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It is not easy to talk for twenty minutes and resume, on one hand, the signs of hope in the dialogue between Christians and Muslims and, on the other, between Jewish people and Muslims, but I will try.
First of all, thank you very much to professor Mandel to be here and I send my best regards to the Sufi Brotherhood and to the organizing committee. The consideration and love for the edification of the peace encourage us to look for new theological paths, real projects made of commitments and enterprises of musical nature too, just to test exactly where we arrived with the quest for a common Faith which comes from Abraham. This pursuit – although in Italy they speak at least about it, and very often we find not well prepared theologians or not updated to recent works made in the not far University of Munich – risks to be incomplete. A lot of these theologians, aware of the atmosphere of prudence about religious traditions but ignorance too (the latest which produce especially every kind of prejudices), merely repeat common places.

Thesis of great theologians, like Hans Kung, can mainly be considered over in these days. I am thinking about those answers stated by the catholic Gerard Gaede in his book “They worship the only existing God like us” published by Borla Press last January. A request this one for all Catholic and Christians to improve any efforts on their way to the quest. It is not enough to be men of good will. I won’t to replace the other speakers who will follow my speech, anyway. I send a special greeting to Don Bottoni and to all of you here. The Vatican Council offered very interesting thesis in those days, although in 2006 Ratisbone marked not a very encouraging turning point. It is suitable, my dear Catholics, to leave behind us hopeful signs to future generations all over the World. Our seeds left along the path will sprout in any moments.

In 1948 Jack Harlan, an American botanist, was picking up plants in Turkey. He found a variety of corn that seemed not important to be collect: “It was the worst wheat corn I have ever seen – he explained -. It wasn’t enough productive and very often decayed before the harvest.” Jack Harlan died in 1982. Then, those seeds that he had picked up in previous years and put in the most important seed bank placed in the Svalbard Islands, North to Norway, had recently let scientists to defeat the bunt, a plant illness that brought whole American north-west agricultural areas to their knees. That corn, considered so useless and ugly, has been used by present generations to face recent food crisis, by creating new corn variety with similar marks than those ones picked up in Turkey.

