Islamofacism? Or Islamophobia?

This is the worst story of Islamophobia I have heard to far, its impact on me made worse by the fact that this occurred in the mostly open-minded city I grew up in. Over the course of two emails and one phone call today I received from both of my parents and one Rabbi this disgusting story.

Every year, AAIM, Austin Area Interreligious Ministries holds a pre-Thanksgiving dinner and service hosted by various religious communities at various houses of worship. This year, Hyde Park Baptist Church was slated to host the festivities in their Central Austin facility, though the event was organized by Austin’s Muslim community. Said Rabbi Steven Folberg, the Senior Rabbi at the congregation I grew up at, Congregation Beth Israel, in an email to the whole congregation, “Sadly, when the church leadership learned that ‘interfaith service’ did not mean ‘intra-Christian’ or ‘intra-Protestant,’ in other words, when they learned that non-Christian worshipers and religious leaders would be represented, they withdrew their offer.”

In a phone call with CBI’s Associate Rabbi, Rabbi Benjamin D. Sternman he told me that what had happened was that because of the timing of the interfaith service portion of the event, the Muslims involved in the event would have to pause to offer their sunset prayer. Upon hearing this, HPBC’s leadership apparently had an aneurism and decided that they would not allow people to pray to God in their church. Makes sense, right?

When CBI caught wind of this and was asked to provide the facilities for this event, the only response was, “Why not?”

The Austin American-Statesman, Austin’s newspaper, quoted Church leaders saying, “’Although individuals from all faiths are welcome to worship with us at Hyde Park Baptist Church, the church cannot provide space for the practice of these non-Christian religions on church property… Hyde Park Baptist Church hopes that the AAIM and the community of faith will understand and be tolerant of our church’s beliefs that have resulted in this decision.’” The paper also noted, “Hyde Park Baptist, an evangelical megachurch at West 39th Street and Speedway, is not a member of Interreligious Ministries, and church leaders were not planning to participate in the service.” As for CBI, “Synagogue leaders said they would arrange space for Muslims to make their evening prayers… ‘What a great testimony of inclusion.’”

Said R. Folberg in his email, “My reasons for choosing to offer our sanctuary for this occasion are many, but I would share just one of them with you now. Simply put, one crucial way to begin to heal some of the divisions in our society and lessen the amount of hostility and suspicion that has risen up, reptilian, from the depths of our culture, is to bring people into contact with each other whose paths do not normally cross. We must get to know other human beings as human beings, created in the image of God, and not as self-serving mental abstractions, symbols of our own ignorance and fear. I know of no more effective or powerful way of dispelling myths and stereotypes about ‘The Other’ than to worship and break bread together. We must encounter each other as fathers, mothers and children, we must look into each other’s faces, in order to make peace.

“This is more than just ‘a nice thing to do.’ I deeply believe, at the risk of sounding grandiose, that the very survival of humanity depends upon our willingness to transcend our differences and reach out to each other at the very same time that we cherish the uniqueness of our various communities and traditions. Whether one is Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Secular Humanist, or an adherent of any one of the multiplicity of other faiths and ideologies that claim the loyalties of men and women everywhere, there is no greater spiritual truth, and no truth more essential to our aspirations to heal the world, than the truth of the unity and the interdependence of all human beings. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it 40 years ago, ‘Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.’ When we consider the Torah’s famous admonition, uvacharta bachayyim, ‘You shall choose life,’ then it is clear to me that the opportunity to host the service is the opportunity to do an important mitzvah.”

Bravo, CBI!

HPBC leaders, go read a damn book.

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9 responses to “Islamofacism? Or Islamophobia?

  1. Pingback: Interfaith Event Update «

  2. That is a really beautiful email.

  3. I found this site by searching for the coexist symbol and I thought I’d comment about why a Christian church (baptist or otherwise) would not or should not allow Muslim prayers to Allah, Buddhist prayers to…whoever, Jewish prayers to the god of modern Judaism, Mormon prayers to “heavenly father”, or anyone else that you can think of…

    They would not be praying to the same God. They may use the same book (OT for Jews), they may think that Jesus was a (only) a prophet of God (Muslims), they may also believe that Jesus is God (Mormons), but that doesn’t matter because they don’t understand Jesus or God in the same way as the Bible lays them out.

    So, anyone can come into a church and pray to God – absolutely. But a church should never allow prayers to false gods and false religions in their place of worship.

