Posts Tagged ‘interfaith relations’

“Even when one sees something ugly in another person, one should give heart to the fact that there, too, dwells the name of the Blessed One, for there is no place empty of God.” —Rabbi Jacob Joseph Katz
I strongly recommend From Enemy to Friend: Jewish wisdom and the pursuit of peace to all readers interested in interreligious dialogue and peacemaking. In this book Rabbi Amy Eilberg has done a compelling job presenting personal stories, classical Jewish texts, and peace and conflict theory to bring readers a powerful vision to guide our everyday lives as peacebuilders. There is inspiration for all who feel that “peace is not a utopian ideal, but a daily need.”

For anyone unfamiliar with the rich peace tradition in Jewish texts, Rabbi Eilberg shares that “the command repeated more frequently than any other in the Torah — 36 times, in fact — is the command to love, to reach out to, and do justice to the stranger.” She offers rigorous yet accessible engagement with Jewish texts, highlighting the many ways that peacemaking forms a central component of Jewish teachings.

Rabbi Eilberg illustrates that peacemaking is not merely a set of tools or techniques, but a way of being in daily life. As peacemakers, we must begin with transforming our own hearts, and extend our efforts into the world of our neighbors. With regular practice, we can learn to “unclench our fists, minds, and hearts when we feel wounded,” and live into the truth that “all human beings, even those who have hurt and threatened us, are human creatures like ourselves, worthy of the same respect and dignity we demand for ourselves.”

When the fear and hate that are revealed in the news become overwhelming, we can remember that many ordinary people hold peacemaking as the central value. For example, I learned of the exciting work of Clergy Beyond Borders, essential for building understanding in a pluralistic society. In another example of peacemaking lived, Rabbi Eilberg writes about the intentional community Oasis of Peace/Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, where Jewish and Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel live together. Across our religious traditions we need guidance and inspiration, to learn to lay aside our fears and suspicions of difference that often get in the way of building relationships.

Readers will find that From Enemy to Friend offers inspiration, deepened understanding, and rich material for reflection. In a world that is hungry for peace, Rabbi Eilberg’s inspiring and helpful work deserves a wide audience.

Disclaimer: A copy of his book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.


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Theologian Mary Christine Athans, BVM, has written a compelling book that offers a fresh understanding of Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. The result of scholarship and personal reflection, In Quest of the Jewish Mary: The mother of Jesus in history, theology, and spirituality makes a worthwhile read.

The book opens with a helpful discussion of the role of Mary in the Catholic Church and the changing view of Mary throughout church history, including the feminist theology of more recent years. Athans then draws attention to the valuable contributions made by scholars studying the historical Jesus, and the helpful insights this research can provide for our understanding of Mary. As Jesus was growing up, his primary religion teacher would have been his mother, a faithful Jewish woman teaching her son how to pray and to seek God. Understanding how the Jewish faith was observed in daily life amplifies the picture we have of Mary and her son.

I appreciated the tools Athans provides for envisioning Mary’s life as a first-century Palestinian woman of faith. Along with her biblical scholarship, Athans shares stories of her own appreciation of Jewish customs and rituals. Her voice has the potential to build bridges of understanding between faith traditions.

The author brings together and makes accessible an incredible amount of research, providing a rich bibliography for readers who are compelled to read more on the topic. I made copious notes on index cards for future reading. Orbis Books once again has done readers a service by making contemporary theological scholarship readily available to readers who seek to deepen knowledge of their faith.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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It is extremely refreshing to read a book in which American Muslim men speak for themselves, sharing about their faith on their own terms. The personal stories in All-American: 45 American men on being Muslim demonstrate the diversity of the Muslim experience in the U.S., free from the problematic limitations of stereotypes. Whether you are Muslim and want to read other Muslim voices, or whether you simply are curious about the American Muslim experience, I highly recommend this essay collection.

If you are Muslim, or have Muslim friends and loved ones, you already know that Muslim individuals are as varied as those of any other religious group. However, for Americans who do not have such relationships, the stereotypes commonly conveyed by the media can create strong misrepresentations. Muslim men get lumped together in a group that includes headline-makers who are not representative of the faith; violence and misogyny dominate. These images, and their accompanying fear and distaste, can get in the way of building real relationships with neighbors and colleagues. For this reason, I cannot underestimate the importance of this book. It provides a rich opportunity to hear the voices of a diverse group of people, shattering stereotypes and opening doors to understanding.

Editors Wajahat Ali and Zahra T. Suratwala have done an excellent job of gathering the stories of men from a variety of professional and ethnic backgrounds. Their stories are personal, direct, and powerful. Reading these essays is the next best thing to sitting across the table and listening in person.

