Wednesday, 29 June 2016 14:09

On The Sultan and the Saint 

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Penny Robinson – NSFA Staff Editor, Fox Cities Chapter, Wisconsin

Kathie Gribble, third from left, in small group of Muslims and Catholics

What’s it going to take for different cultures/faith traditions to co-exist peacefully?

What’s it going to take for people to get past their biases and fears of the “other,” to accept and live peacefully with each other? Participants may have found one answer in a JustFaith Ministries eight-week study, The Sultan and the Saint: Muslims and Christians Working Together for the Common Good, based on a book by that name. The springboard was a meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan around 1219, during the Fifth Crusade.

Organized by Co-facilitator Kathleen Gribble, leader of the Fox Cities Affiliates, a small group of Muslims and Catholics spent eight weeks in an “immersion” experience, learning about each other’s faith (and their own), while building relationships. Using a number of resources for weekly discussion, they also attended each other’s services.

What’s it going to take?

According to Jim Collar, in his USA Today Network story, “ ‘it’s easy for the human mind to create categories of us and them’…. For Mamadou Coulibaly, president of the Fox Valley Islamic Society and co-facilitator, those tendencies underscore the beauty of recent gatherings of Catholics and Muslims eager to explore beyond their comfort zones... . [They] learned for themselves the negligible nature of the dividing lines.”

“ ‘There are no barriers except those we put up ourselves,’ Coulibaly said.”

Gribble learned that studying social justice principles in each faith led to developing a shared framework of seven principles of public theology. The discussions helped clarify participants’ own beliefs and stretched them to understand some differences in others’ beliefs.

”Zahraa Borchardt,. …. quick to take notice of discomfort with Islam, said every opportunity to build bridges is important–‘If we want people to listen to us, we need …to listen to them, too,’” according to Collar.

There are no barriers except those we put up ourselves.

Generally shy, Muslims have experienced greater fear since 9/11. Mary Gage relates an experience shared during one discussion: 

Living and professionally employed in the Appleton area for 35 years, one couple had three sons who had excelled at school. A fan of Michael Jackson, one son inked invincible on the underside of his forearm as a show of enthusiasm for Jackson’s album by that name. When his homeroom teacher noticed, he took the boy to the principal’s office where he, the principal and assistant principal interrogated the boy for 90 minutes about this word until the boy was in tears. Angry that the parents were never notified, they cannot forget what he endured.

The hope of this JustMatters module is “By nurturing relationships across religious boundaries, …together they will model interfaith cooperation as they live out a central tenet of both faiths: love God and love our neighbor.” (http://justfaith.org/programs/justmatters-modules)

Gribble explained that the group concluded by volunteering at job-training project using gardens created at a converted country club/golf course. Planting seedlings, they began modeling interfaith relationships to build bridges reaching beyond this group, to share with the wider community.

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