Tuesday, October 4, 2016

National Interfaith & Government Forum and American Muslim Intra-Faith Summit


Front Row: Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Imam Mohammed Ali Elahi, Dr. Sayyid Syeed
Back Row: Dr. John Andrew Morrow, Frank Kaufmann, Jibreel Delgado, Sadida Athaullah

On April 14 and 15, a number of religious organizations, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Shoulder to Shoulder, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Churches, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, met in Washington DC to hold a press conference along with a series of discussions as well as meetings with senior White House officials.

At the press conference, religious leaders spoke out against anti-Muslim bigotry and called for the defense of religious minority rights in the US. The conference included a reissuing of the Fiqh Council of America's 2005 fatwa against terrorism and, as a counterpart to the call for the defense of religious minority rights in the US, an expression of support for the recently announced Marrakesh Declaration on the rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim majority communities. The Declaration is based on the Constitution of Medina, a document delineating the rights and obligations of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Arab polytheists in the time of the prophet Muhammad (d. 632).



The Intra-faith Summit was held at the United Methodist Building and focused on improving relations between Sunni and Shiʿite Muslim communities in the US. The conclusion of Shiʿite leaders at the meeting was that the onus is on the Sunni majority to ensure harmonious relations and community participation with the Shiʿite minority. It was suggested that English translations be circulated among American Islamic centers and referenced in Friday mosque sermons of the 1959 fatwa on Sunni-Shia reconciliation by Mahmud Shaltut (1893-1963), former Grand Imam of Azhar Mosque and University in Egypt, the leading global Sunni religious institution.

It was also suggested that the works of other leading Sunni scholars, such as the Egyptian Azhari scholar Muhammad Abu Zahra (1898-1974) and the recently deceased Iraqi scholar Taha Jabir al-Alwani (1935-2016), on Sunni-Shia reconciliation be made accessible through translation to the English-language American Muslim readership. Abu Zahra wrote a series of biographies on the founders of the major doctrinal schools and trends in Sunni and Shia Islam, including biographies of Ibn Hazm (994-1064) and the Shiʿite Imams Jaʿfar al-Sadiq (700-765) and Zayd ibn Ali (695-740). Regrettably, to this day only the biographies of the four traditional Sunni Imams have been translated into English, thereby defeating the very purpose of the biography series. While the recent issue of ISNA's magazine, Islamic Horizons, contained an article in tribute to Taha Jabir al-Alwani due to his recent passing, it remains to be seen whether any effort will be made to emphasize the intra-faith aspect of al-Alwani's legacy.



The forum and summit was concluded with a Friday prayer service at the Capitol Building and a dinner banquet at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel. The keynote speaker for the celebration banquet was Dr. John Esposito, professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies and director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.


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