I urge you to read All-American: 45 American men on being Muslim, and to consider providing a copy for your public library. Further, I hope that U.S. mosques will provide copies of this book to visitors, since it provides such a beautiful glimpse of lived faith. May we continue to build bridges across differences, and to grow in love for one another.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received for this review. 

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“We humans may be barbaric and brutal, but we can get up every morning and strive for peace. And the first step in striving for peace is understanding the Other. In 21st-century America, the Other is Muslim.” —Sumbul Ali- Karamali

“Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of God, not one belonging to this or that race or nation.” —Qur’an (surah 49, verse 13)

Recent events in the U.S. news have me grieving, once again, the hate that people sometimes show toward other people. The need for friendships and community building across lines of difference becomes more urgent each day, as racism and discrimination continue to cause inexcusable violence. If we hope to create a future where such crimes cannot happen, we need to affirm our common humanity, and get to know one another respectfully. In the spirit of opening a door to learning about someone of a different background, I urge you to read The Muslim Next Door: The Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing. This book effectively dispels myths and examines sources of stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslims. If you are Muslim, read it, then share with a colleague, neighbor, or friend. If you are not Muslim, you will find it answers many questions you carry in your heart.

Author Sumbul Ali-Karamali was born in California to parents from India. She has been educated in Islamic law and offers a well-grounded primer on Islam (with references for further reading, which I always appreciate). Throughout the book she shares stories from her own experience of growing up Muslim in southern California, and the ways in which her faith and her choices inform one another.

For those who may not have close Muslim friends or family members, Ali-Karamali’s perspective as an ordinary Muslim-American woman is invaluable. Fear has caused many people to wrongly conflate “Muslim” and “terrorist” (or “Muslim women” and “oppressed”) and this needs to be undone. Ali-Karamali rightly points out that we do not typically judge all Christians on the basis of the actions of terrorist Timothy McVeigh, or on the atrocities committed by the Ku Klux Klan. Likewise, all Muslims should not be judged on the basis of a small number of criminals who claim Islam as their religion. She provides a thorough discussion, too, of the countless ways in which terrorism goes against the teachings of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.

Media coverage of Islam and of Muslims often fails to provide context or historical background for a given issue. As with other news topics, sensationalism and fear-mongering can take priority over sharing facts and details, exacerbating ignorance. With The Muslim Next Door, Ali-Karamali provides a remedy by giving readers detailed background for many of the issues that appear in the headlines, including women’s rights, the content of the Qur’an, and the dangers of fundamentalism.

One critical point that Ali-Karamali clarifies is the confusion about the meaning of “Allah.” Allah simply is the Arabic word for God. Muslims of all nationalities make their five required daily prayers in Arabic, and therefore often refer to “Allah.” Islam is monotheistic, and Muslims believe in only one God, the same God that was worshiped by Abraham and Jesus. Arabic speakers who are Christian would also pray to Allah. With all the coverage of Islam in the media, it surprises me that this is not yet settled; however, the media often present stories about Islam through a lens that makes Muslims seem alien or other. A seemingly simple difference in vocabulary can be abused to exacerbate this problem.

Media attention often is given to the modest attire required of Muslims during prayer. However, other religions also observe this requirement. Growing up in the Catholic church, my mother expected me to dress neatly and modestly to attend church. For a wedding at a church, a woman would be expected to wear a shawl or other covering if her shoulders were bare. As Ali-Karamali writes about modesty in Islam, “It is the same concept with different parameters.”

After you read The Muslim Next Door, I encourage you to provide a copy to your place of worship or your public library. The more we can learn about one another, in a spirit of love rather than fear or defensiveness, the more beautiful we will make our world.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, White Cloud Press, for review purposes. No fee was received for writing this review.

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Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic year, now is underway. This season of fasting and extra prayers presents an ideal opportunity to visit a local mosque and get to know Muslim neighbors. I encourage you to call a mosque in your area and arrange a visit. There will likely be a community member to greet you and to provide a welcoming experience. The New Brunswick Islamic Center has compiled a very helpful guide to proper etiquette for visiting a mosque.

During this month, many mosques will have community iftars (meals that break the fast, after sunset). Breaking bread together, neighbors can talk and get to know one another. The first iftar meal I ever attended was part of an interfaith open house, and it was an extremely powerful experience. I met so many people who were eager and willing to answer my questions about Islam.

There are wonderful books for teaching young children (Muslim and non-Muslim) about Ramadan. You can find an excellent list, with descriptions of titles, at goodreads. Personally, I highly recommend A Party in Ramadan by Asma Mobin-Uddin.

