An old friend recently asked me to write a reflection on faith for a community newspaper.
I chose the title “For the sake of humanity.” It sounds like the kind of phrase Christians would reflect on around Christmas, as we think about the birth of Christ, his journey to the Cross and our own journeys.
In fact, they were the words of my good friend the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed. He chose the words “For the sake of humanity” to appeal to me in a conversation we had over a meal together.
We were discussing the unfolding human tragedy of the Rohingya people at the hands of the Myanmar military.
We spoke about all the extremism, violence and brutality in the world today. We reflected with one another how evil operates through fear and we spoke about how friendship robs difference of the power to divide, the dynamic that leads to distrust and sometimes even violence.
Our conversation reaffirmed that friendship and shared understandings between people of different faiths is vital - for the sake of humanity.
Dr Ibrahim is certainly leading the way among Australian religious leaders when it comes to promoting shared theological understandings. When he was the guest speaker at an Itfar dinner at Parramatta Mission last year, he chose to speak to us from 1 John 4:7.
The Bible verse speaks of love in these terms: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God”. Dr Ibrahim explained how Islamic writings also speak of true faith being tied to our ability to love others, what secular society knows as the ‘golden rule’.
My friendship with the Grand Mufti reminds me how in interfaith relationships, as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks observed, we are “enlarged”. Our understanding of the mystery that is God, God’s purposes and our common humanity are enriched.
Most Christians are impressed by the Grand Mufti’s reference to 1 John. I still struggle to think of a verse from the Qur’an that I could respond with to illuminate our shared Abrahamic values of love and welcome. To memorise one, would be a good New Year’s resolution.
“If you tried to number Allah’s blessings, you could never count them.” (Al-Ma’ida, 16:18) might be an easy one to start with. In my recent Christmas message I reflected on the first chapter of John’s gospel, the life created by God that is the light of all people. The light that shines in the darkness that the darkness does not overcome.
That light was shining brightly for me in Beirut, Lebanon in January last year when I met with Patriarchs, Church Leaders and the Lebanese President with members of the UCA’s Middle East National Conference.
In each of these meetings I heard about how the faithful in Lebanon were reaching out to those escaping Iraq and Syria suffering displacement, dispossession and trauma. Every leader spoke of “moderation”. It seemed to me, their meaning was something more like “harmony”.
The leaders understood first-hand how extremism promotes fear and breeds hatred, and how moderation begets good will and creates harmony, and the ability to live in peace with one another.
As Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr observed, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”.
When we take the time to build a relationship with a person of another faith, we grow in our understanding and come to recognise our common humanity.
Fear of the unknown and distrust are broken down, as bread is broken and conversation shared. Relationship grows and prejudice and hatred are demolished.
As Christians our task in the presence of other faiths is to rediscover our own Christian discipleship, as a reconciling, prophetic, hospitable way of life, as a witness and sign of God’s loving purposes for all humanity.
For the sake of humanity, I am reminded afresh, we have within us light and love to share with one another. Let this be our determination as we enter into this new year.
Uniting Church in Australia
Mägayamirri Rom means in the Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem Land:
“the way of peace and tranquillity, harmony with the whole of creation, be with and within you.”
This reflection was first published in the November 2017 edition of the South Sydney Herald.