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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Orthodox Christians and Alevi Muslims in Turkey Fear Consequences of Syria’s Assad Losing Power

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

As our radio show prepares for a production trip to Turkey this coming June, I’m watching for particular stories and voices that might foster our own sense of how to add to the news and information coming out of this country. PRI’s The World offers this smart report on one of the few Orthodox Christian communities in Turkey that has learned to survive in a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation.

Correspondent Matthew Brunwasser reveals the complexity of the social and religious issues of Tokaçlı, a village in Hatay province of Turkey, which was once part of Syria until 1938. With the Altinozu refugee camp ten miles from its back door and 20,000 Syrians expected to stream across the border, this multi-ethnic community is being confronted by the realities of a Syrian civil war:

"Minorities see the Assad regime as representing multi-ethnicity and religious tolerance. And they can’t imagine anyone in a post-Assad Syria giving them a better deal. Just ask Can Coban who owns a cafe here in Tokacli.

'You can’t predict the future,' Coban says. 'But let’s say radical Muslims win the elections. The Christians’ lives will never again be normal like they are now. They could expel the Christians or their lives could get more difficult. They might be prevented from praying and practicing their religion. They live better now in Syria than we do here in Turkey.'”

Also at stake is a peaceful way of life for Alawite Muslims, known as Alevis in Turkey, because President Assad is an Alawite Muslim:

"Alawites make up about 16 percent of the population, and Sunnis resent them for monopolizing power. And so Alawites are terrified of a backlash. And in Hatay there are fears of that backlash spreading across the border."


Transcending America’s Faith Divide to Address Social Injustice

by Altaf Husain, guest contributor

Ms. DiaMs. Dia performs at a Community Café: Just Food event organized by the Inner-City Muslim Action NetworkIMAN Community Cafe events.

As Americans pause today, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, it is worthwhile to reflect on the culture of service and social justice that were part of his teachings.

While the values King espoused could be internalised by anyone who is passionate about improving the human condition, his teachings resonate especially with faith-inspired people. Muslim Americans, for example, have a profound appreciation for King because he dedicated his life to addressing societal injustices — a central tenet of the Islamic tradition.

Of particular relevance from King’s teachings is the concept of a “world house,” comprised of peoples of different faith traditions. He wrote, “We have inherited a large house, a great world house in which we have to live together — black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu — a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”

The concept of a world house is especially relevant when applied to interfaith collaboration on social justice initiatives today. Such interfaith collaboration is an American tradition, and Muslim Americans are integral to it. In fact, social activism among Muslim Americans is at an all-time high.

Inspired by their own faith tradition and responding to invitations from other traditions, Muslim Americans have been noticeably advancing the concept of a world house, especially by focusing people’s attention on hunger in America.

Consider the Interfaith Hunger Initiative (IHI) in Indianapolis, of which the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a partner. The IHI reports that 16,000 children die from hunger each day throughout the world. In Indianapolis alone, a total of 18,000 children are frequently hungry. With the active involvement of Muslim Americans, IHI aims to end child and family hunger both at the domestic level in Indianapolis, and internationally in Kenya.

Muslim Run leaders at Payless-1Participants of Muslim Run in Action discuss food choices at a local market.

While hunger is an issue nationwide, in inner-city neighbourhoods, a related issue is the disproportionately large number of unhealthy food options being sold in stores. This issue, conceptualised as food justice, is being addressed head on by a Chicago-based organisation, Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN). IMAN is located in Chicago’s south side and was founded by young Muslim Americans. IMAN is unabashedly targeting “food and liquor” stores (including ones owned by Muslims) in inner-city black neighbourhoods, challenging them to take responsibility for the food options they offer. IMAN recently sponsored a forum entitled “Food For Life, A Human Right: Food Justice, Corner Stores & Race Relations in the ‘Hood.”

Muslim Americans are also represented both by ISNA and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), an American membership organisation of 300 religious communities. NRCAT asserts that “torture is a moral issue” and aims to end torture in our own backyard. A declaration regarding prisoner treatment, torture, and cruelty states that NRCAT members “agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American.” As active and vocal partners in NRCAT, Muslim Americans are exerting tremendous energy in organising campaigns to educate community members about the adverse psychological and physical impact of current practices on prisoners, such as 23-hour solitary confinement; they advocate prohibiting torture outright for mentally ill prisoners, as well as certain interrogation techniques.

