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USA: Interfaith Community Panel | Dealing with blasphemy in the public square

“…[T]he idea of disrupting peace or taking the law into one’s own hands has absolutely no standing in the Koran. In a time of violence by anyone we want to pray for you and practice courtesy and understanding between different faiths.”

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit: The Reporter | Lansdale, PA
By Mark Staples | October 18, 2012

The Reporter Editor’s Note: The Interfaith Community Panel is a project to bring together leaders and believers of different faiths to share their views and engage in a healthy and open discussion of topics of interest to and affecting the general community. The next public panel will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. in St. John’s United Church of Christ in Lansdale. More details will be released closer to the date.

How does one deal with blasphemy in the public square? And how do we respond when the cherished democratic value of free speech encounters blasphemy against any one of the world religions?

Those issues received spirited discussion by Christian and Muslim leaders Tuesday night in Trinity Lutheran Church’s Hyson Hall, Lansdale.

Participating were the Rev. Antonious Salib of St. Mary and St. Kyrillos Coptic Orthodox Church in Hatfield; J.R. Briggs, cultural cultivator of The Renew Community, which he describes as a Jesus community for skeptics and dreamers in Lansdale; the Rev. Jason Blair, senior pastor of Grace Bible Church in Souderton; Mark Ristine, former director of youth ministry at Trinity and now head of Spiritualevity, which makes use of humor to energize, motivate and teach organizations going through transition; Khalil Malik, M.D., a Lansdale physician who is an Ahmadiyya Muslim, and Father James Thayer, retired pastor of St. Phillips Orthodox Church in Souderton.

The dialogue, sponsored by The Reporter newspaper in Lansdale, was prompted by Middle East turmoil in Egypt and Libya following the issuance via YouTube of a highly controversial film on the life of the Muslim Prophet Mohammad. News accounts have differed on the degree of the role the film played in leading to attacks on the American Embassy in Benghazi, resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and others. Many accounts have concluded that the 9/11 attacks on the Embassy were premeditated to coincide with 9/11, and had little to do with the film, although the movie’s release clearly stirred up hostile feelings in the Middle East toward the West.

Panelists uniformly scorned the film, seeming to agree the “documentary” is indeed blasphemy, an example of an act or speaking profanely against a religion or sacred things — in this case Mohammed.

Ristine noted it is difficult for him to judge the outrage in the Middle East prompted by the film “because the Middle East is not part of my context.” He brought up the issue of intolerance of gays who are religious and was sharply critical of Westboro Baptist Church’s bashing of gays and that U.S. congregation’s saying that “anyone who isn’t a Christian is damned to hell.” The Topeka, Kan., church has frequently picketed church assemblies discussing gay rights and funerals of military personnel killed in action.

Briggs ventured that dealing with blasphemy, such as what the film depicts, is less a matter of legislation and more a matter of appropriate personal discernment. But he added, “If you wave a red flag at a bull, you should not be shocked if the bull charges.”

Several comments noted that religious tolerance differs sharply from context to context. Saying he found the documentary highly disturbing, Salib emphasized the importance of Christians “loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.” He said that Coptic Christians in Egypt, now controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, “can’t build a church there …. We are second-class citizens deprived of freedom of speech and the right to worship. Anyone who tries to tell adherents of a 1,600-year-old faith like ours what they can say and do is out of his mind. We have sought religious freedom here (in America).”

Malik described Ahmadiyya Muslims as a minority within Islam, subject to persecution and death in the largely Muslim state of Pakistan if they even try to worship. His branch of the faith acknowledges a prophet coming to leadership about 100 years ago who called for Islamic reform. “Muslims take no position on punishing blasphemy,” he said. “But the idea of disrupting peace or taking the law into one’s own hands has absolutely no standing in the Koran. In a time of violence by anyone we want to pray for you and practice courtesy and understanding between different faiths.”

Blair said his faith perspective is that “Jesus mandates that we protect the weak…” He and Thayer agree that it is inappropriate to respond to a blasphemy by violence or burning buildings.

Thayer descried that the South Park television program from time to time makes a mockery of Jesus that is somehow tolerated. Christians are persecuted in Karachi and Alexandra “but if someone burns a Koran here what happens is ‘let’s have a discussion about that.’”

Salib agreed, citing an instance in Egypt where two young children were arrested and persecuted for saying something against the Koran before later being released by a decree from the new president. “The problem is when Jesus is blasphemed the church wants to gather to solve the problem, but in many places when a Christian says something is wrong about the Koran it can mean death.”

But Malik called violence as a response to blasphemy absolutely inappropriate. He said Muslims should be as committed as was Mohammed against expressions of violent outrage.

“True Islam should condemn such expressions and practice restraint and tolerance,” he said.

Amanda Piccirilli, community engagement editor for The Reporter, brought greetings. Dotun Akintoye moderated.

Mark Staples is a free lance writer and member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale. He writes for The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, where he has arranged interfaith dialogues on several occasions.

Read original post here: USA: Interfaith Community Panel | Dealing with blasphemy in the public square

This content-post is archived for backup and to keep archived records of any news Islam Ahmadiyya. The views expressed by the author and source of this news archive do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Ahmadiyya Times.


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