Lent is often understood as a time of giving up a comfort for the sake of spiritual renewal; the cost of our sacrifice reminds us of the price Jesus paid to show us the extent of God’s love. But Lent can also be a time of adding spiritual disciplines. When we choose to practice a new discipline, this also costs us; it costs our time, our habits. These are not empty disciplines, empty sacrifices. These disciplines ultimately lead us to knowing Jesus and following Him closer. In this lenten season, we invite you to learn Jesus’ heart for peacemaking and how we can allow Him to “guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:79).”

Will you join us in peacemaking this lenten season?
Will you join us in exploring the cost of peacemaking?

Peacemaking is not a vague, nebulous concept. It is real, true, and life-changing. God wants us to know it, to set our hope on it, and to get excited about it. We will warn you, however: it is not easy. It takes love, compassion, and—most importantly—humility. The beauty of walking with Jesus in the way of peace is that He will provide all these things for you.

Each week for the next 6 weeks we will publish a lenten devotional to give you practical ways to practice peacemaking. Next week: we’ll look inward with the practical foundation of peacemaking.

 

by Rick Love

I was happy that the Marrakesh Declaration underscored the importance of the work of Peace Catalyst International: “The more we ponder the various crises threatening humanity, the more firmly we believe that interfaith cooperation is necessary, inevitable and urgent.” Yes, cooperation between Muslims and Christians IS necessary, inevitable and urgent!

And the leaders of the Marrakesh event modelled the priority of cooperation by inviting well over 25 non-Muslim guests as participant-observers. Buddhists, Jews, mainline Christians, human rights activists and a few evangelical guests like Bob Roberts Jr. and myself were all honored guests.

 

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As you would expect in a conference like this, Muslim clerics and politicians dominated the agenda. But I was pleased by the diversity of the conference overall. Shia Muslims attended and women spoke, as did religious minorities – including a leader from the Yazidis. The minorities present gave the conference a reality check. It was no ivory tower discussion.

An American convert to Islam, Usama Canon, said that one of the high points of the conference for him was having non-Muslims present to both observe and engage with the process.

One of the high points for me was the special meeting that non-Muslim guests had with the leader of the Marrakesh Declaration, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah. What a privilege! We were invited to ask questions and enjoy tea with him. The group strongly affirmed the work of the Sheikh but also asked pointed questions about its implementation.

During this closed door session with the Sheikh, Susan Hayward of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) asked, “What are the next steps? What happens now?”

The Sheikh reminded us that most of the participants were Islamic clerics – preachers, not politicians. Part of the purpose of the conference was to raise awareness. So implementation of the declaration will take time. But the depth of scholarship behind the declaration and the breadth of scholars affirming it make it a formidable force for change.

One of my friends, Imam Magid, said that unless these Muslim clerics address the law of apostasy and the blasphemy laws they are not really dealing with the issues. The law of apostasy according to mainstream Islamic interpretation says that Muslims who convert to another religion should be killed. Thankfully it is not implemented in most Muslim countries. The blasphemy laws say that people who dishonor Islam should be punished. This happens frequently in Pakistan.

I told the Sheikh what my Imam friend said so that I could hear him address the issues of apostasy and blasphemy. He said that these issues were discussed in the closed door session with Muslims but that they concluded that changing these laws would lead to public disorder.

Needless to say, I was not happy with his response. It seems like most of those present weren’t ready to fully comply with religious freedom, that is, the freedom to convert or change one’s faith. So Imam Magid and I will have to continue to work for change in this area (for more on this see the Dawah-Evangelism Peace Project).

Even with the challenges of implementation and the unwillingness to address the right to convert at this point, the Marrakesh Declaration still remains an awesome step in the right direction. As my friend Doug Johnston of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy says, “Let’s not curse the darkness; let’s celebrate the light!” So I am celebrating.