As these examples indicate, there are sufficient members of the world house, among them Muslim Americans, who are not only putting into practice the teachings of their own faith and cultural traditions but also exemplifying the continuing relevance of King’s teachings to contemporary social issues. King’s life was cut short nearly 45 years ago; however, his teachings remain relevant today, inspiring Muslim Americans and others to uphold social justice through interfaith collaborations.

Altaf Husain at ISNA 2008Altaf Husain is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Society of North America. He is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and Assistant Professor of Social Work at Howard University in Washington, DC.

A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on April 3, 2012. Copyright permission is granted for publication.


Bluegrass Unites: A Musical Collaboration Between an Orthodox Jew and Evangelical Christian

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Andy Statman and Ricky Skaggs in studioBluegrass. One never quite knows where this quintessential American music form might pop up or whom it might unite. Leave it to the podcast Vox Tablet to highlight the story of country music star Ricky Skaggs and klezmer virtuoso Andy Statman, who have recorded a gorgeous rendition of the eighteenth-century hymn “The Lord Will Provide” for Statman’s new album Old Brooklyn.

The audio piece above details how these two men, an Evangelical Christian from a small town in eastern Kentucky and an Orthodox Jew raised in Queens, found each other and came to play together. Their recounting of the first time Skaggs visited Statman’s schul is a wonderful testimony to the power of music and its ability to bring people together, helping folks discover the absolute delight of other religious communities.


Running with the Dalai Lama

by Chris Miller, guest contributor

action"Action" (photo: Alessandro Pautasso/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

Most people listen to songs like “Eye of the Tiger” or the theme from Chariots of Fire when running. I am not most people. I prefer a good old-fashion podcast.

A few days ago I was listening to the interfaith forum "Pursuing Happiness" while out on a five-miler. Around mile three, something amazing happened. Maybe it was the noise of the traffic or the use of a translator, but I lost track of who was speaking. Instead of rewinding, I went along with it and, before long, I was amen-ing each answer without knowing who gave it.

There was a time in my past when this type of thing would have been unheard of. I grew up Southern Baptist. My amens were reserved for fellow brethren. If one was not a hymn-singing, Bible-thumping, submerging-baptizer, then one was not worthy of my praise. I was taught truth had to come from the “correct” source. Otherwise, it was heresy. Yet there I was, hearing truth from a Muslim scholar, an Orthodox rabbi, an Episcopalian bishop, and the Dalai Lama himself.

How was that possible? Maybe it was the lack of oxygen or the sweat in my eyes, but I had a realization. Truth is truth. Some thinkers take this even a bit further, saying, “All truth is God’s truth.” I’m beginning to agree. 

God is big enough to reveal himself as he chooses. I have heard and seen God in print, in music, and in film — from both Christian and non-Christian sources. I have heard preachers and atheists teach powerful spiritual truths. I have seen God dwelling amongst the dirtiest of slums and the most decorated of sanctuaries. He is heard and seen however and wherever He chooses to make Himself known.

When Moses first encountered God, he demanded a name. But instead of giving him a name, God replied, “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be.” He refuses to be labeled. When one labels God, when one claims him as their own, they reduce him to an image of their liking. They limit him. They only let him speak through the voices they have approved.

Of course, God cannot be limited. “Pursuing Happiness” was proof of that. He spoke through each individual on the stage, whether they labeled him Yahweh, Allah, or something else. He made himself known.

As I finished my run, I realized it was not only my legs that got a workout. My mind, my heart, and my soul were also pushed. In the course of those five miles, I was exposed to truth — God’s truth — by individuals very different from me. Who would have thought the Dalai Lama could make such a great running partner?

ProfileChris Miller is a seminary student living in Merriam, Kansas. You can read more of his writing at Caffeinated Ramblings.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on this blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: A Twitterscript

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Paul Brandeis RaushenbushKrista’s interview with Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, the senior religion editor at the Huffington Post, is in the can. His pedigree reaches back to towering figures of the 20th century:  social gospel reformer Walter Rauschenbusch (great-grandfather) and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (grandfather). He reminds us that religion is a valuable and increasingly essential vehicle for communication in our modern world.

