Guest blog by Sue Stanton
Interfaith Harmony week celebrates the good of religion and of dialogue on both a local and global scale.
Guest blog by Sue Stanton
“There’s a bomb in your basement,” the raspy voice on the phone told a little girl, “and it’s about ready to go off.” In one sentence, my childhood dissolved. The United States had just elected a Catholic president and we Catholic kids were under siege from a local school board. Tensions ran high and rhetoric soon followed culminating with a protest march led by my mother; a target for one man’s sick and twisted brand of patriotism.
Thankfully the bomb was never found in the basement of our home but something in my head exploded just the same and it was this—no one, but no one would convince me that religion was the cause of fighting in the world. People, just like the guns and dynamite they carried out of fear, were the cause of harm. Because of this potential, those kinds of people, filled with a dangerous level of religious fervor, were to be avoided at all costs. I was instructed by my parents to never tell anyone what my religion was, since my religion would be used against me; a tool to divide up communities between those who were in and those who were out.
Over the past several years, I have watched as members of one religion struggle mightily against a global backdrop of extremism and ignorance. I stand and watch as professed members of that religion use it in ways of unspeakable terror and harm for innocents, for believers and most of all for the concept of religion itself.
Such extremists have hijacked the very idea of religion as they twist its most basic moral concepts of love of God and love of neighbor for use as a tool in the arsenal of hate that fuels prejudice and bigotry; a leveler of judgment on character and acceptance. It is these extremists who do not live what their holy books profess. If they did, if they truly lived by the tenets of their religion, then acts of violence would cease and the courageous vulnerability that only true religion provides would prevail.
Quietly, but persistently, with mosquito like precision, one hope filled expression of this courageous vulnerability is this year’s first celebration of Interfaith Harmony Week launched by the United Nations at the initiative of a 93 percent Muslim country of the Middle East, Jordan. Global in scope, this week of interfaith harmony attempts to give a boost of solidarity to those of courageous vulnerability working in the fields of peace, reconciliation, and interfaith dialogue. The week’s very existence provides a counter balance to extremism where by some reports, memberships are in decline.
There are countless imams, clerics, missionaries, rabbis, and monks who place their faith in God every time they speak out on behalf of the goodness in religious beliefs. We no longer have to ask the question, “Where are the voices of the world that speak up against religious extremism?” because they are here and have arrived at Interfaith Harmony Week after years of quiet preparation, persistence, and downright stubbornness in the face of incredible conflict.
As an Ames effort of interfaith dialogue, OASIS was launched in April of 2007 as an interfaith outreach on behalf of St. Cecilia Catholic Church. Since its foundation, this group of Ames citizens has met bimonthly in conjunction with the Ames Jewish Congregation and the Darul Alqum Islamic Center and has acted as safe harbor for more than 400 people in respectful dialogue both religious and secular.
Now approaching its fourth anniversary, OASIS’ guiding principles are focused and broad so that all opinions are shared. We are the ones in charge of our own beliefs and the expression of someone else’s does nothing to diminish that. As we celebrate Interfaith Harmony Week, we hope to encourage everyone to pause in their busy lives, reflect on how we relate to one another and express religious beliefs with respect for one another’s.
Guest blogger Sue Stanton, is the Coordinator of OASIS in Ames, Iowa and wrote “Fast friends” about her experience with interfaith dialogue in Jordan for U.S. Catholic. Learn about Muslim-Catholic dialogue in. U.S. Catholic’s special section and visit Interfaith Harmony Week for more
Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.