Religious Leaders Call for Tolerance, Peace During Ramadan

As Muslims around the world are observing Ramadan, their holiest month of the year, religious leaders in the United States have made a call for tolerance and peace against the rising levels of Islamophobia spreading across the country.

"Christ calls us to 'love your neighbor as yourself.' It is this commandment, more than the simple bonds of our common humanity, which is the basis for our relationship with Muslims around the world," reads a statement issued last week by the National Council of Churches' (NCC) Interfaith Relations Commission.

"We ask all Christians to promote respect and love of neighbor, and to speak and work against extremist ideas, working with Muslims as appropriate, in order to live out the commandment to love our neighbor, and to promote peace," added the group, which represents some 45 million Protestants across the country.

The group's statement comes as members of a church in Florida are planning an "International Burn a Quran Day" for this year's September 11 anniversary – an event that has drawn widespread condemnation and even death threats from Islamic extremist groups, although the church maintains that its motives are biblical.

"The goal of these and other protests are to give Muslims an opportunity to convert," Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, told the Huffington Post.

The NCC noted: "Such open acts of hatred are not a witness to Christian faith, but a grave trespass against the ninth commandment, a bearing of false witness against our neighbor. They contradict the ministry of Christ and the witness of the church in the world."

Furthermore, the NCC has given its support for an Islamic center slated to be built near the former World Trade Center – a project that has sparked a nationwide debate over acceptable religious tolerance levels in the country.

Thus far, a majority of Americans don't approve of the center being built, claiming that the project is either insensitive to the victims of 9/11 or a political statement for Islam.

Proponents of the center, which include President Barack Obama, have said that protecting the country's religious freedom values are the proper way to honor the 3,000 that died in the 9/11 attacks, a number of whom were Muslim.

The NCC said that they stand in solidarity with Muslims who are working against "radical influences" in their communities, and see the center as one dedicated to "learning, compassion, and respect for all people."

"This effort is consistent with our country's principle of freedom of religion, and the rights all citizens should enjoy," the group said.

Also in support of the center is the Rev. Diane Berke, an Interfaith Minister and head of One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in Manhattan.

Ms. Berke, who has known the project's founders -Imam Feisal Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan- for years, says that the couple has been dedicated to promoting understanding, respect, and appreciation among people of different faiths.

"I think initially there was talk of calling the center the Cordoba Center, which refers to a period in time where Jews and Muslims and Christians lived together not only in harmony, but their interactions with each other really encouraged a flowering within each of those traditions," Berke told the Ecumenical Press. "So not only did they live in harmony, but they were mutually enhancing, and that set of values is very much the work that Feisel and Daisy have done and been in the service of."

Regarding the merits of interfaith dialogue, a field Ms. Berke has been professionally involved in for over 20 years, she said that the practice is focused on the "treasures that each tradition brings to how we can best experience the presence of God and the presence of the divine," and that people of all faiths "have a great deal to learn from other."

"If we can kind of get past the argument over whose story about reality is the right one" we can make much progress, she said.

When asked whether interfaith dialogue is more about living together harmoniously or if it has eternal implications, she added: "I think if we can actually learn how to live together in harmony in society, that will have eternal implications."

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