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with him in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.

  1. "I’m the only one in the history of the Presbyterian Church to fail confirmation…I just didn’t show up."@Raushenbush 1:09 PM Oct 5th
  2. "Only later did I realize what a big deal it was that Louis Brandeis’ daughter married a goy." @Raushenbush on his grandparents’ marriage. 1:15 PM Oct 5th
  3. If you have any questions for Paul @Raushenbush of @HuffPostRelig about contemporary religion, the social gospel movement, etc, please ask! 1:17 PM Oct 5th
  4. "(Walter) Raushenbush was in some ways a skeptic of religion…People can be converted and be worse than they were before."@raushenbush 1:21 PM Oct 5th
  5. "Social problems are moral problems on a larger scale." ~Walter Raushenbush, as quoted by his biographer/grandson Paul @Raushenbush 1:24 PM Oct 5th
  6. "Even if everything was perfect, we’d still need to be aware of the spirit moving in our lives so we continue to grow." @Raushenbush 1:28 PM Oct 5th
  7. Correction: great grandson! 1:30 PM Oct 5th
  8. "I have an interfaith heart. That’s just where I live." @Raushenbush 1:34 PM Oct 5th
  9. "What young people are looking for more than anything is authenticity." @Raushenbush 1:36 PM Oct 5th
  10. "It’s very hard to hurt someone who has shown you vulnerability." @Raushenbush 1:38 PM Oct 5th
  11. "I wrote Arianna an email and told her you’re not doing religion. You have to do religion."@Raushenbush on the launch of @HuffPostRelig 1:43 PM Oct 5th
  12. "The idea of liberal vs. religious is a crazy dichotomy." @Raushenbush 1:45 PM Oct 5th
  13. "What I’m not looking for is political view + Jesus." ~Paul @Raushenbush on bloggers + commenters for @HuffPostRelig 1:46 PM Oct 5th
  14. "Figure out what you believe and why you believe it." @Raushenbush 1:49 PM Oct 5th
  15. "To be an educated leader in the world you…have to be able to talk to people across religious divides." @Raushenbush 1:52 PM Oct 5th
  16. "I want people to feel that there’s a basic humanity to the site." -@Raushebush on cultivating @HuffPostRelig 1:58 PM Oct 5th
  17. "The question is are we willing to be on the same page; some people are just not." @Raushenbush 2:06 PM Oct 5th
  18. "I want you to reference the richness of your tradition, so I can learn." -@Raushenbush 2:09 PM Oct 5th
  19. "Interfaith dialogue is for people who take religion and big ideas seriously and want to go deeper." -@Raushenbush 2:11 PM Oct 5th
  20. "The power of religion is to offer a transcendent vision of more than just me." -@Raushenbush 2:16 PM Oct 5th
  21. "The idea that religious people have some sort of monopoly on morality is absurd." -@Raushenbush 2:18 PM Oct 5th
  22. "The Internet is basically neutral; it’s what we bring to it." -@Raushenbush 2:20 PM Oct 5th
  23. "My primary sense of who I am is as a minister." -Paul @Raushenbush 2:23 PM Oct 5th
When I go to a campus where the Muslim Student Association and the Hillel are not talking to each other, my question to them is, ‘Who did you feed in Ramallah by not talking to Hillel? Who did you keep safe in the south of Israel by not talking to the M.S.A.?’

Neibuhr Forum on Religion in Public LifeEboo Patel, from "An Effort to Foster Tolerance in Religion" in today’s New York Times

Eboo Patel is one of the busiest, most energetic people we know. We produced a show with him as the featured guest several years ago and titled it "Religious Passion, Pluralism, and the Young." It’s definitely worth a listen.

Photo courtesy of Elmhurst College

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Canada’s Tent of Abraham: Jews Extend Qur’an to Muslims

by Habeeb Alli, special contributor

ch'town mosque.
A Charlottestown mosque in Canada invites all. (photo: level 5 vegan/Flickr, cc by-nc 2.0)

I’m thrilled again to have been a part of recent history. While someone burned the Qur’an in the United States, another presented us with a Qur’an in an expression of solidarity. I told this to my congregation during a Friday service and they were all moved by the gesture.