Between Muslim culture and Christianity there are deep common roots: we are God’s creatures, subjected to God, to be considered responsible before God, both considering human being as God’s product or his servant, basically the need of a struggle for a better and more equitable World, the need to fight for the future generations, which attention could be captured by using love instead of selfishness or using the spirit of privation. Recently, we discovered, thanks to a mutual faith, a use of a more suitable theology and an ecological vision (God as the only real World master) more or less similar on their basis, and, on the other side, we recognize a mutual need to apply a permanent conversion. Moreover, we verified that Muslim culture and Christianity both began in a persecution atmosphere, and we must assure that we wouldn’t satisfy God’s will if people had to go away because of their Faith, and that our love for people next to us, let us discern the connatural dignity that is in every human been. And to recognize the right that who stay better has the obligation to assist the weakest ones.
The Orthodox Metropolitan Georges Khodr, at Saint-Serges renowned institute in Paris (the one who developed the “Christ sleeping in other religions” theory), not only did he claim that the Koran would be a legitimate book of meditation but he hoped for Christians to have a patient and peaceful way of acting, a secret communion with every human being, and a deep faith in God’s eschatological revelation plan. He used to remind Eastern Christians, though he also visited Bose monastery, that “Christ is no institution, but value, act, hearts transformation into sweetness, simplicity of humility, of gihad (word meaning effort, active engagement, not war just as western translators and Islamic fundamentalists often say) to the afflicted ones”.
In the ecumenical council of churches (where Protestants, Veteran Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans are represented), the dialogue, that was hoped after the Second World War, has started after the six days war between Arabs and Israelis in 1967. Some political reasons had previously blocked its development and still today it is difficult to involve women, for example, in a higher level discussion. In fact in Italy there is an “informative exile” between Jews and Muslims during a Jewish culture day or in a meeting occasion with Islam. As the person in charge of Ecumenici Newsletter (www.ecumenici.eu ) I did not hesitate to write that we are dealing with a structural boundary of the dialogue itself. It being understood that we acknowledge it. The very little is far better than nothing and the debate still remains “a love chant pleasantly sung” (Ez.32,22).
Every synthesis scheme is limited but the objective analysis of Reinhard Leuzer, an Evangelical theologian from Munich, seems interesting to me: first the Koran is reckoned as a revealed scripture as much as the bible is, although the concept of revelation is different in Christianity and Islam, that is taken as an ordinary way of salvation. The prophet Muhammad consciously places himself in the traditional belief of monotheism and the message he announced would be revealed from the same God of Jews and Christians; in other words he would have been assigned by God. Thus there is a unitary subject in the history of salvation. The Koran is the earliest amongst divine revelations and it is also seen as a temporary conclusion of the history of revelation. The reason for that other revelation after Jesus Christ can be found today in such ways of popular devotion which look like semi-pagan syncretism no longer depending on the inconceivable and transcendent God, but most of all on the conversion of entire pagan peoples to Christianity. I point out that Christians have not adopted the whole Law of Moises and despite that we carry on considering the whole Bible as Holy Scripture and Word of God, because it is interpreted as the Old Testament. For us Protestants the Word of God is the human witness inspired by God and it is still living thanks to the Holy Ghost whispering in the believer.
Actually in the Bible there are contradictions as well as historical and scientific mistakes (let us take the thickness of Jericho’s walls for example, or the thickness of the Ark of the Covenant or else the fact of including the hare among ruminant animals) which do not compromise the Word of God. In that way we can understand the Koran and consider its single statement being opposite to Christianity as the word of God that does not necessarily contradict Christian belief. Whoever may consider the Bible as dictated by God word by word is the non -protestant evangelical , namely Pentecostal , who never accepts a dialogue with Islam. That is why in many protestants’ opinion and mine Islam has a privileged place amongst religions. It is no doubt that only a person filled with the Holy Ghost can notice that Ghost already acting in the religious multiplicity men are heading to. In fact the spirit has been given to all mankind and “logos” only goes to where “pneuma” already stands. (Luke 1,3) A Zwinglian has been knowing those thesis since the Sixteenth Century, under various forms and directions. That is why I can call you brothers having in common a perspective of ecumenical and eschatological fulfillment. Where God has the last word as regards final Revelation.
By reading Eb. 1,1-2 I maintain, as Catholic theologian Gaede does, that “God, who had already talked to fathers in ancient times and in different ways (we can add: AND HE WILL TALK MANY OTHER TIMES TO OUR DESCENDANTS BY THE MEANS OF PROPHETS) lately nowadays he talked to us through the Son”. Who can witness God’s mercy, if that witness is true then it can only be the Word of God for Faith is asynchronous by nature. To us the Christians Jews always prove God’s Alliance with his people and they still keep on proving and pronouncing the Word of God nowadays. Besides Christ is already ”inside” the Koran and not out of it! Christ exists “inside” the Jewish canon through the prophecy.
In 1956 Druse Kamal Jumblatt used to ask to Christians of his country: can they take Islam as their own, can they assimilate it without being assimilated, without giving up their own identity? And he used to ask Muslims symmetrically: can Islam find its openness skills like it used to in the first 150-200 years, during a phase of cultural creativity when it used to assimilate a huge part of Greek and eastern Iran-Indian heritage? Today we think we can answer yes, despite Italian censorship and ignorance I did mention.
After those words of hope, which are the projects of hope? Ecumenici newsletter will keep on living by following a theocentric vision thanks to a noahic reading (Gen 8,15-9,17) in Tanakh: the pact of faith between God and whole mankind, through Noah, has not been revoked. This is also a pact which links Islam to Judaism directly. We are conscious of what Jesus says in John 8:58 “I tell you the truth: before Abraham was born, I am!” and just because of that we dare confide in his Word, which is going to be clear in latest times.
Some of the events we pointed out: last year in November in Verona in a Catholic church, there was a concert of Jewish Chassidic and liturgical music performed by Ensemble Shalom. The new-born Lutheran community of Verona- Gardone was the organizer. Please note that one of the main aspects in Chassidic spirituality (Jewish mystical current inspired by Cabala) is:
