respectful of women,” Zenna Elhasan, Wayne County Corporate Counsel, said to the audience today at the Islamic Center, which is known nationally as a symbol of Islam in the U.S. “I’m not a terrorist, I’m not a bad person … Muslim are like everyone else.” This year, it’s “open season on Muslims … it’s good politics to beat us up,” Elhasan said. “There are no horns growing from our heads. It’s not a crime to be pro-Muslim. It’s not a crime to be Muslim. We have nothing to be sorry for.” Speakers expressed concern about growing hate, citing the case of an Indian-American Sikh man who was shot Dec. 12 in Grand Rapids in what family members say was a hate crime. The shooter talked about ISIS, called the victim a terrorist, and said that he had shot people like the victim while serving in the Middle East with the U.S. military, according to reports.
“Sikh values are American values,” Singh said. Singh and Rasna Kaur of Troy told the story of the 9th Sikh guru (leader), Guru Tegh Bahadur, who was beheaded on orders of a ruler, Aurangzeb, in the 17th century for refusing to leave his faith. “The ruler at the time had no tolerance for other religions,” demanding “conversion or death,” Kaur said. Bahadur was “a man who gave his life for religious freedom,” Singh said. Paul Von Oeyen, with the United Church of Christ, told the crowd: “We support our Muslim brothers in this time of vilification. We have a common humanity.” Chandru Acharya, of Canton, a Hindu leader with the Plymouth-Canton Interfaith Community Outreach, echoed his views, saying that Hindu scriptures teach: “God is one, but the paths are many” and that “the entire universe is your family.” Acharya said that Hindus are often confused for being Muslim or Middle Eastern and sometimes face hate crimes, too. “Based on my color … I’m a Muslim,” Acharya said. “I’ve been attacked because of my ethnicity.”
The Interfaith Council was formed the day after the Sept. 11 attacks as a way for faith leaders to come together. The events in 2016 will include religious literacy programs, immersion groups to learn about faiths, congregational exchanges, dinners, and open houses to “develop deeper understanding and stronger bonds of friendship,” said the council in its statement. “We cannot allow terrorism and intemperate political statements to displace our faith values,” Bruttell said. “It’s as simple, as important and as critical as that. Our better angels require us to seek peace, generate good will and care for each other.”
“We are trying to engage communities and let them know we have the same values,” said Chandru Acharya, president of Canton-based South Asian American Voices for Impact, which helps immigrants from south Asia learn English, become culturally acclimated to the U.S. and follow the steps toward citizenship. “We support the country as much as anybody else,” Acharya added. Acharya, who is also a member of the interfaith group, said the goal was to answer presidential candidates, like Republican Donald Trump, who have been making anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim remarks, particularly following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
Trump, for example, said he would not rule out having a U.S. database for Muslims, that he wants a database and “watch lists” for refugees from war-torn Syria, and called Dec. 7 for a “total and compete shutdown” on travel by Muslims to the U.S. Trump has also said that, if elected, he would deport millions of illegal immigrants.
Meanwhile, there have been reports of suspected hate crimes aimed at Muslims; a man in California was arrested Sunday and accused of a plot to bomb Muslims.
‘We denounce terrorism’ “This call by Mr. Trump is kind of scary,” Acharya said, adding that Muslims as a group should not be targeted “for the actions of a few crazy individuals.” “We totally denounce terrorism of all kinds,” he added. Acharya, who is a Hindu, said that during a Dec. 12 meeting of the interfaith group at his home in Canton, his house was egged, his vehicle covered with plastic wrap and his back yard toilet-papered. He filed a police report and suspects he may have been targeted because of his religion or ethnicity. “It’s kind of a sad coincidence, if it was a coincidence,” he said. Acharya said that angry rhetoric – and sometimes actions – that appear to be anti-Muslim are sometimes directed toward Hindus and Sikhs as well or, in his words, toward people with brown skin and turbans who look different. “Even if I was a Muslim, I should not be targeted,” he added. Graham-Hudak, a member of Geneva Presbyterian Church, said the Dec. 16 gathering turned heads and attracted polite interest from other patrons at Panera. “I think people were a little shocked” to see such a diverse crowd getting together, she said.
“Overall, I think it was positive,” said Acharya, who added he believes the majority of Americans want to see people of all faiths accepted in the country. “It’s just a handful who might think otherwise.”
The interfaith group, Graham-Hudak said, plans to hold similar informal meetings on a monthly basis, with a hope of reaching more people in the area. “A lot of people … are concerned about what’s going on,” she said.
