Zafar Siddiqui is a co-founder of the Islamic Resource Group (IRG), an educational outreach organization dedicated to building bridges between Muslims and people of other faiths. He currently serves as the director of interfaith and civic relations at IRG.
Read more about Zafar Siddiqui.
Minnesota is not just nice, but exudes warmth unlike any other place in the country. Home to the longest running Muslim-Christian dialogue in the nation, Minnesota is blazing a new trail in interfaith relations.
The fact that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity have a strong connection to Prophet Abraham makes this dialogue simply fascinating. The belief in the God of Abraham gives a common platform to share the commonalities while respectfully understanding the differences. Interfaith dialogue is not about compromising one's faith. Rather it is about understanding the other in a respectful and open dialogue.
The Islamic Center of Minnesota, along with the Minnesota Council of Churches, has been reportedly hosting the longest running Christian-Muslim dialogue in the nation. Every month, for the past 20 years, Christians and Muslims have been taking part in this dialogue to promote a better understanding about each other’s points of view.
One of the greatest developments in synergistic interfaith dialogue is a project called "A Common Word." What makes it absolutely thrilling is that the dialogue arose from the low point of relations between Muslims and Catholics over Pope Benedict’s remarks about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
According to the official website of this project, " In A Common Word Between Us and You, 138 (now over 300) Muslim scholars, clerics, and intellectuals have unanimously come together for the first time since the days of the Prophet Muhammad to declare the common ground between Christianity and Islam. ... the signatories to this message come from every denomination and school of thought in Islam. Every major Islamic country or region in the world is represented in this message, which is addressed to the leaders of all the world’s churches, and indeed to all Christians everywhere." The project focuses on the most fundamental common ground between Islam and Christianity - the love of God and the love of the neighbor.
This project has invigorated the Muslim and Christian communities to replicate it locally in various forms. For instance, the Muslim Christian Dialogue Center (MCDC) at the University of St. Thomas is planning to hold a conference related to "A Common Word" project later this year. The MCDC is one of the most prominent centers of Muslim Christian dialogue in the nation. The Islamic Resource Group (IRG), an educational outreach organization, is in talks with several Christian groups in planning programs around "A Common Word" project.
For the past seven years, the Minnesota Council of Churches and the Muslim American Society have been running a unique project called "Taking Heart" where Muslims and Christians together share a meal and get to know each other. To build upon the momentum generated by this project, the project has evolved into "Taking Action" and it has successfully been replicated in several places in the Twin Cities.
The Jewish-Muslim dialogue, although a relatively recent phenomenon in the Twin Cities, has shown tremendous promise and progress. The St. Paul Interfaith Network's (SPIN) "SPIN Dialogue Series" engages Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus to explore and understand each other’s faith. A unique feature of this project is that the series of seminars take place in various houses of worship that gives participants a chance to visit each other's place of worship (often times a first for many). For the past two years, following the national initiative, a few local mosques and synagogues take part in the yearly "Twinning" project where a mosque and a synagogue exchange congregations' visits.
The JRLC (Joint Religious Legislative Council) is another great example of how faith communities can come on a common platform to work toward topics of common interest. JRLC's mission statement reads, "Guided by God's vision of the common good as reflected in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, JRLC mobilizes religious communities to influence public policy in Minnesota."
The Twin Cities Interfaith Network (TCIN) provides a platform for faith communities to meet monthly to update each others on their work and to forge stronger bonds.
Youth programs involving interfaith activities provide a great hope for the future of harmonious relations among the future generations. The Al-Amal School, the only full-time Islamic school in Minnesota, regularly holds interfaith dialogues with Jewish and Christian students. The Muslim Youth of Minnesota (MYM) is one of the leading advocates of interfaith dialogue. The Twin Cities Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition (IYLC) is another exciting interfaith youth program that engages the Twin Cities youth in finding common ground and common good.
There is an overwhelming amount of interfaith activity in the Twin Cities. I will not be able to do justice in listing all of these activities in one blog entry. I intend to bring to the reader's attention the exciting details about some of these unique projects in future blog entries.
Lastly, I do realize that the Minnesota community's warmth may sometimes get interrupted by wafts of cold air, like the recent Islamophobic incident in St. Cloud. However, the full blast of condemnations that came from the community at large confirmed my belief that Minnesota will continue to remain one of the warmest places in the country.