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Opening dialogue offers one way to stop endless cycle of violence

Do Christians and Muslims have much in common? Yes, quite a lot. For example:
They both worship only one God (Allah), although their understanding and interpretation are different.
The Christian and Muslim God is a merciful, compassionate and “relational” God who doesn’t want to be alone and wants only the best for His people.
Both believe in the power of prayer. Both believe in Heaven and Hell. They both have holy places, Jerusalem, for example. Both rely upon one main prophet to reveal and interpret the will of God for man: Jesus Christ for Christians and Muhammad for Muslims. Christians rely upon the sacred teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, and Muslims rely upon the scriptures that Allah revealed to Muhammad, in what became the Koran.
Both religions love peace. In fact, the root word for Islam means peace or total submission to peace. Both religions have strong elements of social responsibility and moral values. Both call for taking care of the needy and being generous with your income to the church.
Christians and Muslims want the same basic things in life: peace, happiness, family, satisfying work, a good spiritual life, and so on. Ironically, both have a violent history.
It’s just too bad that often we can’t seem to get together to work on those things together.
These are a few of the ideas that came out at a Muslim and Christian Dialogue held Sept. 13 at the Corydon Presbyterian Church and sponsored by that church and Community Unity. Because there is so much interfaith tension in the world today, brought about by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the endless violence in “the Holy Land,” the Presbyterian Church USA thought it would be helpful to send two-person teams, one Christian, one Muslim, from various countries, to about 30 communities throughout the country, to talk about common ground, areas of conflict, and misunderstandings.
The “Interfaith Listening Project” in Corydon featured Dr. Andreas D’Souza, from Hyderabad, an area of western India that was colonized long ago by the Portuguese, and Dr. Ismat Mehdi, a Muslim woman from Hyderabad.
Although D’Souza’s family is ethnically Hindu, he’s Catholic. His family converted to Catholicism in the 15th century! He has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from McGill University in Toronto. As head of the Henry Martyn Institute: International Centre for Research, Interfaith Relations and Reconciliation, D’Souza has devoted his life to building bridges between people of all faiths. He speaks 10 languages (he prayed aloud in Sanskrit, and hummed a mantra that Tibetan Buddhists probably would have appreciated). He has an office in Boston and travels widely in the interests of reconciliation.
Ismat Mehdi, a Shia Muslim, is also a Ph.D., a teacher and world traveler. She attended a convent school in Hyderabad with children from all denominations. She’s been a radio programmer for broadcasts to the Arab world, and she has directed the Indian Cultural Center in the Indian Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. There are so many ancient religions in India that it’s clear that Mehdi and D’Souza move easily within various faiths. Ismat prayed in Arabic.
They answered questions about Al Qaeda, western perceptions of Islamists, and “jihad,” a term which means to strive or attempt. It has been misappropriated by Muslim extremists and misunderstood by westerners.
D’Souza said there are two kinds of jihad, greater and lesser. Greater jihad is about one’s personal struggle against sin, like lust, anger, jealousy, things that prevent us from being better human beings.
The lesser jihad involves self-defense and came about after the Crusaders had massacred Muslims while trying to “reclaim” Jerusalem in the 13th century. Islam allows one to defend himself; however, there are 10 strict rules of jihad. First, the ruler must give permission for jihad. The Supreme Court is consulted, and one must wait three months to think things over, and when several people are involved, there must be a consensus before taking any action.
One other interesting observation: Mehdi said suicide is absolutely forbidden in Islam. Mehdi said there are two absolute unknowns. “We don’t know when we will be born or when we will die. One thing we do know is that we can’t take our own lives. And we shouldn’t take the lives of others, too.”
In response to a question about Islamic martyrs in Israel and the West Bank, Dr. D’Souza said the suicide bombers are acting out of humiliation and desperation in an area that’s been occupied for years by the Israeli army. “They cannot find justice. They have tried all means possible to find justice, and they can’t do it,” he said.
Referring to the various wars around the world, “As Christians, we have the duty to stop the cycle of violence,” D’Souza said. Interfaith dialogue is one way to start.

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