For the eighth year, an exercise of interfaith exchange between Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Ontario has progressed in good faith — and the gift of the Qur’an was this year’s highlight. The Abraham Festival in Peterborough originated on the premise that all three faiths have a common heritage, which needs to be explored and shared. Walking through the symbolic tent of Abraham — referring to the biblical prophet’s tent, a place of hospitality and engagement with strangers which was open to the four winds — in order to enter the St. Andrew’s United Church gave attendees the sense that history can be relived, even in a modern-day setting.

Dr. Dan Houpt, a Jewish partner, facilitator, and doctor who has been keen in bringing the three faiths together in Peterborough, presented the Qur’an to us Muslims during the festival last month. He first suggested the idea to his Muslim counterpart and co-founder Elizabeth Rahman, who then consulted with the Canadian Council of Imams about the gift. Rahman is a convert from the UK and first became active in the community in the 1970s, with her late Indian husband.

The Muslims Students Association at the nearby Trent University hosted the Friday service, on the first day of the festival this year, so that Christian and Jewish neighbours could observe the presenting of the Qur’an. Houpt offered some thoughts on the gift, stating, “It shows we stand with [Muslims] in solidarity,” and then added that this offering “shows it’s a terrible act to burn a holy book.”

I offered my gratitude and reminded the audience — comprised of people of all three faiths — that it is a tribute well received on behalf of all Muslims and that the desecration of any holy book is an attack on all Holy Scriptures. I also reminded them that this act was in line with a historic tradition when the Muslim Ibn Rushd, Jewish Maimonides, and Christian Thomas Aquinas learnt from one another’s works in 12th-century Spain, which even John Paul II recognised as being of significant historical importance.

This year’s theme of the Abraham Festival was forgiveness. Many facilitators were present to share what their faith offered on the subject of forgiving others. In my speech, I told attendees that “forgiveness is an interesting topic because you often need it for people you love the most. The person you love the most can hurt you the most. And forgiveness lightens the burden.”

The presentation of the Qur’an by the local Jewish community was a way to show goodwill and remove any misunderstanding and hurt that Muslims may have experienced in today’s unfortunate atmosphere of Islamophobia — something Jews can relate to given their long years of dealing with anti-Semitism.

I also told festival goers that recently a group of Jewish people had donated money and time to build a mosque in Toronto. Television producer Kenny Hotz will highlight this daring project, the Peace Mosque, in his documentary to be shown on the Showcase Television channel this spring.

Rahman was recognised during the event and I handed her a card of appreciation along with the Qur’an, which she will use during her tours to the area’s schools and prisons. Muslims have been overwhelmed by and thankful for this token of solidarity, for such is the tradition of Abraham.

Habeeb AlliHabeeb Alli is a freelance writer for The Ambition, a scholar on allexperts.com, and the author of 12 books on Islam.

A version of this article was published by the Common Ground News Service on May 10, 2011. Copyright permission is granted for publication.


Steve and Cokie Roberts Discuss the Importance of Ritual for Christian and Jewish Families

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"Marrying a Catholic, in some ways, made me more Jewish."
Steve Roberts

"When I was pregnant for our first child, I understood the meaning of Passover and wanted to have that celebration in our home and didn’t know how to go about it."
Cokie Roberts

Steve and Cokie Roberts WeddingWho knew that listening to two veteran power journalists discuss their “mixed” marriage, the meaning of Passover, and the importance of the Seder could be so delightful and entertaining? If you’re looking for apleasant 20 minutes to spend this weekend morning, listen to Sara Ivry’s interview with Cokie and Steve Roberts for Vox Tablet. Ivry’s style and demeanor are relaxed and comfortable, which makes you feel like you’re participating in a dinner table discussion rather than a question-and-answer session.

For me personally, I know that as my wife and I transition our boys from preschool at a Jewish community center to a Catholic elementary school (both foreign worlds to me), I don’t want to lose some of the gifts and rituals present in both of these faiths and people. This conversation is a refreshing, uplifting perspective that I found quite helpful in making the most of one’s own journey.

