Christians Talking to Muslims

Is Dialogue with Islam Possible?
By Thomas Reese
March 13, 2015 for the National Catholic Reporter

“It is dialogue and cooperation on the local level that makes a difference.”

Granted the Islamic State group and the multiple conflicts occurring in the Middle East, is dialogue with Islam possible? This was the question asked by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, nuncio emeritus to Egypt and former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
As a member of the Society of Missionaries of Africa and an Arabic and Islamic scholar, Fitzgerald is especially qualified to discuss this topic, as he did in a March 6 lecture at The Catholic University of America sponsored by the Institute of Policy Research and Catholic Studies and the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

Despite having spent most of his life in dialogue with Islam, Fitzgerald is not blind to the difficulties of dialogue. He began by examining three elements that make dialogue difficult with certain categories of Muslims.

First, “there is a great difference in the experience of Jesus and Muhammad, and thus in the foundational experience of these two religions,” he said. Both were prophets with a message of conversion to the world. Both gathered around them disciples.

“Yet Jesus preached the kingdom of God, a kingdom which was not of this world,” Fitzgerald explained. “His was an essentially religious message which, although it was designed to have an effect on people’s behavior in this world, could be lived out within any political setting.”

“[Muhammad’s] message too was essentially religious, the acknowledgement of the one God as against the prevalent polytheism, but it had a social dimension to it, which was to bring about the formation of a new community bound not by blood ties or tribal loyalty, but by religion: the Umma.” The Umma was both a religious and a political community, and it took up arms to survive. Muhammad was both a prophet and a statesman.

Pre-Constantine Christianity, on the other hand, was a purely religious movement that did not take up arms to survive.

“So although Christianity was, as it were, taken over and used by political entities, in the first place by the Byzantines and then afterward by various monarchs and rulers, in essence, it remains independent of any political power,” Fitzgerald said. “Whereas Islam, from its very beginning as a separate community, has been both religious and political, and one would be tempted to say that striving to defend the community, if necessary by force of arms, is a natural component of the religion.”

There is a tendency among Muslims to look back to its first period, that of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, as the time of glory and true Islam. This has inspired numerous revivalist movements throughout history. Jihads against Muslims who did not practice a pure version of Islam became common. Most of these movements were local and short-lived, but the Wahhabi movement, which started in the 18th century, is still with us and finds sponsorship in Saudi Arabia.

The attraction of the caliphate is the second issue examined by Fitzgerald. He notes that Islam split into Sunni and Shiite factions after the death of Muhammad because of disagreements over succession.

The Shiite believe that Muhammad appointed Ali, his cousin, as his successor. For the Shiite, each imam designates his successor, who must belong to the family of the prophet. The Shiite believe that there were 12 imams following Muhammad and that the 12th imam went into occultation and will return at the end of time to bring about a reign of justice.

Sunnis believe Muhammad made no provision for succession and therefore succession would be determined through election by prominent members of the community.

Yet despite these divisions, the caliphate during its period of Islamic expansion and prosperity acted as a focal point of unity for Muslims. This lasted until the mid-10th century, when the caliphate began to lose its importance until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk finally abolished it in 1924.

Although an attractive ideal, the caliphate has not always been a dominant factor in the life of Islam and certainly for centuries has not functioned as a unifying political power. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s pronouncement that he is the caliph has been condemned by Muslim authorities. A leading scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, has said that the title of caliph can “only be given by the entire Muslim nation.”

The last point Fitzgerald examines is Shariah by which the Umma is to be regulated. He notes that there are four sources for Shariah: the Quran; the Sunnah, or tradition of the prophet; qiyas, or analogy; and ijma, or consensus among scholars. The multiple sources and textual ambiguity lead to debate and disagreements over Shariah so that there are at least four different schools of interpretation.

So when it is proclaimed that Shariah law is going to be applied, the question will arise as to which Shariah. Who is going to decide which type of Shariah law is to be applied, and who is to control its application, seeing that all the conditions are fulfilled before a judgment is given?

Fitzgerald concluded: “The takfiri jihadists who have proclaimed an Islamic State where Shariah law will be observed under the guidance of a self-designated caliph are not upholding Islamic tradition, whatever they may say.” He said he believes that dialogue is impossible with such people “who are convinced they hold the truth and therefore have no need of listening to others.”

But dialogue with other Muslims is possible, he argued. He pointed to four types of dialogue that are possible and encouraged by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: the dialogue of life, the dialogue of action, the dialogue of discourse, and the dialogue of spiritual experience.