    Anyway, FYI – that is why Christians act that way, the god they pray to is not the God of the Bible.

  4. clarification – “the god [mulims] pray to is not the God of the Bible.”

    That is what the line was meant to imply, and I realize how poorly i worded it after I read it again.

  5. ej – Thank you for your comments

    The point of the event was to display what different religions cooperating can look like. To that end, Muslims were involved and observant Muslims pray five times daily. One of those times happened to fall during this event. This all seems perfectly understandable.

    If the Baptists and the Muslims don’t believe in the same god (which is debatable), then the Baptists surely believe that Muslim prayers are ineffectual and thus they cannot possibly believe that Muslim prayer harms anything.

    Do not refer to the Jewish bible as the “OT” on my blog. This blog is a Jewish space and Jews do not refer to–nor do we appreciate references toward–the Tanach as the “Old” Testament.

    As for your reference to Mormons believing that Jesus is God: Well, yeah. That’s pretty mainstream in most Christian sects, the way I understand it. God is made up of the Trinity. One third of the Trinity is Jesus. So yeah, Jesus would be God then. Hm.

  6. My apologies, I didn’t realize the Jewish nature of this blog when I wrote my comment – no offense intended by referring to the law and the prophets in Christian terms.

    I don’t think that the problem was with “cooperating”, but in any case my comment was more directed at your offhand shocked comment that these Christians “would not allow people to pray to God in their church.” And my only point was to state that even though it is common for people to say that Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe in the same God, and use the Biblical language of “the God of Abraham” or similar phrases for support, I believe that based on Scripture that is not the case. But both the Tanach and the New Testament are explicit when talking about God being jealous and specific about how He is worshipped or called upon.

    For instance, yesterday I was reading the Prophet Zephaniah when God declared condemnation on those who worshipped Baal, but right after that the Prophet records God’s words,

    “And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, And those who bow down {and} swear to the LORD and {yet} swear by Milcom,” (from the NASB, Zephaniah 1:5)

    The 2nd epistle of John in the NT says that if anyone denies that Jesus came in the flesh – and John’s writings make it clear that Jesus is the eternal 2nd Person of the Triune Godhead – that they do “not have God” but only those who abide in the “teaching of Christ” is one who has “both the Father and Son.” (cf. 2 John 9)

    So there is no debate as to whether Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Mormons worship the same God – according to the creeds of their faiths, they do not worship the same God.

    The Jewish understanding, as I understand, of both the Sh’ma and the Messiah do not allow for God to be Triune or for Him to be incarnated as a man.

    The Muslim understanding of Jesus is that He was just a prophet, albeit a great prophet, but they deny His deity and it is a heresy and serious sin to believe anything close to a Triune Godhead.

    The Mormon understanding of Jesus is that He is the first created being. This is contrary to everything in the New Testament about Jesus. The consistent NT teaching is that Jesus is the eternal uncreated God who is the Son of the Father (not in lineage, but the “Son” refers to family authority in the 1st century where the son had the same authority and power of the father).

    So the NT is explicit that if we don’t agree on Jesus, we don’t worship or refer to the same God.

    Now – as a Jew, I expect for you to disagree with my theology, and that is fair. But, you can disagree as to the ultimate truthfulness of what I believe but I don’t believe that you can disagree that the Bible (both the NT and the Tanach) teaches that if you worship God wrongly or understand Him wrongly, He is not pleased and you are not truly worshipping Him.

    Does this mean that I hate or don’t like or don’t want to work together in social situations with Jews, Muslims, Mormons, or whoever? Nope. But, I must draw the line at claiming that the object of our individual faiths is the same God.

    Grace and Peace to you.
    EJ

  7. Apology accepted. Now it’s time for me to apologize for my harsh tone with you in the first place.

    Points all well-taken. May priorities may simply be different from yours. I am willing to do almost anything to increase cooperation between Muslims, Jews, and Christians–three groups so often at odds. Doing so will save lives in the long run and the Torah tells us that any commandment may be broken to save a life.

  8. Apology accepted.

    What verse in the Torah says that (any commandment may be broken to save a life)? I’d be intrigued to study it.

  9. As I’m looking into that, I’m beginning to think that’s actually Talmudic. The Rabbis of the Talmud certainly extrapolated it from text though and I’m not sure which. If you’re up to it, you could check on this in the Talmud. Try Yoma 84b.

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