Because it is an overtly religious place, it’s not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority. They have the same values we do.

Reef Al-Shabnan, a 19-year-old Muslim student from Saudi Arabia on attending Catholic University in Washington, DC. She’s quoted in William Wan’s piece from The Washington Post on the increasing enrollment of Muslim students at Catholic colleges.

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Finding God in the Face of the Stranger

by Krista Tippett, host

The Dignity of Difference with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (center) marches side-by-side with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams (right), demanding action to halve poverty worldwide by 2015. (photo: Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

I interviewed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks twice in our recent days at Emory, and these separate encounters offered an interesting glimpse of the range of this man. If you heard our show with him on stage discussing happiness with the Dalai Lama, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori, and Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, you experienced an exuberant storyteller who captivated a room of 4000. But I first met him for a one-on-one conversation two days earlier, on a Friday afternoon as Sabbath approached. That day, as in the happiness discussion, he offered my favorite new definition of Sabbath — a time to focus on “the things that are important but not urgent.” And he was in an altogether quieter, reflective mode. This is the man you’ll encounter in this show.

I’ve been wanting to interview Jonathan Sacks for several years, intrigued by what I’ve read of him and, in particular, by the evocative and helpful phrase he’s developed: “the dignity of difference.” This suggests a kind of sacred alternative and addendum to the language of “tolerance,” the limits of which I discussed with Evangelical leader Richard Mouw several weeks ago. Jonathan Sacks is in a unique position to ponder faithful, theological approaches to life in a multi-religious, globalized world. The Office of Chief Rabbi was a creation of Victorian-era Britain, a kind of imperial Jewish corollary to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is himself an Orthodox Jew, and holds formal religious authority in that community alone. But as chief rabbi, he is the public voice of British Judaism.

And as a deep thinker and wise voice, Jonathan Sacks has carved out his own kind of moral authority in the modern United Kingdom — a relatively secular culture in what remains an officially Christian state. He is asked to advise government ministers and the royal family. He reflects on issues of the day in media and public venues. He is a masterful writer.

I focused in, for this conversation, on his understanding of “difference” in Jewish and religious perspective. For what could be more urgent? Behind our great contemporary political, ecological, and social challenges, we struggle to find new ways to see and live with the “other” — and to understand the well-being of the other as linked to our own. Science itself is revealing that this kind of awareness can make a profound biological and behavioral difference — leading us towards forgiveness over revenge, peace over war. And Jonathan Sacks is one of the most articulate champions I’ve found for intentionally tapping the vast resources of wisdom on “the other” that his tradition has carried forward across time and through no small amount of tragedy.

Some of Jonathan Sacks’ convictions might sound counterintuitive culturally and religiously. The unity of God is itself the source of diversity, he notes, pointing from the Bible to the natural world. And moral imagination in a pluralistic world is about finding more substantive and thoughtful ways to bring the fruits of our particularities to bear. “By being what only I can be,” he says, “I give humanity what only I can give.”

At the depth of our traditions, Jonathan Sacks says to the faithful, we are called to see a God who is bigger than us, who will surprise us, who will show himself in places we never expect God to be: in the face of the stranger, and in the practice of a radically different faith. Jonathan Sacks embodies the mix of humility and boldness, of a passion for both mystery and truth — something I’ve experienced in the wisest individuals I’ve interviewed across the years. Listen, or watch (!), and enjoy.


Can Fear and Burning Unite?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11."
—Eboo Patel

Eid al-Fitr and Interfaith Flyer
A flyer calling for an interfaith peace vigil on September 11 lies on a prayer mat at the Eid al-Fitr prayer at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Fear is very real for many Muslims in America today. I don’t think I truly understood how real this elevated level of anxiety is until I read Patel’s quote in Laurie Goodstein’s article in Sunday’s New York Times. He is a man who has spent a good deal of time speaking to all sorts of people and members of religious groups trying to build interfaith dialogue and understanding; I’m sure he’s witnessed some heated arguments and outlandish actions. For him to make this statement is striking, and troubling. We should take heed.

