When spiritual siblings unite for the common good
By Mitch Randall
Genesis details the family origins of Abraham and his sons.
After receiving a promise from Yahweh, Abraham bore his first son through Sarah’s Egyptian servant, Hagar. Hagar’s son was named Ishmael. Years later, Sarah bore Abraham a second son, Isaac. Brothers from different mothers, the two grew up under Abraham’s protection and love.
Unfortunately, according to the Hebrew Bible, all of that changed when a speculative incident happened that sparked outrage and tragedy.
Eventually, the brothers were separated. Isaac continued to live with Abraham, receiving the security, wisdom and blessing of having a father nearby. Ishmael entered adolescence separated from his father and brother, depending on the incredible grit and grace of Hagar.
Both boys grew up inheriting their father’s wisdom and tenacity, but Genesis keeps them apart for the remainder of Abraham’s life. When the patriarch dies, though, the brothers reunite to bury their father (Genesis 25:9). It’s a beautiful moment when brothers work together in something so sacred and eternal.
At the Third National Baptist-Muslim Dialogue Conference in Green Lake, Wis., the feeling of seeing long lost brothers and sisters emerged in my soul.
Originally conceived and convened by Sayyid Syeed, senior advisor and former national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, and Roy Medley, former general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, the third installment of the dialogue was rich with informative discussion, spiritual exchange and infectious laughter.
Participants engaged in deep conversations about their faiths, asked challenging questions of each other and experiencing worship practices from both religions. At the conclusion of the conference, participants were beaming from their experiences and discussing future collaboration.
As a correspondent covering the event, a presenter with Imad Enchassi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, and participant listening to the dialogue, there were three significant takeaways I left with after experiencing this powerful event.
First, Muslims and Baptists must remember we are from the same spiritual family and worship the same God.
As two-thirds of the Abrahamic faiths and the two largest religious traditions on the planet, Muslims and Christians have a responsibility to grow in their understanding of one another while keeping their distinctions, offer examples of peaceful communities and mutual respect, and provide future collaboration as we address human suffering around the world. The common thread of loving God and neighbors, mandated in both faiths, must be the catalyst that drives both religions towards a more hopeful future.
Second, interfaith dialogue means more than words; it means connecting with our common humanity and collaborating in efforts that uphold the common good for all peoples.
At the core of our identities, Christians and Muslims are a created humanity connected through flesh, mind, heart and soul. These deep-seated connections ground us and offer us a shared existence. This shared existence inspires and motivates us to make the world a better place for all people, especially the least of these no matter their faith. When people of faith allow their kind words to give birth to gracious actions, then the world is a more peaceful place to live.
Third, mutual laughter is the most potent tool to demolish walls that divide us.
Watching the Third National Baptist-Muslim Dialogue unfold through the lens of a camera, the one attribute that stood out more than any other was the amount of laughter shared by participants. From singing “Father Abraham,” with the motions included, to watching two young colleagues talk about creating a Baptist-Muslim Connect-App for a smartphone, the laughs that echoed in the halls of Green Lake Conference Center should be heard from Jerusalem, Mecca and Washington D.C. Genuine, authentic laughter communicates the bond of joy in any language.
During my presentation with Enchassi, we discussed the bond that has formed between us over the last decade. We spoke about discovering our human commonalities and shared experiences. We visited about being husbands and fathers. We hashed out pastoral situations that both our congregations endure.
We found that beyond the titles of “pastor” and “imam,” we are two humans that are more alike than different. In this new reality, we have found a sense of peace that surpasses human understanding and rests in the salaam (Arabic for “peace”) of God.
In 1986, Bill Waterson published one his most important comic strips depicting his famous characters, Calvin and Hobbes. In the opening scene, Hobbes, a make-believe tiger, asks his little human buddy, “How come we play war and not peace?” Little Calvin responds, “Too few role models.”
With the world at war with peace, with individuals and groups thriving on hatred and divisions, the death of peace very well may be close at hand. Thankfully, peace is not yet dead. The time for the sons and daughters of Abraham to unite and do something powerful is at hand.
While the way of war and strife has had its day, an era for peace, shalom, salaam has arrived. The Abrahamic traditions have the opportunity to seize this moment and demonstrate to the world that we are people of peace, love and hope.
If we succeed, just maybe our grandchildren will grow up playing “peace” and not “war.”
Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com. Used by permission