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.”
Bluegrass Unites: A Musical Collaboration Between an Orthodox Jew and Evangelical Christian
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Bluegrass. 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” (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?
Chris 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
Krista’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.
- “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
- “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
- 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
- “(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
- “Social problems are moral problems on a larger scale.” ~Walter Raushenbush, as quoted by his biographer/grandson Paul @Raushenbush 1:24 PM Oct 5th
- “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
- Correction: great grandson! 1:30 PM Oct 5th
- “I have an interfaith heart. That’s just where I live.” @Raushenbush 1:34 PM Oct 5th
- “What young people are looking for more than anything is authenticity.” @Raushenbush 1:36 PM Oct 5th
- “It’s very hard to hurt someone who has shown you vulnerability.” @Raushenbush 1:38 PM Oct 5th
- “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
- “The idea of liberal vs. religious is a crazy dichotomy.” @Raushenbush 1:45 PM Oct 5th
- “What I’m not looking for is political view + Jesus.” ~Paul @Raushenbush on bloggers + commenters for @HuffPostRelig 1:46 PM Oct 5th
- “Figure out what you believe and why you believe it.” @Raushenbush 1:49 PM Oct 5th
- “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
- “I want people to feel that there’s a basic humanity to the site.” -@Raushebush on cultivating @HuffPostRelig 1:58 PM Oct 5th
- “The question is are we willing to be on the same page; some people are just not.” @Raushenbush 2:06 PM Oct 5th
- “I want you to reference the richness of your tradition, so I can learn.” -@Raushenbush 2:09 PM Oct 5th
- “Interfaith dialogue is for people who take religion and big ideas seriously and want to go deeper.” -@Raushenbush 2:11 PM Oct 5th
- “The power of religion is to offer a transcendent vision of more than just me.” -@Raushenbush 2:16 PM Oct 5th
- “The idea that religious people have some sort of monopoly on morality is absurd.” -@Raushenbush 2:18 PM Oct 5th
- “The Internet is basically neutral; it’s what we bring to it.” -@Raushenbush 2:20 PM Oct 5th
- “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.?’
—Eboo 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
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.
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.”
“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.”
Who 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
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.