So much is happening right now, and the confluence of popular opinion and current events must be weighing mighty heavily on the minds of many Muslims. There are decreasing favorability ratings of Islam. There are heated protests and debates surrounding Park51, the Islamic cultural center and mosque in lower Manhattan. There are bricks being thrown and a taxi driver being stabbed. And, then, all this crazy media coverage of a Florida pastor pulling a publicity stunt by planning to burn Qur’ans on Saturday.

As to the Dove World church’s plans, there seems to be very little response from other faith leaders and religious communities. Where’s the outcry? But, as The Christian Science Monitor suggests Tuesday in “CNN covered interfaith call to oppose Koran burning. Who didn’t?,” perhaps it was in the lack of live coverage of events like this press conference at the National Press Club in which dozens of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders stood together while calling for a united front against Qur’an burning and other aspects of Islamophobia. The Dove World church’s fiery intentions are brighter than the stars in the night skies. Or are they?

I’ve noticed myriad secular and faith leaders, people who write and blog and tweet, vehemently protesting and uniting behind their Muslim brothers and sisters. They act not by decrying but by reading, reading the Qur’an itself — even at the holiest of times. On the heels of Rosh Hashanah services, the Velveteen Rabbi writes:

"In response to the rising tide of Islamophobia and especially to those who intend to burn the Qur’an on 9/11, my teacher Rabbi Phyllis Berman suggested that as Jews gather to worship on Shabbat Shuvah, we might consider reading from the Qur’an as a gesture of respect toward our sister Abrahamic tradition. At my synagogue, we typically gather for Torah study after services, around 11am. On 9/11, our text for sacred study will come from the Qur’an."

And the Undercover Nun continues:

"On Saturday, September 11, 2010, I’m reading the Quran so that I can be a better American and a better Christian. Won’t you join me?"

Many more noble efforts like this are taking place. Look around. And as we non-Muslims try to pay attention and express our sympathies, we ought to remember that yesterday was the last day of Ramadan. It’s a time of celebration and thankfulness. It’s Eid.

When Sayneb, a young Somali woman and co-worker came through the office the other evening, we got talking about Ramadan, next year’s dog days of July and fasting, and current events, to which I gestured, “Boy, these are crazy times.”

She paused. Then she looked kindly at me, smiled softly, and said with no uncertainty, “These are good times.”

Muslim Mason Turned to Stone in Lyon
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Dieu est grand, الله أكبر (“Allahu akbar”)
These words in French and Arabic are inscribed in the stone scroll beneath a gargoyle gracing the exterior of Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France. Ahmed Benzizine, a Muslim mason who has been working on the church for nearly four decades, is now immortalized in stone with his own winged gargoyle bearing his likeness.
A lone group protests this tribute, but I choose to highlight this AP story on NPR for the age-old gesture honoring a dedicated worker, no matter what his faith, and a story coming out of France showing that human civility and interfaith efforts are taking place:

"For the archdiocese, the gargoyle symbolizes two traditions: honoring  artisans in a cathedral’s stone work and embodying the  Christian-Islamic dialogue that is part of Lyon’s recent religious  history.
In France’s third-largest city, an  archdiocese official is devoted to relations with Islam. In 2007,  Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, and a local Muslim  leader, Azzedine Gaci, led a pilgrimage to Tibhirine, an Algerian  village where seven Trappist monks were executed in 1996 by radical  Islamic insurgents.”

 Ahmed Benzizine stands in front of his gargoyle on Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France. (photos: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)
(hat tip: almas88)

Muslim Mason Turned to Stone in Lyon

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Dieu est grand, الله أكبر (“Allahu akbar”)

These words in French and Arabic are inscribed in the stone scroll beneath a gargoyle gracing the exterior of Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France. Ahmed Benzizine, a Muslim mason who has been working on the church for nearly four decades, is now immortalized in stone with his own winged gargoyle bearing his likeness.

A lone group protests this tribute, but I choose to highlight this AP story on NPR for the age-old gesture honoring a dedicated worker, no matter what his faith, and a story coming out of France showing that human civility and interfaith efforts are taking place:

"For the archdiocese, the gargoyle symbolizes two traditions: honoring artisans in a cathedral’s stone work and embodying the Christian-Islamic dialogue that is part of Lyon’s recent religious history.