Book excerpt: Questions and Answers about Muslim Americans
The following is an excerpt from “100 Questions and Answers About Muslim Americans.” Public opinion about Muslims has been worsening. Most Americans say they do not know any Muslims, and Michigan State University School of Journalism created this guide to replace bias and stereotype with factual information. It is meant to answer common questions in the hopes of encouraging conversation among non-Muslims and Muslims.
Michigan State University, the Detroit Free Press and Front Edge Publishing are discounting e-books of the guide to 99 cents for a limited time from Amazon (bitly.com/MuslimsGuide), Barnes & Noble and Google Play.
Question: How do I say “Muslim?”
Answer: Say “Mu,” using the “u” sound from “push.” Then say “slim.” No “oo” or “z” or hissing sound. Correct pronunciation shows respect.
Q: How many Muslims are there around the world?
A: According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, there are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. This makes Islam the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity, which has about 2.2 billion. Here is another way to look at it: about a third of the world’s population is Christian; about a fourth is Muslim.
Q: Where do the world’s Muslims live?
A: Most, about 60%, live in Asia. About 20%live in the Middle East and North Africa.
Q: How many Muslims are there in the United States?
A: The Census Bureau does not count religions, so reports vary. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations reports that estimates range from 2 million to 7 million. The higher estimate would equal about 2% of the U.S. population.
Q: What are the major countries of origin for American Muslims?
A: First- and second-generation immigrants come from about 80 countries. The most common country of origin is Pakistan. Other places include the rest of South Asia, North Africa, Europe and the Middle East, according to Pew research.
Q: How long have Muslims been in what is now the United States?
A: Although it is tough to pinpoint when the first Muslims arrived, their history in North America dates back more than 400 years. Many were brought to the United States in the slave trade. Today, three quarters of Muslims in the United States are native or naturalized citizens.
Q: Who is Allah?
Allah is the Arabic word for God. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a monotheistic religion, which means followers believe there is only one God. Islam teaches that God is fair and just, has no shape or gender, cannot be seen, always has and always will exist, and knows all. The Arabic phrase “Allahu akbar” means “God is greater” in English. Translations that change all the words except Allah should be avoided. They are incomplete and make it sound as though Muslims worship a foreign God.
Q: Who is Muhammad?
A: To Muslims, Muhammad is the final prophet or messenger of God. A messenger is a prophet who delivers God’s message to the people. Muhammad was a man and not a god. He was born in Mecca in 570, Common Era, and died in Medina in 632. Tradition says that the Archangel Gabriel began revealing God’s message to Muhammad in 610. This continued for the rest of Muhammad’s life. He began sharing the message a few years after he started hearing it. The written message is called the Quran. Muhammad was born into a wealthy tribe, but his father died before his birth and his mother died when he was 6. Before she died, she sent the young Muhammad into the care of others in the desert. There, away from the city, he learned discipline, nobility and what it meant to be free. As a man, his generosity and fairness made Muhammad a source of advice. He delivered the Quran by dictating it to others, who wrote it down word for word.
Q: What does the Quran say about peace and violence?
A: Various passages in the Quran are interpreted as being both peaceful and violent. There are verses about loving an enemy, wishing good fortune to an enemy and making friends with an enemy, but there are also verses about forcefully defending one’s community. Interpreting verses out of context or without research can be problematic.
Q: What does the Quran say about Jesus?
A: Jesus is revered as a holy prophet who came before Muhammad, the final prophet. Muslims do not regard Jesus as God. Stories about Jesus in the Quran are similar to stories in the New Testament and the Quran mentions his mother, Mary, more often than she is mentioned in the New Testament.
Q: What is the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims?
A: Religious beliefs and practices of these two major branches of Islam are nearly identical. The branches emerged shortly after the death of Muhammad. The split was due to conflicting ideas about succession. Those who said that Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin should be his successor became the Shia branch. The Sunnis believed that any capable Muslim selected by consensus could lead.
Q: Does culture influence religious practice?
A: Yes, and so do politics. People of the same religion practice in different ways and some of their actions have nothing at all to do with religion. The culture of the dominant society where they live can affect how Muslim Americans dress and behave as well as their family values and roles.
Q: Who is the leader of Islam?
A: Islam has no central authority structure. Titles for leaders vary by country and sect. In the United States, which has Muslims from all over the world, imam and sheik are common. Less common are grand mufti, ayatollah and mullah.
Q: Do Muslims support terrorist groups?
