On Thursday, October 6th, Pacifica institute has hosted a panel on the topic Mercy In The Three Abrahamic Traditions with 3 distinguished speakers Amir Hussain, who is a professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount, Pim Valkenberg, who is a professor of Religion and Culture at the Catholic University of America, and Rabbi Reuven Firestone, who is a professor in Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College.
The panel started with Rabbi Firestone’s speech. He began his talk by stating how devastated he is to see people from Hizmet movement being persecuted. He stated that Hizmet is an “extraordinary movement run by extremely dedicated and remarkable people engaged in acts of love and kindness and goodness” as he has observed in many parts of the world. “I had the privilege of being able to teach for them, with them, to them and learn from them” he stated as he continued on his topic of mercy. According to Rabbi Firestone, our mission as human is to speak about mercy and there should be a friendly competition between religions in spreading the word of mercy. To illustrate his point, he gave the example of the 10 days of repentance in Jewish calendar which starts on this Sunday evening, He explains the 10 days as the time of mercy, a period of introspection where thinking what we should have done better and asking for mercy is practiced. In Hebrew tradition, he says, the name of God is “Raham”, which means the womb. Even though God is a very masculine figure, he carries a maternal attribute which shows his compassion and mercy to humankind. However, he continues, God is not all forgiving. In Torah, it is stated that God punishes the children of adults. He explains this verse as when we commit sins against the environment or people, there is a cosmic payback.As a result, we suffer or our children pay. Nonetheless, his mercy is more observable than his punishment as described in the attributes associated with mercy: merciful before sin, merciful after going astray, mercy which surpasses even the name, loving sympathy, even to the ones who do not deserve it, slow to anger and abundant in kindness. He finished his speech by stating that our job is to work, engage with our fellows in and outside of our community to encourage compassion so that the world can be survived.
The second speaker was Pim Valkenberg. He began his talk by stating that all three religions share this common understanding: we are all sinners, so we need god in order to be saved. All religions share — in different ways— this idea of God being both merciful and revengeful, mercy surpassing revenge and revenge taken in situations which go wrong, he states. He then explained the mercy he has encountered in the Hizmet movement. Going back 17 ago, Valkenberg continued, he first encountered Hizment in Netherlands at an organization called Islam and Dialogue when he was teaching at a university about inter religious dialogue. He states that the people at the organization were the perfect combination of accommodating real practice of their own religion and openness in inter religious communication. After 9/11, there were two ideas about the cause: one blaming all to the religion, the other disassociating the people from the religion. He states that both ideas are very one-sided. Religion has the power to strengthen both the good and the evil in people, he continued. According to him, the quotation “Religion has to do with hating evil and promoting good.” describes the two sides of religion perfectly, by Fethullah Gulen. After that, he became interested in the works and thoughts of Fethullah Gulen. He described the acts as a renewal of faith by service. “If you try to live your life in a grounded relationship with God, you serve the humankind and Hocaefefendi (Fethullah Gulen) does this” he added, similar to how Catholics go to pilgrimage every 50 years to Rome at the year of mercy to renew their faith. Lastly, he added that religious differences are not bad,and that we can learn from one another by becoming mirror for each other.
The third speaker was Amir Hussain. He began his talk stating that the public understanding of Islam is not merciful but for Muslim thats an essential term. He articulated on the two most common names of God: Rahman and Raheem, which are recited in the beginning of every chapter in Quran. He explained the meaning of the names as “the generally merciful” and “the specifically merciful”, suggesting the mercy God shows to everyone in every situation. In Quran, it is stated that the God’s mercy take precedence over his wrath. He highlighted the point that mercy is more fundamental to reality than wrath, with the argument mercy being for everyone and wrath for the ones only who deserve it. With the beginning of the Muslim new year, which collided with Jewish new year, he explained the practice of Hajj not only being about sacrifice but also a dress rehearsal of the resurrection and asking for God’s forgiveness. He added that since we are monotheistic, we have obligations to God but also, as the children of God and as an ethical component, we have obligations to each other as well. Last but not lastly, he highlighted the importance of asking forgiveness from people, stating that you do things to each other, you have to forgive each other, how do you expect God to forgive you if you do not forgive. Pacifica Institute had the privilege of having the first print of Dr Amir Hussein’s book “Muslims in America.” This book is a wonderful source for the origins of Muslims in America and their development through out the centuries in the US.