The Marrakesh Declaration has the potential to be a milestone in modern peacemaking efforts. Perhaps it will be if we give it our support!

by Rick Love

When Muslim peacemakers take bold initiatives to counter violence and work for peace, the world should take note. People of all faiths – and no faith – should do everything they can to support these efforts. Let me tell you why we should celebrate and support the Marrakesh Declaration.

Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, a brilliant Islamic scholar and gracious peacemaker, convened 300 people from 120 countries on January 25-27, 2016 in Marrakesh, Morocco. This gathering was the conclusion of a 4-year process of deliberation. Muslim scholars, government officials and non-Muslim observers gathered to address the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries. And I was privileged to be one of their honored guests.

The Marrakesh Declaration is based on the Charter of Medina, a 7th century contract between Muhammed and the Jewish tribes of Medina, which functioned as a constitution for a multi-racial and multi-faith society. According to the conveners of the conference, the Charter of Medina provides authoritative guidance for how Muslims should treat minorities in their countries today.

There have been periods in Islamic history where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived side-by-side peacefully. My friend and fellow peacemaker, Sami Awad (a Christian Palestinian living in Bethlehem) has shared beautiful stories of Christians and Muslims living together in harmony in his lifetime.

But that is not always the case. Christians, especially, have been and are presently persecuted by Muslims. So the Marrakesh Declaration could be a game changer in Christian-Muslim relations. (And yes Christians have done their share of persecuting Muslims as well).

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Here are four reasons I think we need to support this peacemaking effort:

  1. The Marrakesh Declaration is initiated by a world-renowned Islamic scholar who convened an equally impressive number of high-level Islamic clerics and government officials from around the world. The declaration itself is the product of rigorous Islamic scholarship and dynamic debate.Because the framers of this declaration are highly respected Islamic leaders, and because the declaration is rooted in Islamic sacred texts, the declaration has the potential to bring about profound long-term positive change in the Muslim world.
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  3. The Marrakesh Declaration forcefully addresses the human rights of minorities: “We need to adopt a civilized code of behavior that bans all forms of coercion, fanaticism and arrogance…. Religion must not be manipulated to justify any infringement or denial of the rights of religious minorities in Islamic countries.”In other words, the framers of this declaration recognize that Muslim majority countries have treated religious minorities poorly in the past, and thus they resolve to uphold and protect their human rights in the future.
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  5. The Marrakesh Declaration calls on “institutions of higher learning and religious authorities to launch bold revisions of educational programs in order to stand against this cultural crisis, which breeds extremism and enmity, fans the flames of conflict, and tears at the fabric of society.”The framers of this declaration realize that intolerance and discrimination have made their way into the educational systems of most Muslim countries. Thus their call for bold revisions in education will help undermine and eliminate the sources of discrimination.
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  7. The Marrakesh Declaration invites non-Muslims to partner with them in working for peace: “The more we ponder the various crises threatening humanity, the more firmly we believe that interfaith cooperation is necessary, inevitable and urgent.”The framers of this declaration realize that the change they long for demands partnership with non-Muslims. So we need to respond to this invitation to collaboration.

 
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The Marrakesh Declaration has the potential to be one of the most important Islamic events in modern history – a powerful, peacemaking counterweight to the violent Islamic extremism embodied in groups like ISIS.

It is too early to determine the actual impact this declaration will have. So for now, I’m going to celebrate this initiative. I’m going to promote this declaration. I’m going to pray for its implementation. And I am going to partner with Muslim leaders who affirm this declaration.

Will you join me? This could be a game changer in Christian-Muslim relations!

by Rebecca Brown

My generation (I’m a Millennial) used to ask, “What would we have done during Nazi domination?” In some ways, the question is no longer theoretical. The so-called Islamic State has come to represent a new threat to global security.

ISIS has captured the attention of us all. From domestic fears of rogue terrorism to toppling Middle Eastern stability, their violent momentum is real… People are afraid. I get it. We want to do something. I get it. So let’s do something today that will work.