A. Not at all. Muslims and Islamic organizations worldwide condemned … actions by ISIS. In 2004, the Fiqh Council of North America issued a fatwa that said, “Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives.” The Quran prohibits religious extremism and implores followers to live moderately.
White House strives to clear up misconceptions about religion
People who attended a recent forum sponsored by the White House ignored the old adage not to speak about religion or politics in public. They were members of a variety of faiths, or no faith at all, focused not so much on own their own religious beliefs but on how to get rid of misconceptions around religion that cause divisions, religious discrimination and even violence. Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, stressed that the timing to promote religious pluralism was especially right in light of recent waves of anti-Muslim rhetoric. She also said the aim of the White House effort was not to just to urge people to tolerate those with different beliefs or to blend faith traditions together, but instead to “bring our various particularities and beliefs to the table of conversation.” At the Dec. 17 forum, “Celebrating and Protecting America’s Tradition of Religious Pluralism,” Rogers pointed out that pluralism “is about participation and engagement with one another across our differences, not simply coexisting beside one another.”
Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, said that in upcoming months, her office will partner with federal agencies to host a series of community roundtables and discussions in an effort to overcome religious discrimination. “Combating discrimination based on one’s religion remains fundamental not only to protecting our values but also to defending our freedom,” Gupta said. From where she sits, this is no easy task and will likely take a number of discussions to make some inroads, but it is a start. As she pointed out during the Washington gathering: “Hate-motivated violence and discrimination deserve no place in civilized society.”
She also noted that after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, there had been an increase in the number of hate-related incidents targeting Muslim Americans, as well as those perceived to be Muslim.
Gupta said her office is investigating reports of criminal threats and violence against mosques and Muslim children and adults, but she also noted that this “discriminatory backlash” not only threatens U.S. Muslims but impacts our society as a whole. She said it will take more than just the work of her office to combat this kind of discrimination, and she applauded the efforts of nonprofit groups and religious organizations taking part in the “Know Your Neighbor” campaign designed to let people know about different faith traditions.
This campaign was described at the White House event in a panel discussion led by Jesuit Father Tom Reese, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, who was appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2014. Gurwin Singh Ahuja, a Sikh who founded the campaign, said: “We are a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, non-religious people and more. We live and work together and we need to have faith in each other.” He pointed out that he personally fears religious discrimination and he hopes that simple dialogue between neighbors of different religious backgrounds will put a stop to this.
The website, knowyourneighbor.us, includes a pledge to get to know people of other faiths and ideas about how to do so, including a group dinner with suggested conversation topics. Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, stressed the importance of gaining more understanding of other faiths by pointing out, “Familiarity breeds tolerance and even acceptance. Negative attitudes tend to decline as people interact more with members of lesser-known religions.” He also said the nation’s religious landscape is becoming more diverse, noting that about two-thirds of Americans older than 65 are white and Christian compared with 3 in 10 Americans under the age of 30.T “That’s a really big sea change,” he said. Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of Interfaith Alliance based in Washington, wrote in a Huffington Post column that the White House effort to encourage religious pluralism is “heartening,” but he said this work “cannot be only a top-down phenomenon.” That’s where the Know Your Neighbor campaign comes in, he said, adding that learning about others’ religious beliefs also means being willing to talk about your own. The rabbi, who attended the meeting, said religious pluralism is “only possible on the bedrock of religious freedom.” At the White House gathering, he said human rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and religious freedom spelled out in the First Amendment “have stood us in good stead for well over 225 years and will continue to do so as long as our common faith is in them.” The White House meeting, he wrote, “was a great reminder of that truth.”
Berlin Poised to Build the World’s First Combined Mosque-Synagogue-Church
Central Berlin is poised to become home to the world’s first combined mosque-synagogue-church, a shared prayer space designed to bring together members of the three major monotheistic religions under one roof. Once complete, the building will open a new chapter of interfaith understanding in a city with a long-and sometimes dark-religious history. Dubbed the House of One, the proposed shared prayer space is set to be built on the site of a 13th-century church-one that was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt until the Second World War, at which point the lot on which it stood was simply paved over, explains Fast Company. Since then, the church that owns the property has decided that, rather than simply build a new Christian house of worship-one which might not be as well attended as would be hoped for-they would give back to their city by creating a single structure in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike could come together and express their respective faiths.