The most direct way to join God is by the means of music and songs. Sing though you cannot sing. Sing for yourself. Sing in the intimacy of your home but sing!
Another well established sign of hope is promoted by Confronti magazine which organizes a series of events such as flowers for peace, seeds for peace, notes for peace.
Flowers for peace. It is a program that requires the invitation of young Israelis and Palestinians in Italy. After a period of getting to know one another, they would be inserted either in summer experiences with Italian teenagers (such as summer camps promoted by churches, associations and institutions) or in activities during the scholar year. A series of psychological studies shows how difficult the Israeli adolescent condition is, being constantly threatened by suicide bombing terror; on the other side Palestinian teen-agers’ situation is well documented as stuck between occupation violence and the most extreme and militarized factions propaganda. In that context, it is hard to talk about peace. The educational programs are then important to make everyone meet directly, out of the current schemes and prejudices, in a soft environment that makes meeting and friendship much easier. This project has been made more than once thanks to the former funds of the Municipality of Rome, the Municipality of Genzano and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Seeds for peace. It is a meeting program between adult witnesses of peace, Israelis and Palestinians, who come to Italy either to get to know one another better or to share their experiences and analysis with Italian audience. The particularity of this event is that, after an orientation period about Italian reality, “witnesses” divide in couples, an Israeli with a Palestinian, and put themselves to use in groups, associations, institutions who invited them. Confronti has been carrying on this project from eight years, the same project could be successful also in the region of Lazio. Moreover some travelling seminars are organized in Israel and in Palestinian territories. The seminar schedules meeting with political and religious representatives from both sides, with Israeli and Palestinian social and cultural realities, but most of all it is a meeting with men and women who believe and work for peace, though in extremely difficult situations. Confronti has been promoting such kind of seminar from eleven years.
A very convincing and moving sign of peace in which I took part in Milan is “notes for peace”, an event promoted by Lutheran Church with the participation of its inner Zwinglian reformed community, under the silence of Italian media. Italian journalists haven’t been giving information about it from years. And yet we send our newsletter to hundreds of editorial units. Not to mention the efforts of promoter’s press agency in each city where young musicians (aged 14 to 17) hold their concerts. Normally there are five young Palestinian musicians from Bethlehem Lutheran School Dar Al Kalima and five Israeli partners from Sasa’s Regional High School in High Galilee. Those teenagers, who are not professionals, have chosen to share their passion with “the other”, with the one generally conceived as enemy; by the means of knowledge and sharing of music. There are also several meetings in Italian high schools.
And now I am about to resolve by pointing out the initiatives of the group whose members are Rabbi Roberto Arbib, an Italian conservative rabbi living in Tel Aviv, and several Israeli professors who have been developing interreligious dialogue with local Sufi Chekim since 2000. A dialogue born from the mutual will of learning and developing the spiritual tradition that connects Islam to Judaism under prayers, study and meditation in order to build a bridge of peace between both spiritual traditions. The group gathers every week to study the scriptures of both traditions. In 2008 gatherings were dedicated to the study of El Kushairi, who had probably influenced Jewish philosopher Ibn Pakuda in his central work “Hearts’ duties”.
Rabbi Arbib, who knows Confronti magazine very well, has never quit his activities with Sufi brotherhoods in Israeli capital city and beyond the Green Line, not even during the war, when bombs were falling in Israel “in the name of God to the world”. Last January he held conference in Milan Reform Synagogue Lev Chadash. The prayer ceremony with Sufi is objectively an element of considerable interest. By praying the ninety-nine names of God with the zicher (consisting of ninety-nine beads divided in three parts, with a small minaret signaling the following thirty-three beads) as well as with psalms does witness visibly, sonorously and symbolically that we can pray together the Only God. Not only through silence, breath, music, Jewish mantra – namely sounds – and other techniques (Persians often use this until they reach trance).
Neve Shalom – Wahat as-Salaam has also been involved under intifada times. It is the village built because of political intentions where Israelis and Palestinians live together, all Israel citizens. They often started from cabalistic meditation but went on with great and incomparable Sufi mystical tradition (having it also women as important representatives) in order to achieve a common study project. From the jewish side we noticed that Sufism would be compared to several aspects (elements, bodies) of Chassidic movement: the meeting-point is represented by those two mystics and more precisely by the connection of the human being to God and the love of God. It is best to recall that during Persian poet and mystic Gialal al-Din Rumi’s funerals there were lots of Jewish people honouring his coffin.
From the jewish side a new-born self-criticism is also remarkable. Arabs know Hebrew, whereas Jews do not know Arabic (except for the ones in the Israeli Intelligence, so this proves “the other” is considered as enemy). Moreover, Jews seem to have forgotten how to pray with the body, by the means of hands, by bowing down, composure, putting things in order in the Temple itself, etc… In short Jews should learn again from Islamics who have never given up the fulfillment of prayers. The same prayer Jewish prophets used to practice. It is then clear that a big reform is necessary in Judaism. Today more than ever.
After a mosque was bombed, Rabbi Arbib apologized and expressed regret, asking to pray for peace with Islamics. Answers were not all positive (there are orthodoxes in Islamic world, too, not only in jewish world) but when that invitation was accepted, Arabs and Jews were bewildered, incredulous, “speechless” . they were astonished of what was going on.
Rabbi Arbib points out that Sephardic Spanish prayer for Yom Kippur ( jewish religious day of atonement) would use language and terms borrowed from Islam. Sephardic Jews always have a relationship of hate (because of the wars suffered) and love towards Islam in the meantime. Sephardic Jews used to say: “when we come back from a small battle, so says the wise (in reality that wise was Islamic but it was not right to say it clearly), we have to fight the great battle”, that war against ourselves, against our evil instincts.
After Moshe Ben Maimon’s death (known in Italy as Mosé Maimonide) Judaism has been constantly influenced from Islam for about 200 years.