In France’s third-largest city, an archdiocese official is devoted to relations with Islam. In 2007, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, and a local Muslim leader, Azzedine Gaci, led a pilgrimage to Tibhirine, an Algerian village where seven Trappist monks were executed in 1996 by radical Islamic insurgents.”

Ahmed Benzizine with Gargoyle
Ahmed Benzizine stands in front of his gargoyle on Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France. (photos: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)

(hat tip: almas88)


To Build a Mosque near Ground Zero

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

"In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?’ … We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting."
—Mayor Michael Bloomberg

This emotional plea from the New York City mayor was delivered to an audience of religious leaders on Tuesday. In stating his reasons to allow the building of a mosque near Ground Zero to go forward, Bloomberg cited historical examples tracing the right of religious groups and even the right of the government to intervene with private property.

The mosque to be built is a contentious one, often debated with heated accusations of discrimination or racism. Searching deeper, there appear to be more complex arguments: memories of loss, politics, a lack of trust in the organizations involved, embracing Islam, and strengthening the community. How do we go forward and be sensitive to all parties involved?


Honoring Passover and Evolving Tradition
Shubha Bala, associate producer

2nd Annual African American/Jewish Passover SederEli Lipmen, a listener from Los Angeles, recently wrote to tell us about a local Passover event:

"On April 1st, leaders from the Jewish and African American community will come together to remember and reenact the Exodus story through the ritual of the Passover Seder. This will be the 3rd African American-Jewish Seder held in Los Angeles and hearkens back to the ‘Freedom Seder’ organized in 1969 in Washington DC. What relevance does the narrative of liberation and freedom have today?”

Meanwhile, with Passover approaching, it was suggested that I listen to one of our shows from 2004: "A Program for Passover and Easter." One of the three guests in the show, Sandy Sasso, is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis. Here, she explains the relevance of the stories of Passover in today’s world and, more importantly, how changing and adapting traditions is actually an important way to honor them.

Coincidentally, she also shares the meaning of her experience conducting a Passover Seder with an African-American Episcopal priest bringing together black and Jewish women to discuss oppression and liberation within the context of the Exodus story.

If you enjoy this interview, you can also listen to our show on the spirituality of parenting, which also features Rabbi Sasso.

Image caption: participants read the Haggadah during the African American/Jewish Passover Seder at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of the American Jewish Committee)


A New Dialogue?
Colleen Scheck, senior producer

In preparation for this week’s program, "No More Taking Sides," we’ve been following the recent developments in Robi Damelin’s life. Our show includes this film clip from the documentary Encounter Point of Robi reading the letter she wrote to the family of her son’s killer.

In 2005, just a few months after Ta’er Hamad had been arrested, she wrote:

After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation…

…I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.

Over three years later, Robi indirectly received a defiant, militant reply from Mr. Hamad via its publication by a Palestinian news agency:

"Just as I refused to directly address the soldier’s mother, I cannot wish to meet her. I cannot meet with the occupier of our land on the same land. I carried out the operation as part of the struggle for freedom, justice and the establishment of an independent state, not out of a lust or love for killing. Acts of violence are a necessity imposed upon us by the occupation and I shall not abandon this path for as long as the occupation continues."

In response, Robi wrote:

"Ta’er, how ironic, the people who most wanted to protect me from the words in your letter were my Palestinian friends and other bereaved parents in our group. They of all people have the right to talk about my actions and who I am for we have worked together for more than 6 years to try to end this terrible conflict and to give both sides a chance to live with a sense of dignity free from the terrible fear which engulfs us and gives us all the excuse for violence. The tears I saw in the eyes of my Palestinian partners in the Parents Circle when they met me after you chose to publish the letter were tears of understanding and yes friendship and love…"

"… The wisest reaction I had to the words of your letter came from my wonderful son Eran, who I thought would be terribly angry. Well he said, listen mum, perhaps this is the beginning of a dialog."

In the audio embedded up top, Trent recently spoke with Robi from her home in Tel Aviv to learn more about how she’s reflecting on this exchange, and what it means for her work with the Parents Circle - Families Forum. It’s worth a listen to hear her ongoing tenacity.