We live in a world where all too often religion only makes the headlines when being employed by a group of extremists trying to justify their warped ideologies, ideologies, which are rarely shared by the majority of those who follow the same faith.
Not a day passes without an Islamophobic or anti-Semitic incident occurring somewhere, or a person or group of people are brutally murdered for the faith they choose to follow.
Unfortunately, rarely do the media give any attention to the tireless efforts by people of faith to counter this extremism and hate, which is sweeping across Europe and the rest of the world. The media does not tell us when people of one faith are stepping out of their comfort zones and extending an olive branch to other believers. The majority of us remain oblivious to the friendships which are being formed through these efforts.
One such event took place in late April at St. Ottilien Archabbey a beautiful and tranquil Benedictine Monastery in Emming, in the German district of Landsberg. St. Ottilien boasts its own farms, power station, guest house and a school for 700 children.
The Monastery became the unlikely venue for a meeting between a group of monks, led by Brother Josef Gotze, and a group of Shi’a Muslim Scholars and students from various countries, led by Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali.
During the course of these four days, members from each group presented papers on topics such as; ‘the importance of dialogue and peace between different religions’, ‘family values’, ‘hospitality and refugees’, ‘social justice’, ‘the environment’, and ‘prayer’.
The presentations and subsequent discussions provided participants with the opportunity to think and look beyond differences and realise just how much the two faiths share in common. As Dr. Shomali so eloquently put it, as humans we are “more attentive to differences. It is time we trained ourselves to look beyond these differences and see the commonalities, to see our shared humanity and shared belief in God.”
The meeting became a prime example for tackling the rising tide of hate with dialogue and love. And even though the event only lasted a few days, the friendships formed will continue for many years to come.