And with those dialogues of peace I wish you the joy of common quest. I feel enthusiastic and I hope to have sent you an encouraging message.
Thanks for the attention.
Maurizio Benazzi in Milan/Italy

(transation by Roberto Pavan from italian to english)

Mr. Maurizio Benazzi,
Thank you for your kind and respectful letter and request. I am delighted to offer a response and to have you use any of the following for the newsletter Ecumenici – Leonhard Ragaz. It is a very important initiative and I am grateful for your leadership and service for peace and justice through it.

In addition to what I will share in this text, I invite you to use anything you find useful from our website – www.mlp.org – my bio, other writings, etc. You might find interesting that I just returned from a Benefit Climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro for LGBT Equality — and took an Italian rainbow PACE flag with me to the summit. Photos of that Italian PACE flag are on our website with the stories at www.mlp.org

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For your use in the newsletter:

 

First of all, we are very glad to welcome you among us, dear friend: how do you feel in yr job in MLP, psychologically, physically and spiritually?

As an out gay human rights activist, I work to foster understanding, acceptance and embrace of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender persons and their families within their faith communities of choice and civil society. I have been an activist serving in the LGBT and HIV-AIDS communities since 1988. Radical progress has been achieved toward LGBT equality and in raising awareness and support for those affected by HIV-AIDS, and there is much yet to accomplish.

Working for change and LGBT equality within faith communities in the United States, with particular attention to the Christian tradition and the Presbyterian Church (USA) as an out gay person of faith places me in remarkable situations. I am often interpreting “the church” to LGBT persons encouraging them to know that not all Christians are anti-gay, and at the same time, working to let Christians know that many of us who are people of faith want to fully participate within our church, tradition or faith community.

I do believe absolutely that as queer people, we are people of heart and spirit. I believe that being gay is a gift, a blessing and certainly not a mistake or curse. I believe that God creates all persons in the image of God, that God loves all of God’s creation unconditionally, and that all persons should be unconditionally welcome into all faith communities.

 

What are the purposes of the MLP? Do you believe you reached those goals in USA …and in Europe have you contacts?


