Muslim-Christian Dialogue Leads to Understanding

I grew up in a Muslim-majority area of Africa. I currently have neighbors who are devout Muslims. I studied Islam at the seminary and in various continuing education classes since then. Yet still there was much that I learned from Hanadi Chehebeddine’s “Demystifying Islam” presentation at the Steele County History Center on January 18.

According to her web site, hanadispeaksout.com, Hanadi’s goal is “to engage in tough and meaningful conversations that dismantle misconceptions, humanize Muslims and reinforce a real and genuine representation of Muslims.”

The first thing I appreciated about Hanadi’s presentation was something that she did not say. She did not try to say that Islam is just like Christianity. Sadly, I have heard other Muslim speakers, right here in Owatonna, try to say that the two religions are the same. Yes, there are similarities between the two religions, as there are with all religions, but it does not take much study to see that there are indeed some very profound differences between Islam and Christianity. So thank you, Hanadi, for not saying that the two religions are the same.

One cannot make a presentation about Islam today without addressing the topic of the terrorism. One question I have had when terrorists strike is why Muslim organizations across the country don’t issue statements denouncing the violence when these events take place in the name of Islam. What I learned from Hanadi is that while there may be many prominent organizations that issue statements, there is just one central place to go for the official Islamic response to acts of terror. That place is Zaytuna College.

Zaytuna was founded in 2008 and is located in the “holy hill” neighborhood of Berkley, California. The goal of Zaytuna is, “to interact with and shape modern society by the light of principles that transcend it.” It would be nice if our media outlets would direct everyone to Zaytuna’s web site whenever terror attacks in the name of Islam occur.

Hanadi also recommended an amazing 712-page document prepared by 19-year-old Heraa Hashmi that lists the many statements in which Muslims have denounced violence. Unfortunately I also found a place where Heraa is quoted as saying that the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam can be blamed on “a couple dozen lunatics.” Does she really believe that ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda are just a couple dozen lunatics?

The treatment of women is also a subject that often comes up in connection with Islam. According to Hanadi, Muslim women are taught to dress in such a way that the first thing a person notices about them is their mind, not the shape of their body. I think this is great approach to clothing for men and women of all faiths.

The Islamic approach to money is another topic that Hanadi helped me understand. According to Islam, Muslims are not to charge or collect interest because money is not to be used to make money. If adopted here in the US, this approach to money would have a profound effect on our monetary system.

Jesus is not recognized as the Son of God and Savior of the world in Islam, as he is in Christianity, but Muslims are taught to respect him as a prophet. Whenever they hear the name of Jesus, Muslims are to say, “Peace be upon him.” Yet some in the audience that night claimed to have witnessed Muslims living here in Owatonna being disrespectful to Jesus. Hanadi attributed this hostility to cultural or personal influences rather than to authentic Islamic teaching.

It used to upset me when I heard Muslims refer to the Christian God as Allah. Was this another attempt to suggest that Christians and Muslims were the same? Hanadi helped me understand why this happens. Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. So, for example, growing up in Lebanon, Hanadi would often hear Arabic-speaking Lebanese Christians refer to their God as Allah.

Do the words “Allahu Akbar” sound familiar? It is an Arabic phrase that means “Allah is greater.” It is a powerful declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers. They are the first words that Muslim fathers speak into the ears of their newborn children. And so, Hanadi pointed out, when this phrase is shouted by those who are about to carry out an act of terror, it is one of the highest insults that can be made to Muslims who oppose violence.

Although some questions persist, Hanadi’s presentation went a long way toward helping me understand Islam. In the story of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus from Matthew, chapter two, the star that guided them stopped when it came to place where Jesus was. The Wise Men rejoiced that their long search for the Savior was over. I still firmly believe today that when people find Jesus their search for forgiveness, life and salvation is over.

Sources consulted:

http://www.southernminn.com/owatonna_peoples_press/news/article_0e84d53a-c48c-56e9-bbb7-bb1d83edadbc.html

http://www.southernminn.com/owatonna_peoples_press/news/article_3dfe9e88-aa5a-530c-a51b-d3f5a72225f8.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2017/mar/26/muslims-condemn-terrorism-stats

https://www.hanadispeaksout.com/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/01/opinions/allahu-akbar-meaning/index.html

 

I grew up in a Muslim-majority area of Africa. I currently have neighbors who are devout Muslims. I studied Islam at the seminary and in various continuing education classes since then. Yet still there was much that I learned from Hanadi Chehebeddine’s “Demystifying Islam” presentation at the Steele County History Center on Thursday, January 18.