During Ramadan, fasting from before dawn until after sunset helps the observant to remember those who live with hunger, and to feel increased gratitude for the daily blessings of food, water, and shelter. May we all remember those in need, and do our part to show mercy and increase justice.

May this be a joyful season of peacemaking and reaching out to one another in a spirit of love and friendship.

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If I Should Speak is the first novel from U.S. author Umm Zakiyyah. The novel tells of three college students, their new friendship, and spiritual challenges faced by each young woman. Tamika, a Christian and a student of religion, has many questions for her Muslim roommates, Aminah and Dee. Her interest in Islam begins as academic curiosity, but to Tamika’s surprise and confusion, she finds herself drawn toward the faith. As Tamika explores, Aminah and Dee also ask themselves questions about what faith means in their own lives.

Aminah is a disciplined young woman, committed to practicing her religion to the best of her ability. In contrast, Dee, who has known Aminah since childhood, has moved away from many religious observances. Often Tamika looks from one woman to the other, trying to determine the best path to follow.

Through Tamika’s questions and Aminah’s explanations about Islam, readers can learn quite a bit about the basics of the faith. There are brief passages of Qur’an, with chapter and verse mentioned in the text or in footnotes. Their conversations are realistic, and readers unfamiliar with the faith may find many of their own questions answered. Occasionally the teaching element feels heavy-handed, but the novel provides a great way for readers to learn about Islam through fiction. This book would be a good addition to high school, college, and masjid libraries, and will appeal to parents seeking clean literature for their teens.

The author’s passion for sharing about Islam seems to shine through Aminah’s voice. We have fewer glimpses into the internal struggles of Dee; since we do not see her as deeply, I connected with her much less.

By the end of the novel, I wanted to know Aminah better, and to see the development of Tamika’s spiritual journey. Happily, her story continues in A Voice and Footsteps. I look forward to exploring themes of faith and self-discovery in Umm Zakiyyah’s other writings.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Al-Walaa Publications. My thanks to them for making the book available.

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“Give your enemy fresh milk.”  This memorable Somali aphorism from will stay with me for a long time—a highlight of the powerful life story of Ahmed Ali Haile.  In  Teatime in Mogadishu: My journey as a peace ambassador in the world of Islam, readers can discover the reconciliation work and faith journey of this Somali-born peacemaker.  His story, part of the “Christians Meeting Muslims Series,” is told with the help of David W. Shenk, who has lived in East Africa and works with Eastern Mennonite Missions.
Throughout his life Haile has given witness to the power of love and forgiveness.  The book’s title refers to the priority Haile has given to hospitality—setting an example for others of a loving home, expressing God’s love to everyone (even when it might not feel “convenient”). In his effort to live a life in keeping with the peacemaking teachings of Jesus, Haile describes Romans 12 as “an ethical manifesto” for his family, and, truly, his life exemplifies the call to live in harmony with one another, and to overcome evil with good.  This book provides inspiration for those of us who long to listen for God’s call in our lives, and to live out that call with integrity and passion.
Born into a loving, pious Muslim home in central Somalia in 1953, Haile grew up with an awareness of God’s blessings and a desire to serve God.  As a serious student of his religion, Haile was interested in learning more about the monotheistic faiths that preceded Islam, and which are mentioned throughout the Qur’an.  When he had an opportunity to study the Bible, the life of Jesus spoke to his heart and he decided to convert to christianity.  At that time, the political regime in Somalia forbade the practice of any religion except Islam. Within this environment, it was heartening to read that Haile’s parents were very supportive of his decision.  They knew Haile was not rejecting the religion of his birth, but rather that he felt called by God to follow the path of Jesus.
During the 1970s, while Somalia experienced revolution and war with Ethiopia, Haile had the good fortune to receive a scholarship to study peacemaking and development in the U.S.  When he returned to Africa in 1982, Haile worked to nurture healthy relations with the Muslim community and his extended family, meeting weekly with elders from his clan.  “We ate and fellowshipped and conversed vigorously together.  In that way, our covenant of peace was renewed each week.”  This kind of relationship-building is an important foundation for restorative justice, and builds on pre-islamic clan traditions.
Through his studies and his life experiences, Haile determined that neither traditionalist nor modernist forces would bring peace to Somalia—only God could do that, for true restorative justice requires the healing work of the Holy Spirit. Even after losing his leg to a violent attack in 1992, Haile continued to work tirelessly for peace, and, as part of the Somali diaspora in the U.S., he continues his efforts still.
Once again, Mogadishu is in in the news, and at the center of humanitarian crisis and violent conflict. Ahmed Ali Haile’s story demonstrates that we must persist in working for peace, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  This inspiring book includes discussion questions for each of its short chapters, which will be very helpful for book groups and Sunday school classes that use this book as a resource.

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