The dialogue of life, or what Fitzgerald calls harmonious living, takes place “where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations,” in the words of the pontifical council.

Christians and Muslims have been living side by side for centuries in Africa and Asia, and now Muslims are present in increasing number in Europe and North America.

“Steps have to be taken in order to allow people to get to know one another and to create harmony,” Fitzgerald said. Increased violence has made this more difficult, but also more necessary.

Second, there is the dialogue of action where Christians and Muslims work together to face up to problems of society. Christians and Muslims have found common cause in the pro-life movement as well as in advocating human rights, social reforms, and care of the environment. Working together creates understanding and trust.

The third is the dialogue of discourse where, according to the pontifical council, “specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values.” Themes such as justice in international trade relations, business ethics, problems of migration, media and religion, respect for the environment, and questions of bioethics have all been taken up in these dialogues. Some dialogues have also discussed purely theological topics like the foundations for holiness and reason, faith and the human person.

Finally, there is the dialogue of religious experience, where, according to the pontifical council, “persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God.” Religious communities like the Benedictines and Trappists have been involved in such dialogues.

Fitzgerald concluded “that Christian-Muslim dialogue exists, and therefore it is possible.” But the situation is uneven. “There are places where there is very little or no interest at all in such dialogue, yet there are other places where relations with Muslim neighbors have become a normal concern for Christian communities.”

But at the same time that cooperation is growing, so too is mutual suspicion, which renders dialogue more difficult.

Fitzgerald puts little faith in international meetings of religious leaders and scholars. It is dialogue and cooperation on the local level that makes a difference. He said local dialogue should not be seen as a fire brigade for responding to a crisis, but as a preventive strategy that builds relationships that inoculate communities from being drawn into violence by suspicions and misunderstandings.

“It entails increasing mutual knowledge, overcoming prejudices, creating trust,” he explained. “It means strengthening bonds of friendship and collaboration to such an extent that detrimental influences coming from outside can be resisted.”

“Its aim is to build up good relations among people of different religions, helping them to live in peace and harmony,” Fitzgerald said. He noted that where Muslim and Christian leaders and communities have a history of cooperation, conflict is less likely to escalate into violence.

“It is the conflict that makes the news, not the absence of conflict,” he noted. “And yet this absence of conflict is really the good news.”

Where conflict has occurred, there will be a need for a purification of memories, which “means listening to the differing accounts of the same events, paying attention to both facts and perceptions, and trying to come to a common understanding,” he explained. “When the past is examined with honesty, it will usually be seen that all is not black and white. There can be wrongs on both sides. In any case, the acknowledgement of wrongs done, of injustices, of atrocities is an important step in any process of reconciliation.”

“Interreligious dialogue should lead to a common search for understanding, to a shared sympathy for those who are suffering and in need, to a thirst for justice for all, to forgiveness for wrong done, together with a readiness to acknowledge one’s own wrong-doings, whether individual or collective,” Fitzgerald concluded. “This would seem to be the true way forward for Christian-Muslim dialogue.”

***Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for National Catholic Reporter and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is treesesj@ncronline.org. You can follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ

http://ncronline.org/blogs/faith-and-justice/dialogue-islam-possible

Christians Talking to Muslims

The Divine Masculine

Volumes are written about the contemporary rise of the Sacred Feminine – a cross-cultural, trans-religious movement that honors the female… as Goddess and Universal Mother (think: Isis, Aphrodite, Shakti, Eve, Virgin Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, etc).

I’m suggesting there’s also a new masculinity paradigm that’s emerging. While its origins are spiritual… its manifestations can be seen, heard and felt from prophets of our times… our artists and our mystics.

Think about it.

I believe the new Divine Masculine is beginning to be widely embraced by most women in search of a mate (as opposed to a sex partner). I’ll also contend that this same emerging norm excites some more avante-garde men; terrorizes other more traditional insecure men…however, still the majority of American men are blind, deaf and numb to who they are and who they might yet become. I am not sure that’s the case for European or South American men…but this might all be changing.

As I remember back, it seems like I’ve honored the rise of the Sacred Feminine since I was a boy smack in the middle of the tumultuous 1960’s…in the days of mass protests and angry rioting when millions of Americans took to the streets demanding change – in civil rights, Vietnam and for America’s poor (those days before Fox News, smart phones and social media).

Now my maturity has shown me that my parents raised me to respect women. As women are empowered to be who they are and speak their truth… men need to catch up. This is the stuff of a cultural revolution that goes vastly beyond whether we are ready for a female President or women priests.