According to her web site, hanadispeaksout.com, Hanadi’s job is “to engage in tough and meaningful conversations that dismantle misconceptions, humanize Muslims and reinforce a real and genuine representation of Muslims.”

The first thing I appreciated about Hanadi’s presentation was something that she did not say. She did not try to say that Islam is just like Christianity. Sadly, I have heard other Muslim speakers, right here in Owatonna, try to say that the two religions are the same. Yes, there are similarities between the two religions as there are with all religions, but it does not take much study to see that there are indeed some very profound differences between Islam and Christianity. So thank you, Hanadi, for not saying that the two religions are the same.

One can’t make a presentation about Islam today without addressing the topic of the terrorism. One question I have had when terrorists strike is why Muslim organizations across the country don’t issue statements denouncing the violence when these events take place in the name of Islam. What I learned from Hanadi is that when these events occur there is one, central place to go for the official Islamic response to acts of terror. That place is Zaytuna College.

Zaytuna College was founded in 2008 and is located in the “holy hill” neighborhood of Berkley, California. The goal of Zaytuna is, “to interact with and shape modern society by the light of principles that transcend it.” Unfortunately, I could not find anything on the college’s web site where they respond to acts of terror.

Hanadi also recommended a 712-page document prepared by 19-year-old Heraa Hashmi that details all the times Muslims have denounced violence. I was tempted to read some of what Heraa wrote until I saw that she was quoted as saying that the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam can be blamed on “a couple dozen lunatics.” Does she really believe that ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda are just a couple dozen lunatics?

The treatment of women is also a subject that often comes up in connection with Islam. According to Hanadi, Muslim women are taught to dress in such a way that the first thing a person notices about them is their mind, not the shape of their body. I think this is great approach to clothing for men and women of all faiths. And wearing a head covering is apparently optional.

The Islamic approach to money is another topic that Hanadi helped me understand. According to Islam, Muslim are not to charge or collect interest because money is not to be used to make money. If adopted here in the US, this approach to money would have a profound affect on our society.

Jesus is not recognized as the Son of God and Savior of the world in Islam, as he is in Christianity, but Muslims are taught to respect him as a prophet. Thus, according to Hanadi, whenever they hear the name of Jesus, Muslims are to say, “peace be upon him.”

It used to upset me when I heard Muslims refer to the Christian God as Allah. Was this another attempt to pretend that Christians and Muslims were the same? Hanadi helped me understand why this happens. Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. So, for example, growing up in Lebanon, Hanadi would often hear Lebanese Christians refer to their God as Allah.

Do the words “Allahu Akbar” sound familiar? It is an Arabic phrase that means “Allah is greater.” It is a powerful declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers. They are the first words that Muslim fathers speak into the ears of their newborn children. And so, Hanadi pointed out, when this phrase is shouted by those who are about to carry out an act of terror, it is one of the highest insults that can be done to those who are Muslims.

Even after Hanadi’s presentation, some questions persist. If there are 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and one of the pillars of Islam is to give 2.5% of their income to the needy, why do so many Muslim refugees end up in the US? Wouldn’t it make sense for Muslim refugees to go to Muslim-majority countries whenever possible?

And I question if there was a sudden influx of Christians into a Muslim-majority country would a young Christian woman be invited into a mixed group of men and women to explain Christianity just as Hanadi was invited to speak in Owatonna?

In the story of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus from Matthew 2, the star that guided them stopped when it came to place where Jesus was. The Wise Men rejoiced that their long search for the Savior was over. I still firmly believe today that when people find Jesus their search for forgiveness, life and salvation is over. 

Sources consulted:

http://www.southernminn.com/owatonna_peoples_press/news/article_0e84d53a-c48c-56e9-bbb7-bb1d83edadbc.html

http://www.southernminn.com/owatonna_peoples_press/news/article_3dfe9e88-aa5a-530c-a51b-d3f5a72225f8.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2017/mar/26/muslims-condemn-terrorism-stats

https://www.hanadispeaksout.com/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/01/opinions/allahu-akbar-meaning/index.html

 

 

 

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