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By Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director.
This homily was delivered at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco on Sunday, September 23rd, 2018.
Salam alaykum, peace be upon you.
Thank you for the invitation to speak during your day of interfaith. I am honored to be with you this morning.
At a time when the daily news brings us stories of how religion divides people and creates conflict, today we are hoping for and reflecting on the possibility of another reality and paradigm.
It is that hope that inspired me to start the organization which I am still leading 25 years later, Islamic Networks Group, or ING, as it has become known.
And it is hope that inspires me today as it does everyone associated with ING, our staff and volunteers, to meet and dialogue with people from diverse faiths and backgrounds and to emphasize both the commonalities we share and the differences we celebrate in our respective faith traditions.
While some, including people in my own religion, would use religion to divide us or to project a vision of intolerance, my holy book, the Qur’an, includes teachings that acknowledge and uphold the view that human diversity – including religious diversity – is part of God’s divine plan. God says in the Quran, for example,
- “And your Lord would have made humankind one people, had that been the divine will…” (Qur’an, 11:118)
In another chapter, God says,
- “For each of them, We have established a law, and a revealed way. And if God wished, God would have made you a single nation; but the intent is to test you in what God has given you. So let your goals be everything good. Your destiny, everyone, is to God, Who will tell you about that wherein you differed.” (Qur’an, 5:48)
The Qur’an also affirms the belief in scripture prior to the Qur’an. Despite our differences in religion, Muslims believe that the goal of Abrahamic religions is the same – to glorify and worship God, the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon all of them. God says in the Qur’an
- “We believe in what was revealed to us, and what was revealed to you; for our God and your God is one, to Whom we acquiesce.” (Qur’an, 29:46)
God also says in the Quran,
- “Everyone has an aim, to which God gives direction; so preserve everything good. Wherever you are, God will bring you together. For God has power over everything.” (Qur’an, 2:148)
This commonality of belief, particularly in one God, is specifically emphasized with regard to “The People of the Book”, ahl-al-kitab as it is known in Arabic, a Qur’anic term used to describe Jews and Christians because of the Qur’an’s recognition of the prophets and scriptures of earlier traditions.
So God tells us in the Qur’an,
- “Say, O People of scripture, come to terms common between us and you, that we will worship only God, and not associate anything with God, and that none of us will take others for lords instead of God.” (Qur’an, 3:64)
These verses and many others like them carry enormous importance for the question of religious pluralism from an Islamic perspective. They establish the essential truths found in different forms of religion, indicating that the differences between religions are divinely ordained.
With that understanding as our foundation for engagement, we can move forward together in making the world a better place for all its inhabitants, which is what all of our religions aim for.
More than ever, we need to work together for peace. Not only are there seemingly endless wars in the world in which our country is involved, but our nation itself is split by political conflict and division, which is made worse by forces of racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry that are tearing communities apart. The protests in Charlottesville gave a clear example of that.
We have lost the ability to relate and talk peacefully with our neighbors and even family members about our—often profound—differences, and have fallen into the habit of either ignoring or yelling at each rather than engaging in rational efforts at mutual understanding and persuasion.
Indeed, there are probably few of us who have not taken on such antagonistic attitudes, at least internally.
And if we are to have peace in the world, between diverse communities and nations, we need peace within ourselves. So we might start by embracing the psychological and spiritual practices that lead to an inner peace that makes peaceful and compassionate relations with others possible even across deep-seated lines of difference.
The resources we choose for this will of course differ according to our convictions and commitments; but a multitude of traditions, both secular and religious, offer means to that end.
One challenge of committing to such a path is that of taking responsibility ourselves for the ills we see in our country and our world rather than simply pointing the finger at others or at just one individual or group.
We are, of course, not all equally responsible for every deficiency and wrong in our society, but in a democracy such as ours, we all must take responsibility for confronting and striving to change the wrongs that we see, while remaining open to the convictions and insights of our fellow citizens who may see things differently.
This is a hard task that calls for genuine humility—itself a virtue, now all too often forgotten, that is inculcated by every spiritual tradition.
The aim of such striving for inner peace is not simply to make ourselves feel better; it is to make peaceful conversation across difference possible. Such conversation is the prerequisite to genuine peace—not because it will eliminate differences and disagreements, but because it will enable peaceful relationships across those differences.
And from those peaceful relationships in families and local communities, peace can spread in ever widening circles to states, to regions, to the nation, and to the world.
That’s why the conversations that ING exists to foster are vital contributions to a world of peace. In themselves they may seem small; but they can be seeds that will sprout to blossom forth well beyond the reach that we can clearly see at the outset. Your invitation to me today is a perfect example of such peacemaking.
The peacemaking conversations that we promote are not easy, and they may not yield a harvest as quickly or directly as we might like, but they are vital.
“Talk to people” isn’t a particularly exciting commandment. But it is something that we must do whenever we can.
The resources offered through the Know Your Neighbor coalition are a good starting point. It’s a program that ING runs. From the simplest interactions to large-scale community dialogues, we’ve gathered the best practices for anyone to start reaching across lines of difference.
During the week of September 25th, the Know Your Neighbor (KYN) coalition members and their networks will encourage everyone to share best practices to help educators, students, and parents counter hate and bigotry at school and create more inclusive classrooms. We are reminded that peace can only be created once all parties to the conflict agree to stop fighting and start talking.
Today, as war has become even more lethal and conflicts more common, this is no longer a choice but a necessity. As the old song says, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
By way of spreading that peace, later this morning I will be sharing with you more about your Muslim neighbors and about the Know Your Neighbor program. I hope you will attend that conversation.
Thank you and peace be with you.
Note: Qur’anic translations in this homily are from The Qur’an, A New Translation by Thomas Cleary