Having worked full-time for More Light Presbyterians, the national LGBT equality network within the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1999, it has become evident to me that this work of LGBT equality, like other peace and justice work, is a long-distance run, a marathon, not a sprint. It is important, therefore, for all of us who are activists to take good care of ourselves and each other, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

While we have some correspondence with LGBT people of faith in Europe, and around the world, we do not have a tangible network beyond the USA. I keep a global view by participating in Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

How can we the europeans, whether as citizens or as believers, help american people, to settle peace in Iraq by the means of non-violence?
It is important for all the people of the world who are committed to making peace and ending war to keep speaking up and speaking out. It is essential for each person to work for peace within their own country, to continue holding up the possibilities and necessity for peace to their own political and religious leaders. A growing number of citizens within the USA oppose war, and this war in Iraq. Many of us have opposed this war from its start. As Italians, please continue to place pressure upon your political leaders to not support the USA in such unilateral actions. And, may all of us continue to pray for peace while working to end this war. The other day my heart was encouraged by seeing a sign on a car in my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico that said this, “I oppose the next war.”

While it is necessary to persist in political action, to speak out, to voice our commitments to peace… it is also necessary to live together in peace where we are by recognized all persons and creation as sacred, worthy of respect, equality and care.

 

What spiritual message would you send to our subscribers, believers of every religious confession and non-believers?
As a person of faith, I take seriously the commandment of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, that we are commanded to “love God, neighbor and self.” And, Jesus was clear to say that their are no boundaries to that understanding of neighbor, that all persons are our neighbors. The spiritual ethics, teachings and example of Jesus parallel Buddha. The ethical teachings and essence of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism mirror each other in the call for all persons, all beings to dwell together in peace, harmony and community. Any departure from these ethics and values do not reflect the truth of each.

It is not possible for a person of faith, Christian, Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, to authentically claim that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons are not equally created sacred and natural. Who we are, who we fall in love with, how we make love and create family as LGBT persons is natural and sacred.

 

What do you think about ecumenism in the U.S?


The ecumenical movement in the United States with roots back to the 1960’s finds some of its strongest expression and growth within the Welcoming Church Movement in the United States and Canada. Many of us who are working for LGBT equality within our own tradition share resources, network and organize across denomination or faith tradition lines. Those who study the growth of churches indicate that the Welcoming Church Movement is experiencing significant growth in the midst of decline for those who are unwilling to offer hospitality, welcome and affirmation to LGBT persons and their families.

While we continue to address homophobia and heterosexism within civil society and among some religious groups, the tide has turned. It is not morally or spiritually acceptable to “gay bash” as it was even a few years ago. In political, religious and social circles and discourse, it is not possible to “get away” with anti-gay remarks or discrimination without a challenge now.

 

Can we find in USA a sincere dialogue with islamic religion?


Interfaith dialogues for and between LGBT Christians, Jews and Muslims continue to be part of the welcoming movement within both the USA and Canada. We share common goals of working for understanding and acceptance within our own faith traditions, as well as dealing with mythology about us that seems to be similar across lines. Interesting, fundamentalist theology and language sounds quite the same whether it comes from a fundamentalist Christian, Jew or Muslim. It is not acceptable that any religion, society or government ruled by religion, treat LGBT persons as second-class human beings or citizens. All persons of faith, and all human beings committed to fairness, must challenge any and all ant-gay attitudes, laws or treatment that harms or discriminates against LGBT persons and their families.

 

Can you tell us about a few meaningful episodes of your personal and ecclesiastic life; what’s happen today in USA in LGBT community and the HIV-AIDS Community ?


I see many signs for hope. More countries are recognizing that they violate principles of fairness by not allowing same-gender couples to marry. Those of us working for marriage equality for same-gender couples in the USA are encouraged when other countries lead the way, lead by example and offer same-gender marriage and/or civil unions. While struggles continues within religious bodies, there is no turning back. Not too many years ago, invisibility and silence were the rule. Now, as LGBT persons we are out, we are claiming our spiritual birthright along with equal civil rights alongside heterosexuals.
My best to you and those you love,
Michael

Michael J. Adee, M.Div., Ph.D., Nationa Field Organizer
More Light Presbyterians, 369 Montezuma Avenue # 447, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 USA
(505) 820-7082 , michaeladee@aol.com, www.mlp.org

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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