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Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims share Abrahamic roots


Faith leaders discuss traditions’ teachings on caring, justice

Inviting reflection on the connection of faith and advocacy at the opening of the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, Interfaith Council director Kateri Caron asked representatives of four traditions:  “Is the work for the wellbeing of all members of society, especially the poor, extra or integral to living the Abrahamic faith traditions of Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam?”

Elliot Fabric of Reform congregations Beth Haverim and Ner Tamid, Rita Waldref of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Spokane, the Rev. Bill Peterson of Pullman Presbyterian Church and Mamdouh El-Aareg of the Spokane Islamic Center presented reflections on their traditions’ calls for involvement.

Jews called to heal the world

Elliot Frabric

Elliot Fabric

Jewish law was not codified until the rabbinic period from 200 BCE to 200 in the common era, Elliot said, but it is based on the Torah, the first five books of Hebrew Scripture.

“Judaism is based on oral tradition of the Pharisees and written law of the Sadducees.  When Moses was on the mountain 40 days receiving the 10 commandments, he likely spent time building the basis for the oral interpretations,” he said.  “The Talmud has the basic Jewish law with the interpretations written around the edges.”

Elliot said Judaism emphasizes that it is better to be humane than follow a law that humiliates someone:  Caring supersedes a harsh law.  For example, Jewish law has capital punishment, but it is almost never imposed because of the requirements needed to impose it, even in a case of murder.

“The overriding theme of the Torah, Talmud, Prophets and Psalms is tikkun olam, which means to heal or fix the world, usually through social justice.  We are judged by how we treat those who have the least and are considered the least desirable—the poor, the sick and the elderly,” he said.

So that means Jewish people are to be concerned about the health, economic, educational, environmental and social service delivery systems.

“We are to see what needs to be changed in the world and work to fix it,” Elliot.  “My belief in social justice is directly from Judaism.”

Catholics teach justice

Rita suggested, as a song by Howard Thurman goes, that when the celebration of the feast of Christmas is past, the work of Christmas begins. 
That work is to “find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry and to bring peace,” she said.

Rita Waldrelf

Rita Waldref

“The work of the Gospel is to be compassionate, to love our neighbors and to promote the common good.  Catholic commitment has two feet:  direct service to help the poor survive their crisis and social justice to change the political and economic structures that cause poverty.”

About 100 years of Catholic doctrine rooted in Scriptures uplifts seven themes.  Rita followed each with quotes from A Century of Social Teaching:

1) Life and dignity of the human person:  Each person has dignity from God.

2) Call to family, community and participation:  Each person is sacred and social, realizing dignity and rights in relationship with others.

3) Rights and responsibilities of the human person:  Each person has basic rights to and responsibilities regarding life, food, clothing, housing, health care, education, security, social services and employment.

4) The option for the poor and vulnerable:  The church is to be the voice for the voiceless.

5) The dignity of work and rights of workers: Work is a form of participation in God’s creation, and people have the right to decent and productive work, decent and fair wages, private property and economic initiative.

6) Solidarity: People are one human family, whatever their national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences.

7) Care for God’s creation:  People are to form sustainable communities and develop sustainable livelihoods in creative communion with the land, forest, water and air.

“In Catholic tradition, we are engaged in the work of Christmas as we promote the work of justice, so that all might walk and live with dignity,” Rita said.

Protestant says God requires doing justice

Bill Peterson

Bill Peterson

Bill commented that whatever points might divide people who represent “Religions of the Book,” the bottom line of the Abrahamic faith is captured in Micah 6:8:  “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

“If all of us were to adhere to these requirements, what a better place this world would be,” he said.

Coming from the Reformed Protestant tradition, he clarified that “to reform something does not mean to abandon it.”  Prophetic voices call people “back to the basics of faith, but often they are kicked out of the tradition they want to reform, so people have formed separate bodies that move them away from their roots.”

He finds some Protestants resist awareness that they are protestants, seeking to bring changes to make the world a better place.

Out of the history of Christians moving apart because of differences of sacraments and governance, he affirms ecumenical and interfaith cooperation on peace, poverty and social justice.

“God informed Abram that he was blessed to be a blessing, but often we believe we are blessed because we have been faithful, are special to God or are righteous,” Bill said, challenging the idea that the blessing is something to grasp rather than to share to make the world better.

Presbyterians through the years have sought to be a blessing through medical missions, starting hospitals in this nation and around the world, and through eradicating illiteracy—one of the root causes of poverty—by starting schools, academies, colleges and universities.

“Presbyterian schools and colleges were often among the first to serve poor children and youth, the first to accept women as students and to educate blacks along with whites,” he said.  “Presbyterians still seek to make a difference in the lives of those Jesus called ‘the least of these.’”

Last year, a Presbyterian church in Chicago formed the Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness, which is now spreading in the denomination.  The denomination’s General Assemblies have periodically reaffirmed commitments to end world hunger as a priority in the life and mission of the church.

A summer camp in Texas recently exposed children and youth to economic realities and decisions in the life of a poor mother with two children.

In addition, a youth group in North Carolina, appalled by the money spent on the Super Bowl began a “Souper Bowl Sunday,” collecting food or dollars in soup pots.  It spread nationally and the program expects to raise more than $5 million ecumenically this year to invest in local charities, tsunami relief or other projects.

“We have a humble Messiah and need to be humble people, reminded we are called to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly,” Bill concluded.

Islam establishes values

About 1,400 years ago, the Prophet Mohammed came to a society that was corrupt and misguided, said Mamdouh.

Mamdouh El-Aareeq

Mamdouh El-Aareq

“Wars started without reasons or for minor differences.  Slavery was widespread.  Women had no rights.  Infant females were buried alive.  Theft, cheating and lying were customary,” he said, “and indecency was normal.”

Islam came into that time and established principles and values for people to achieve felicity, tranquility and success, to cleanse society from its illnesses.

Mamdouh said that Islam honors women as mothers, wives and daughters, protecting their rights, educating them and making them equal to men in worship, inheritance, obligations and reward. 

Allah says that those who do righteousness and have faith will have a good life, he said, adding that “the Prophet eliminated all kinds of prejudice and racism,” pointing out that everyone is descended from Adam and that people’s color, wealth, position and lineage are no matter in evaluating a person.

Islam prescribes mandatory charity—particularly by the rich—called Zakat.  It is the third pillar of Islam, Mamdouh said.  Either the government collects the charity and gives it to the poor, or people give it directly to the poor.

It is a means of purification for one’s health and wealth to make them increase and to protect oneself from calamities, crises, illness and other troubles, he said.

“Zakat is a means to bridge the gap between rich and poor, and to build a bridge of bonds, mutual understanding and mutual protection,” he said. 
Thus, wealthy people decide if the poor will suffer.  It is their responsibility to care for the poor.  If they do not, it is basis for punishment.

“Obligatory charity is due on all types of wealth.  There is also voluntary charity, which promises those who give great rewards,” he said.

“If these principles are followed, you will not find a needy person,” Mamdouh said.  “A true Muslim community is a community where the rich care for the poor, the strong protect the weak and youth help their elders.  It is a community full of mercy, love, care and prosperity.

“We ask God to guide us all to the right path and to help us always in doing good,” he said.

Kateri then pointed out that half of the 6 billion people on earth are Jewish, Christian or Muslim, descendants of Abraham, sharing the common call to do good works on behalf of the poor. 

“Blessings are promised to those who care for the needy,” she said.

“If we struggle against ignorance and misery, the world will be blessed,” Kateri said, concluding that work for the wellbeing of all members of society is integral to living these faiths.

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© February 2005 - The Fig Tree