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I was at a Thanksgiving meal with young Muslims and Christians. We were sharing what we were thankful for and one person said, “I’m just thankful my baby has a warm place to sleep. Syrian refugees don’t have any security.” Another piped in, “Yes, ISIS is so horrifying…” After a few minutes of agreement, the newly immigrated Turkish woman said thoughtfully, “But is thankfulness enough? We should DO something with the blessings we have.”

Our conversation twisted and turned that night through our responsibility as global citizens, and I tried so hard to think of Jesus. What would be his response?

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Worldwide, over 20,000 people have been recruited by the smooth rhetoric of ISIS and their self-declared holy war. Despite international attempts to end this terrible trend, men and women still risk their lives to join. Regardless of any success through military intervention, if violent extremists attract new followers, their threat remains.

So the question is, “What can we, simple civilian followers of Jesus, do in response?” The complexities of ISIS’s recruiting is beyond me, but I understand one story they tell: that Westerners (and Christians, in particular) are at war with Muslims.

Unfortunately, these groups have plenty of examples from recent events to help tell this story. According to the FBI, Muslims in America receive the brunt of a disproportionate amount of religion-motivated hate crimes. This violence toward Muslims has only swelled since recent ISIS attacks in Western cities. There is also a dominant stream of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. today proposing extreme, fear-based discrimination against Muslims.

To a lot of people, hate toward all Muslims is an appropriate response to the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, this fearful hate is telling the story ISIS wants told. And—even more terrifying—this is how the ultimate Enemy of our souls wants us to behave.

But there is a way to slow down ISIS!

One U.S. Institute of Peace analyst suggests that the most effective weapon against ISIS’s recruiting is to equip those around the globe who are directly being recruited or affected by ISIS. Many newly-immigrated Muslims from the Middle East stay connected to their friends and family back home. Douglas Johnston at the International Center of Religion and Diplomacy says that “American Muslims… could become this country’s most effective ambassadors to the Muslim world.”

Thousands of voices from the global Muslim community continue to condemn extreme violent expressions of Islam (see examples of high-profile responses here, here, and here), and the vast majority of Muslims around the world have and want nothing to do with groups like ISIS, but ISIS recruiters are persistent and their lies are clever.

That’s where you (and Jesus!) come in.

We must help those who are vulnerable to recruitment EXPERIENCE a story that contradicts the story ISIS is telling. 

Let’s include our Muslim neighbors, not exclude them. Let’s love, not fear. With our very lives, let’s create an overwhelming narrative of inclusion and support of Muslims in America—especially for those isolated, radicalized, and most ready for recruitment. As followers of Jesus, let’s be extremely kind instead of suspicious.

That way, when Muslims in America have a chance to talk with their family and friends in extremist-controlled territories, or when American Muslims are confronted with direct recruitment, they will have a lived experience of kindness that can override any story of an anti-Muslim West.

Acts of kindness can be as simple as friendliness in the supermarket, learning to say the worldwide Muslim greeting, “Assalamu alaykum” (hear it here), or eating at a Muslim-owned restaurant for a peace feast. More committed demonstrations of support can include visiting a mosque, committing to an interfaith group experience, or asking a Muslim co-worker to share his or her stories of being a Muslim in America.

Let’s be kind. Let’s tell a different story, one where all Muslims, especially the most vulnerable, feel loved and valued. What simple kindness can you do to love your Muslim neighbor?

 

Rebecca Brown bio squareRebecca is Director of Development and Program Coordinator for Peace Catalyst International.

by Nicole Gibson

The world is seemingly becoming overrun with hate and violence. We hear about yet another shooting practically daily, and almost any kind of disgruntlement or difference of opinion seems to be grounds for violence. But as we are so inundated with horror story after horror story, we’d like to bring you news of a story that turned out very differently. A story of how love can change the ending and win the day over hate and violence. A story that gives us hope that there is still something stronger in this world than fear and hatred.