“They had to face the question of what do we do with this ground, and what do we want to give back to the city-what do we need in this time?” House of One representative Frithjof Timm said. It’s a question that calls to mind Berlin’s shifting religious composition over the past several decades. Since the end of the Holocaust, Jewish life in the city has seen a Renaissance of sorts, while Berlin’s Muslim community is thriving as well. After an initial design search, it was decided that the House of One would be built according to plans from the Kuehn Malvezzi architectural firm. Per those plans, the structure will contain three equally sized but differently shaped prayer spaces-one for each faith. As Timm told Fast Company:
“We have only one entrance in the building. So everyone who is going to pray-whether Jewish or Muslim or Christian-has to use this one entrance. The entrance leads to the common room, and from the common room there’s a stair going up to the second floor and then you decide which way you go”
According to its founding charter, the House of One is dedicated to a culture predicated on four tenets: nonviolence and respect for all life, solidarity, respect and life lived with integrity, and equality. The House of One is still raising funds for its eventual construction, having just passed the €1 million mark, from more than 1,400 individual donors. That’s still a way off from their €43 million goal (they’re “selling” bricks at €10 each, with an estimate of 4.35 million bricks needed to complete the building). But it’s enough to show there’s serious and significant interest in the project. “The House of One is not only one for Berlin, but from here,” explains Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin in a promotional video. “And because it is a multicultural city, the idea will spread to different countries all over the world.”
Catholic bishops oppose ban on Muslim refugees
A week after GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed banning Muslims from the United States, the head of the nation’s Catholic bishops issued a statement repudiating “the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination.” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the latest in a growing chorus of U.S. bishops, citing religious freedom concerns, who condemned the suggestion that Muslims be banned from the country. Kurtz did not mention Trump by name in his Dec. 14 statement that also calls for “responsible firearms regulation” in response to the recent shootings in at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs in which four were killed, including the shooter, and the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif, in which two shooters, inspired by Islamic State, killed 14 people.
“Watching innocent lives taken and wondering whether the violence will reach our own families rightly stirs our deepest protective emotions. We must resist the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination,” wrote Kurtz. Instead, he said those emotions should be channeled “into a vibrant witness to the dignity of every person. We should employ immigration laws that are humane and keep us safe, but should never target specific classes of persons based on religion.”
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston weighed in with both a warning against allowing terrorism to “instill prejudices and group hatred in people’s hearts and minds,” as well as data about Muslims in the United States. “While more than 5,000 Europeans have joined the Islamic State, fewer than 250 Americans are thought to have tried to, of whom it is estimated only two dozen succeed,” he wrote in aDec. 16 blog post in The Pilot.
He said that Muslims in the United States are “economically better off, better educated and much better integrated into the mainstream. And although Muslims comprise only 1 percent of our popuation, 10 percent of our doctors (20,000 in the United States are Muslim.” He said his own Boston dentist is Iranian and Muslim.
“We cannot afford to be sloppy about security,” he wrote, “but we must guard against letting the darkness of hatred and prejudice poison our own hearts.”
Other Catholic leaders earlier condemned trump’s strategy, highlighting potential violations of religious liberty. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, during a Dec. 10 interview in Rome where he was attending an international conference on Christian persecution throughout the world, said Catholics could “not possibly countenance” restricting entry to the U.S. solely on the basis of religious affiliation. According to a Catholic News Service report, Lori was asked about the increasing climate of fear in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and said proposals like the one advanced by Trump raised “great religious freedom alarms.”
The idea of specifically barring Muslims “fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand,” said Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit. His comment was contained in a Dec. 10 letter to his priests, according to a Religion News Service report.”While the Catholic church refrains from weighing in for or against individual candidates for a particular political office. The church does and should speak to the morality of this important and far-reaching issue of religious liberty,” said Vigneron.
“Restricting or sacrificing these religious rights and liberties out of fear – instead of defending them and protecting them in the name of mutual respect and justice – is a rationalization which fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand,” he wrote.In a more direct engagement with the state, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin defied the wishes of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who had asked that the archdiocese not resettle a Syrian family until Congress enacts new laws regarding immigration.
In a Dec. 8 posting on the archdiocese’s website, Tobin explained that he had “listened to the governor’s concerns regarding security and prayerfully considered his request that we defer from welcoming them.” He said he informed the governor prior to the family’s arrival in the state “that I had asked the staff of Catholic Charities to receive this husband, wife and their two small children as planned.”
He explained that the family fled the violence of Syria three years ago, had undergone two years of “extensive security checks and personal interviews” and had been approved by the US. government to enter the country.
Tobin did not cite the religious freedom issue, which has been a particular concern for some U.S. bishops, but rather raised the history of the church’s concern for those in need.
“For 40 years the archdiocese’s Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world. This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition,” he said.
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