A beginning for global Christian-Muslim compatibility
Leaders within the two faiths, meeting at Yale this week, acknowledge dangers of prejudice, pledge to work toward mutual understanding.
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Several speakers confirmed the benefits of interfaith work. Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup organization, who wears a hijab, recalled how her family moved from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh on Sept. 12, 2001. "We were terrified to go out of the house," she said. But when they got the courage to go to Friday prayer at the mosque in their new neighborhood, they found that half the congregation was non-Muslim and had come in solidarity. "It was due to the mosque's decade of interfaith involvement."Skip to next paragraph
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Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, told of a retired Christian farmer in the Midwest who frequently railed against Muslims, though he had never met one. When he was invited to visit Jordan for two weeks on an interfaith venture, he accepted. The time spent with families there changed his attitude to one of respect, said the Rev. Mr. Anderson.
One speaker described a Christian bishop in Tanzania who found his prayer life and ministry were transformed when he decided to follow the example of a Muslim friend by getting up at 4:00 each morning to pray.
The most important aspect of interfaith gatherings, many say, is developing relationships. "It's easy for Muslims or Christians to criticize the other, but once you've got a friend, you find what you might say doesn't fit that person," says Dudley Woodberry of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif.
Even Evangelicals were surprised by the large number of their group attending the conference. "The response to Common Word has been mixed" in the community, says Don Wagner, who teaches at North Park University in Chicago. Some Evangelicals have been vocal in their antagonism toward Islam, while others simply question the purposes of interfaith dialogue. Dr. Wagner is participating in a smaller Evangelical-Muslim dialogue that is planning its third conference.
Sayeed Syeed, director of interfaith relations for the Islamic Society of North America, has several projects under way with Christians and Jews, and Europeans are visiting to learn from their activities. The Yale conference is part of "a major paradigm shift in Christian-Muslim relations," he says.
Given the challenges of the new millennium, he adds, "everyone is looking for new answers."