The story takes place several months ago, but the lessons learned are ones that are becoming more crucial by the day.

In May of this year, a group of demonstrators showed up outside a Phoenix mosque carrying very large guns and spouting vile rhetoric and obscenities against Muslims and Islam.

We sat down with Usama Shami, the President of the mosque, and asked him to tell us about that day. Here is some of what he said:

 

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How did this event at your mosque come about?

At the beginning of May, there was an incident in Garland, TX, an attempted terrorist shooting. I didn’t pay much attention to it on the news, but the next day I started getting phone calls, the first one from BBC in London. It turns out one of the gunmen was a guy named Elton Simpson, who had started coming to the mosque in 2004 or 2005. He was under FBI surveillance, accused of trying to sell classified information to somebody in a third-world country. In 2010 the FBI convicted him of lying to them and I think he spent like 7 months in jail. After that he didn’t show up in the mosque that much. We would see him periodically, but not like before. But that incident in Texas triggered everything else afterwards, because the media tried to make it sound like he was deeply involved in the mosque and therefore his ideaology must have come from us, which was not true.

So a week after that incident in Texas, I got a call from the police telling me, “There is a group coming to do a demonstration at the mosque and bring their weapons.” So nobody from our community showed up at the mosque. There were about 100 protestors and no media. Nobody knew about it, nobody paid attention. So I think that didn’t go well with the organizers. They wanted more attention, so they decided to show up again on May 29th, the big event you have heard about.

 

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So what happened on May 29th?

About 400-500 protestors showed up carrying assault rifles and other guns, wearing offensive tshirts, and carrying signs with expletives and hateful messages against Islam. But there were also about 700 people who showed up to stand in support of the mosque. These were people from churches in the area, other faith communities, and students from ASU and other colleges, among others. I watched as they arrived and started engaging the demonstrators. Not yelling, but just asking them, “Why are you doing this? Why are you wearing this?” etc. Now, some of the demonstrators were very hard core in their hatred for Islam, but some didn’t know why they were there; they just bought into the propaganda. There were 4 or 5 of these demonstrators who said they had never been into a mosque before. So some of the young guys supporting us said, “Well… we’ll let you in.” So they put their weapons down, turned their offensive tshirts inside out, and they went in. When they got inside, there was prayer going on, so they sat down and observed, and when they came out they ended up leaving because, they said, “That’s not what we thought. When we went inside we just saw normal people.” They even went on the news later and said that the negative things they had been told about Muslims were untrue.

 

What kind of lessons did your community learn from all of this, and what would you like to say to Christians and people of other faiths?

First and foremost, the importance of interfaith relationships. If those bridges are not built, if I don’t know my neighbor and he doesn’t know me, it’s easy for him to have doubts about me, because we don’t see each other as human beings. If I didn’t know the people at the church down the street, they might have doubts about us here at the mosque and easily believe that we are a danger. If I hadn’t had this connection with Peace Catalyst and the relationships that have come with it, a lot of these people would not have come out here to stand with us. So the Muslim community cannot live in isolation. We need to have friendships.

So I encourage people to go and visit mosques and meet the people and learn what they are all about. Engage with them and ask them questions. If you want to ask a question to learn, to understand, there is no need for apologies. If you’ve never been to a mosque before, if you don’t know your Muslim neighbors, there will always be this mistrust. And the only way to dispel this is to make Muslim friends. So my humble solution is that if you want to know people, go and visit them, make friends with them, and talk to them, regardless of their faith or color, etc. You will find that we are all human.

And I’ll say also that people should apply their own faith first, before arguing with Muslims about theirs. For example, if you are a Christian, are you living as Christ taught you to live? If people do this, there won’t be any problem.

Thank you so much to Usama Shami for sitting down with us and for being such a wonderful partner for peace.

 

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Nicole Gibson is a photographer and Director of Communications for Peace Catalyst International