Its important to note that my contention that the Sacred Masculine is emerging does not in anyway dilute, cloud or adulterate the Sacred Feminine. No… indeed, I sense that it’s the Sacred Feminine that has conceived, nurtured and birthed the very possibility that a new Sacred Masculine paradigm might emerge. Mothers are transforming our culture…perhaps they always have.

My sense is that the rise of the Divine Masculine will have a profound affect on gender roles beyond male and female, sexual orientation beyond heterosexual and homosexual, economic models beyond competition and cooperation and family cultural units beyond male fathers, female mothers – frankly well beyond who marries who – yes… even what marriage will or won’t look like or mean (e.g polyamory).

The emergence of a new Divine Masculinity should not be confused with the black and white, more traditional moral absolutes of right and wrong. No. The Divine Masculine is not concerned with telling men how to behave. This new focus is gray… very blended. As always, it will take time for ethics to catch up (e.g. medical ethics still playing catch up with the right to die, 3 parent embryos and stem cell research).

Take a moment to look…listen…feel…the new emerging masculine paradigm. Do you see it? Can you hear it? Have you felt it?

I’ll suggest that the rise of the Divine Masculine is connected with the ways some mothers are choosing to raise their sons. Food for thought.

2 more thoughts from my meditation for your consideration:

Moms, please reconsider sending your sons off to war. Might there be other more creative ways for young men to serve and protect? (This being said… I am first to admit that we have witnessed enormous evolutionary gains by allowing women and homosexual people to be warriors). Moms could raise peacemakers.

Secondly, perhaps its time to reconsider the whole pink and blue mystique. Maybe the color purple has more to offer than we thought? Imagine a world in which boys are completely free to play house…and girls are encourage to master STEM courses.

This topic will be a recurring blog theme as it reflects many of the energies of my ministry right now. As always, I welcome your feedback. While I recognize its nontraditional focus, people that I minister to are teaching me that the “status quo” is spontaneously readjusting.

Whether we talk gender roles, our spectra of sexual orientation/sexual behaviors or coexisting in community, with other sentient beings in sync with our environment – we are all one and its ALL interconnected.

Namaste!

The Divine Masculine

Putting End to Buddhist Patriarchy

It is interesting to note that it’s not just Roman Catholics and Muslims struggling these days with embracing the Divine Feminine.

Growing women’s influence within theology, philosophy, religion, the arts and particularly STEM careers is transforming our human capacity for compassion and cooperation. I honor this evolutionary shift as more women respond to the Sacred call to lead, to guide and to heal.

Good reading. Blessings from your Compassionate Gardener!

This article from Tricycle can be found here: http://www.tricycle.com/blog/putting-end-buddhist-patriarchy

January 30, 2015
Putting an End to Buddhist Patriarchy
In order to become a force for social change, Buddhism needs to rid itself of enduring ills—the barring of female ordination first among them. Ajahn Brahm

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, an African-American woman refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger. This simple act of defiance became one of the most important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Before she passed away in 2005, Rosa Parks became a Buddhist—at age 92. One can speculate that this female icon—and fierce opponent of discrimination—chose Buddhism because it lends itself to the advancement of social justice causes.

She was right.

Buddhism should advance the particular social justice issues described in United Nations Millenium Development Goal Number Three (MDG 3): Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. For Buddhism to grow in our modern world, we need to do more than teach meditation, preach inspiring sermons, and make the sutras available online. We are good at studying, publishing, and spreading the word of Buddhism. Where we have not been very successful is showcasing the compassion and selflessness of the dharma by our actions. We have written many more words in our books than what few kind words we have spoken to the poor, lonely, and desperate. We have built so many more temples than orphanages.

Theravada Buddhism’s current male leadership, in particular, needs to clearly demonstrate its commitment to MDG 3 through the acceptance of bhikkhuni [nun] ordination. Only then can the Theravada sangha use its considerable influence to make a fairer world—one where people are judged by their character, not by their gender.

Theravada Buddhist monks, generally speaking, are very conservative. Claiming to be the guardians of “original Buddhism,” they consider one of their most important duties the preservation of these precious early teachings. However, monks of all traditions in all countries—and Buddhist lay scholars as well—accept that there were fully ordained women, called bhikkhuni, in the lifetime of the Buddha. Moreover, in these early teachings, the Buddha clearly states that he seeks to give full ordination to women:

Ananda, once I was staying at Uruvela on the bank of the river Neranjara [present day Bodh Gaya] under the Goatherd’s Banyan tree, when I had just attained supreme enlightenment. And Mara the Evil One came to me, stood to one side, and said, ‘May the Blessed One now attain final Nibbana; may the Sugata [Buddha] now attain final Nibbana. Now is the time for the Blessed Lord’s final Nibbana.’

