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An Interview with Abdullah Saeed

I had the privilege of meeting Abdullah Saeed last year when he spoke about freedom of religion at Stanford University. I have read many of his articles in the past and have always felt that he is a true peacemaker. His book on religious freedom is an important work that anyone concerned with Christian-Muslim relations or peace should read.

 

1. What led you to write about freedom of religion?

My interest in this topic is closely related to my experience living among people of different faiths in Australia. Before that, I lived in Muslim-majority countries like the Maldives, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where the issue of religious freedom wasn’t discussed very much. Perhaps one doesn’t fully realize the importance of this until he or she is actually in the minority. In Australia, where Muslims are a minority, I felt the importance of religious freedom as a deeply personal issue. As a Muslim I was able to practice my religion freely, without restrictions or government pressure to behave in a way that might contradict my religious beliefs. So I started reflecting on the importance of religious freedom, and the more I thought about it the more I realized how fundamental it is to our existence.

 

2. Why do you think freedom of religion is important?

For me, freedom of religion is one of the most important rights a human being can enjoy. Whether we are born into a particular religious tradition or are choosing one, religion is still an important part of our identity. No authority should prevent us following what we think is appropriate for us in terms of faith. To deny this is to deny one’s identity and conscience. Suppression can also lead to enmity between people and ultimately the destruction of our social fabric. This means that freedom of religion is important for us as individuals and also for the functioning of the community. As a Muslim it is also important because our scripture is very clear that faith should be based on sincerity, and there should be no force or coercion in that choice.

 

3. What keeps some Muslims from embracing religious freedom?

There are some Muslims who do not support freedom of religion. These Muslims are comfortable to have freedom to practice their religion; however, they may not be prepared to allow people from other faiths to freely practice their religion, particularly if they form a minority in a Muslim-majority context. Some Muslims feel that if there is freedom of religion, non-Muslims may entice Muslims to move away from Islam. I think this is an unfounded fear. We do not see large numbers of people moving from one religion to another. Even if there is movement between religious traditions, for the greater good we should be comfortable with this. This is an individual’s choice. At the end of the day, freedom of religion is about one’s connection to God, and this must be based on personal choice, conviction, and sincerity.

 

4. How can Christians partner with Muslims to work for religious freedom?

Christians and Muslims comprise over 50% of the world’s population. While there are different denominations in both traditions, collectively, Muslims and Christians need to look at the benefits of religious freedom and learn from the experience of societies where this freedom does not exist. We can agree on common core principles and values like the importance of sincerity in faith and the need to let people decide for themselves how they want to connect to God. They could develop broad guidelines to prevent unethical behaviour in outreach activities, such as targeting the poor or needy to entice them to a particular faith. We can also work on a range of projects to promote accurate understandings of the other faith and what it teaches about religious freedom or counter misunderstandings or misinformation. Even though there are some Muslims who are deeply suspicious of the very idea of religious freedom, there are many Muslims who see the importance of it and are prepared to defend this right for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

 

Abdullah Saeed is the Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Medina and holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies as well as a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne. He has written on religious freedom, Quran interpretation, and Islamic banking, among other topics in the field of Islamic studies. More from Abdullah Saeed at www.abdullahsaeed.org

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Islam and Belief: At Home with Religious Freedom by Abdullah Saeed

 

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We all love our lattes and chai teas. Who doesn’t? But what if they could do more than just warm our hands and give a temporary pick-me-up?

The “Lattes for Peace” Challenge is a simple way for people to make a big difference through a small and regular gift. Will you take up the Latte Challenge and give up nine lattes a month to invest in peace? In the next 30 days, Peace Catalyst is looking for 30 people to begin donating $30 a month to our Waging Peace Fund.  

The Waging Peace Fund helps strengthen and expand our work.

Here’s an example of how you can make a difference by giving up a few lattes each month and giving to the Waging Peace Fund . . .

Younathan, a Pakistani Christian, made some new Pakistani Muslim friends during a Peace Feast in Louisville hosted by PCI’s Martin Brooks. Soon afterward, God moved on their hearts to respond to a tragedy in Pakistan.

