Channels of Hope: Golden Door To Interfaith Dialogue. 6/2011

Report by Sheikh Hassan Kinyua Omari

Channels of Hope (COH) teachings on HIV and AIDS have been an important channel to interfaith dialogue as it has been to HIV and AIDS lessons. Although the Channels of Hope are designed to train and educate people on HIV and AIDS, of late it has connected between Muslims and Christian by the fact that both religions face HIV and AIDS as a problem which must be countered with cooperative efforts with the recent Muslim Christian Manual which is an important asset to all the stakeholders.

Before beginning of CoH participants always share brief teachings of both religions (Islam and Christianity). This helps a lot especially to those who know nothing about the other faith.Infact it encourages participants of different faiths to dialogue with the others for deeper understanding. For any difficulty the faith leaders in the workshop or training give guidance on whichever matter which needs to be addressed. Every morning there must be two guiding principles (from each faith) this forms basis for dialogue in the entire day. At the end of the workshop or training the participants become transformed from whatever they were to interfaith advocates.

But what motivates interfaith dialogue? One of the motivating factors is that HIV and AIDS do not discriminate on basis of religion, colour, race or gender. It affects anyone as long as conditions of infection are met. In addition, when we study the teachings of the religious founders we realize that they advocated for interfaith dialogue. This motivate to us share our faith experiences with other believers and shape one another in one way or another.

Prophet Muhammad used be the custodian of peoples’ valuables (hence his title Al Amin-The trustworthy) many of whom were non Muslims. In fact during migration from Mecca to Medina he left his Cousin and son in law Ali bin Abi Talib for no other reason but to deliver the valuables to the owners. This is one way of his practical teaching of interfaith cooperation. If he was not part of interfaith advocates he could not agree to be custodian of other people’s valuables but for only Muslims.

On the other side Jesus tried his level best to dialogue with the Jews despite their arrogance and enimity.It is for this reason that  Pope John Paul during the course of his pontificate met with Muslims over 50 times, much more often than all the previous Popes in history.  In his speeches, he repeatedly underlined several important themes.  One his most referred to statement on interfaith “we both worship the One and Same God and that both communities seek to do God’s will in all things.”  Although we may disagree on many points, the fact that Muslims and Christians are grandsons of Ibrahim and come before the same God gives a depth of importance to the effort to live well together on this planet.

The Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate presents key points of contact which ought to be the basis for mutual trust and respect.  The document notes the importance that Muslims give to prayer, concern for the poor, and fasting as a spiritual discipline, and  refers to the great respect that Muslims have for Jesus and Mary as elements of Islamic faith that should form a sense of fellow-feeling between Christians and Muslims.  In Islam, Mary is considered the holiest and greatest of all women who ever lived, a sinless virgin who gave birth to Jesus Christ.

The holy Qur’an calls for interfaith dialogue when it says, “You will find the nearest in affection to those who believe [the Muslims] are those who say, ‘We are Christians.’  This is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.”

Finally, in his many discourses, the Pope elaborates on the “common mission” given by Nostra Aetate to Christians and Muslims that they should work together, for the benefit of all, in the four key areas of social justice, moral values, peace and freedom. 

I have had occasion to facilitate in The Channels of Hope workshops and training In Turkey, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Somaliland and Tanzania where Muslims and Christians sit together, share a lot. At the end of all the trainings and workshop the participants testify that ignorance is the greatest enemy. In the trainings we always ensure that trust is established. With trust interfaith dialogue is not only possible, but is very rewarding. 

In Kenya I have had chance and privilege to teach in Christian universities, to stay in their homes and to welcome them to mine, to share meals together, and to discuss at length what is deepest in my life and in theirs, that is, our personal experience of God in our lives, how we pray, what it means to do God’s will, and our response to God’s loving and forgiving

We (Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims) advice Christians and Muslims in dialogue to recognize that the problems of our world are of such complexity that the two communities are often pitted one against the other and, moreover, that many of the troubles arise not from external factors but rather from those who identify themselves as Muslims or Christians. Therefore interfaith dialogue should be a continuous process despite the tensions and conflicts of our time.

Just to show how CoH can also change attitude: Between 22nd May and 27th May 2011 World Vision Somalia organized CoH workshop for Muslim Religious leaders where I was the lead facilitator. There was a lot of suspicion on what World Vision was doing in Muslim land. But after a brief introduction of how World Vision and Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims engaged each other on HIV and AIDS program, all the participants appreciated the presence of World Vision in Somalia and pledged their support and cooperation with WV. In fact Pastor Alex Njukia became a good friend to the sheikh some of who preferred calling him “Ali”

On HIV and AIDS you can imagine at the beginning of the workshop someone saying "we sheikhs don’t need to be tested because we are clean."

I told them HIV and AIDS is not all about being clean....At the end of the 5- day training the 25 sheikhs agreed that everyone is at risk.

About women, we taught them that all reproductive decisions should be made by women! This was unacceptable to them. But after going through the “tough stuff” question which challenges our views and attitude the participants agreed that women must be consulted in anything pertaining their bodies.

In one testimony an 18 year old girl explained how she was infected by her husband whom she was forced to marry by her parents 3 years back when she was only 15 and the man was 27yrs old!!! This was an opener to many sheikhs who had never seen a positive person. They also agreed with us that HIV and AIDS is not meant for any particular person like the unmarried or promiscuous but can also infect the married!

In conclusion I must thank madam Eulogia Murray and Reverend Christo Greyling both from World Vision who introduced us to this worthy Channels of Hope.CABSA will never be forgotten for their continuous support and their efforts towards Channels of hope which have really boosted interfaith cooperation in communities.  Lastly my definition of Channels of Hope is that it is magic which change the unchangeable and which transforms the world to a better living place while instilling hope to the hopeless.

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