At this, I said to Mara: ‘Evil One, I will not take final Nibbana until I have bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, lay men, and lay women followers who are accomplished, trained, skilled, learned, knowers of the dhamma, trained in conformity with the dhamma, correctly trained and walking in the path of the dhamma, who will pass on what they have gained from their teacher, teach it, declare it, establish it, expound it, analyse it, make it clear, until they shall be able, by means of the dhamma, to refute false teachings that have arisen and teach the dhamma of wondrous effect.

Theravada Buddhists should have an advantage over other major world religions because their tradition explicitly gives equity to women. Christianity has no tradition of gender equality in its priesthood—nor does Islam, Judaism, or the various schools of Hinduism. Buddhism stood ahead of its time in granting such status to women from “when [the Buddha] had just attained supreme enlightenment” at Bodh Gaya.

Nevertheless, there remain two significant obstacles to the acceptance of bhikkhuni ordination in Theravada Buddhism: (1) Ignorance about who makes the decisions that govern the sangha, and (2) Ignorance of the Vinaya, the rules established by the Buddha that restrict what decisions may be made.

As to that first point, for instance, many monks in Thailand argue that a 1928 ruling from the Sangharaja [head Buddhist monk] of Thailand, Phra Bancha Somdet Phra Sangharacha Jiao Gromluang Jinawarn Siriwad, banned the ordination of female monks:

It is unallowable for any bhikkhu to give the going-forth [ordination] to women. Any woman who wishes to ordain as a samaneri [novice nun] in accordance with the Buddha’s allowances, has to be ordained by a fully ordained bhikkhuni. The Buddha laid down the rule that only a bhikkhuni over 12 vassas [an annual three-month retreat] is eligible to be a preceptor [ceremonial guide who delivers vows]. Since there are no more fully fledged bhikkhunis to pass on the lineage, there are thus no samaneris who have obtained a proper ordination from a fully fledged bhikkhuni.

Besides the antiquity of the ruling, one could also point out that the Sangharaja of Thailand, together with the Thai Council of Elders [senior monks], is only permitted to rule on matters directly concerning the monks and novices of the two main Thai Buddhist sects, Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttanikaya. They are not legally empowered to rule over the affairs of other monastic groups, such as Mahayana monks or nuns. The wait will never end for those well-meaning monks holding out hope that the Thai Council of Elders will sanction the legitimacy of Theravada bhikkhunis. The Thai Council of Elders, after all, is not legally entitled to rule on matters beyond its remit.

As for the Vinaya, the second obstacle that I listed, each monastic community is bound to act within its rules.

Renowned Theravada scholar monk Bhikkhu Analayo argues that the Thai Sangharaja’s 1928 ruling—and thus, the Vinaya in its current form—has no bearing because it directly contradicts the Buddha’s original teachings. In a recent publication, “The Revival of the Bhikkuni Order and the Decline of the Sasana,” Analayo argues persuasively that the Buddha gave authority for bhikkhunis to receive ordination in a dual ceremony—both in a sangha of bhikkhunis and then in a sangha of bhikkhus.

By restoring equity to women in the Theravada sangha through reinstating bhikkhuni ordination, we will address the inferior status of women in many Theravada countries, promote gender equity in education, and thereby make a strong statement in support of the third UN Millennium Development Goal: gender equality and the empowerment of women.

In a recent paper, scholars Emma Tomalin and Caroline Starkey explore the role that Buddhism in Thailand and Cambodia plays in maintaining gender disparity in education. Ultimately they ask, “What is the relationship between the reassertion of women’s traditional ordination rights and female empowerment through education?” Since, as they note, “several scholars, both Thai and Western, have implicated Buddhism as one explanatory factor for the historical inequality between genders, particularly in the poorest areas,” many advocates of bhikkhuni ordination see “a direct relationship between the low status of women in many Buddhist traditions and the inferior status of women within Buddhist societies.”

By fixing our own house first, we have the considerable opportunity and moral authority—through our books and sermons—to inspire our Buddhist followers to work toward gender equality in spheres other than religion. Such action would lead to a world with less violence, better health, and more prosperity.

Ajahn Brahm is a British Theravada monk and abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Serpentine, Australia.

Putting End to Buddhist Patriarchy