A Pakistani Christian couple was assassinated because of their faith in Pakistan, leaving behind four children. Younathan’s new Muslim friends wanted to assist them, so they asked Younathan to help them set up a scholarship for the orphaned children.

Our peacemaking efforts often ricochet around the world. Because of this Peace Feast in Louisville, Christian-Muslim friendships were formed, injustice was acknowledged, and children were helped halfway across the world. Small efforts can affect enormous change.

What happened in Louisville is taking place in 9 other cities across the U.S. where PCI works. Your gift will help us expand to other cities through recruiting staff and volunteers, providing “how to” resources, and getting the word out.

Would you join 30 others by April 22nd in this Lattes for Peace Challenge with a $30 monthly contribution? (Of course, we’ll welcome whatever amount you can give.)

We also need your help to tell others about Peace Catalyst International. Invite others to participate in the Lattes for Peace Challenge or invite your friends to join us on Facebook.

To read about how contributions Wage Peace, sign up for our monthly newsletter.

For a secure and easy way to donate, click here. As always, your gift is tax-deductible.

Thanks!

 

by Martin Brooks

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The mob surrounded the house as the couple hid behind a locked door. It was not strong enough to protect them. The bolts broke and the young couple was beaten because they had burned some paper with Arabic words that some thought came from the Qur’an. They were barely alive when they were then dragged to a brick kiln, where they were burned to death. The angel from Daniel’s fiery furnace did not appear to those gazing in, and they did not emerge unharmed, but the injustice of this vigilante execution touched the hearts of Muslim men in Louisville, Kentucky.

shahzad-masih-shama-masih-afp“Do you remember that couple that was killed in Pakistan last year?” Younathan, my Christian Pakistani friend asked.

The look on my face said, “No.”

“They were a Christian couple. They were accused of blasphemy and a mob surrounded their house and killed them.”

Younathan went on. “Two Pakistani men at the mosque here in Louisville contacted me and wanted to set up a scholarship for the four children that were left behind. They asked if I could help them.” Younathan took the request to his father, who is a respected university professor and a leader in the Christian community in Pakistan.

Since the death of the couple, the four children have been in the custody of relatives. Reportedly, an uncle was receiving gifts to care for the children, but he was using the money for himself. Younathan’s father set up a trust fund for the children to be used solely for their education. Meanwhile, Younathan’s Muslim friends are planning on sending more money to help these Christian children receive their education.

As I was thinking how remarkable it was that a few Muslim men in Louisville would respond with such compassion for a poor Christian family in Pakistan, Younathan said, “You know you introduced us. I met them at the Pakistani Peace Feast.”

How amazing. Peace Catalyst gets Christians and Muslims together in Louisville, Kentucky and friendships are formed. Then God uses these connections to care for orphaned Christian children in Pakistan. God works things together in ways we never imagined. It was a humbling moment when the Lord affirmed our grassroots efforts to seek peace and pursue it. I did not even know it was happening; we had just been the catalyst as helping hands reached around the world.

Yes, ISIS is a major problem for both Muslims and Christians. Yes, blasphemy laws in Pakistan are frequently trumped up to hurt innocent people. Yes, people refuse to reject stereotypes, preferring broad narratives that dehumanize individuals and cause people to get hurt. But in this case, partly because of a Peace Feast, relationships were born, injustice was acknowledged, and suffering children were helped. In light of all of the devastating news we face daily, I thought you might appreciate hearing about a couple of local Muslims who reject violence and do what they can to assist suffering Christians in Pakistan.

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More on this story:

Pakistani Christian Couple Killed by Mob (Al Jazeera)
The Price of Blasphemy in Pakistan (Al Jazeera)

Martin Brooks is Director of Partnerships and Midwest Regional Director for Peace Catalyst International. This post was originally published by Martin on his blog, Segues International.

 

41PCTAvBvyL._UX250_As news of ISIS fills the headlines and the thoughts of people around the world today, we find ourselves, especially as followers of Jesus, asking how we should respond.

Lisa Gibson is one person who has been personally affected by terrorism and has lived out forgiveness in a profound and extraordinary way. When she was an 18 year-old college student, her brother was killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing as terrorists bombed the plane he was on, killing everyone on board. Since then, she has given her life to understanding terrorism and being, as she calls herself, an “ambassador of reconciliation.” In 2009 she even met with and personally extended forgiveness to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator believed to be the mastermind behind the attack. Her story, and the story of that meeting, has been told around the world (see more from CNNBBC, and Wall Street Journal).

Lisa, also an attorney, is now a conflict mediator, having worked with heads of state and traveled to various countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya to train leaders. She is also a best-selling and award-winning author, having written several books about her experiences and lessons learned. Lisa shares her personal story in depth in Life in Death: A Journey from Terrorism to Triumph and Leadership Lessons Learned from Muammar Gaddafi.

 

More from Lisa Gibson:

Audio of Lisa sharing her story at Evangelicals for Peace meeting in Washington, D.C.

CNN video coverage of Lisa’s meeting with Gaddafi here and here

(note: The above clips both start with footage from the same interview between Gaddafi and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, but the following coverage is different.)

Today I’d like to feature a guest post by Lannea Russell of Peace Catalyst on an experience she recently undertook in an effort to walk for a day in the shoes of her Muslim friends.

 

 

IMG_20150204_082203877I wore a hijab (headscarf) for a day last week. I’d been invited to participate in World Hijab Day by a Muslim friend, and I took her up on the friendly challenge because I don’t often get to walk in someone else’s shoes and expand my experience of the world. I’d worn a headscarf several times to mosques, but wearing it for a full day was a new experience. The week culminated in an event at a Denver mosque, where a warm community of women gathered for a potluck, door prizes, and a photo booth representing diverse hijabs from around the world.

My friends make wearing it look effortless and fashionable. It wasn’t for me. There was a slight wardrobe hitch in the morning when making a delivery, and I could feel the scarf slipping off. I could picture myself in an internet meme: “Wearing a Hijab: You’re Doing It Wrong.”

At the mosque I said to a woman, “I felt really hyper-aware of myself and surroundings when I was wearing the hijab. How do you feel when you’re in public?” She told me that as a lawyer, she is constantly aware of her appearance and wonders whether her clients will receive impartial treatment because she is representing them. “I want to be judged by my work, not by what I wear.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Gesturing at her hijab, she said, “I want people to look at me as me, whether I am wearing this or not.”

Another woman shared with me, “I know I am an ambassador of something bigger than me, and I want to represent it well. I have to do everything knowing that people watch me.” I could resonate with that.

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All the people I interacted with while wearing a hijab were friendly or at least neutral toward my appearance, and the ones I explained the reason to were very supportive and interested in learning more.

However, there was one incident.

I was driving (very carefully, not wanting people to think that Muslims are bad drivers) when I noticed the truck behind me was tailgating. I sped up and the truck did too. Then the driver pulled his truck around me, getting up on the sidewalk since there was no right turn lane and stared me down as he passed and zoomed around. Maybe he was just running late. But I know that if I wasn’t wearing a hijab, my reaction would have been annoyance. Wearing it, my reaction was unease and even a moment of fear.

At the mosque, I asked a couple women if they’ve ever been treated differently because of wearing the hijab. One of my friends, who uses a different (non-Muslim) name in her professional world, said that she once walked into a job interview and the interviewer’s mouth literally dropped open. “You’re…?” The interviewer stared very obviously from her resume, to her, back to her resume, and said her name. “Yes,” my friend responded, “that’s me.” “We’ll call you,” the interviewer said, and that was it. They never did. Another woman said that although she’s never been in a situation in which she felt afraid, she knows many people who have. A third told me that she is “randomly” selected for airport screenings. Every time she flies on a plane. “But I try not to think about these things,” she said. “I try to focus on the good experiences.”

So this is why I wore a hijab for a day. It made me take a good look inside and respect others’ experiences of the world a little more.

When have you tried walking in someone elses’ shoes? What was your experience like?

 

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