Here is video of an interreligious conversation between a Rabbi, a Cheikh and a Pastor on Shared Sacred Sites done at the New York Public Library.
Shared Sacred Sites
New York Public Library, March 28, 2018
Thank you for all who put this wonderful event together! I am grateful to be here! So I will star by saying that, from a little I saw and read about this art exhibition and this project, I effusively salute this fantastic effort to see examples of other forms of life possible through shared sacred places, places that we can actually live with one other. This project wants to provide an alternative narrative to religious extremism, religious hatred and disputes and just for this effort, this project is worth knowing.
This project is especially important for our time when we have been thrown into a divisive way of thinking and feeling, a binarial form of structuring our lives that tends to show us that we have nothing in common and a framework of disparities diving us between us and them, friends and enemies, foreigners and citizens, those who are with us or against us. It makes every religious community be suspicious and highly afraid of each other. As if we have to conquer the other since we are turned into each other’s infidels, each other’s devil sent.
Thinking about our time, this is not a structure only religious discourses but also, a political one as well. I wonder how we can think of religious relations under the larger spectrum of instable forms of democracies, with lots of noise and fear and very little communication and trust.
How can religious relations happen in societies under the power of fake news, social inequalities and the ample dominium of a neoliberal system where states are under the rule and control of the financial power, taking over public spaces and criminalizing forms of life that are not what the state allows.
As we in the US receive this art exhibition, we are challenged to go beyond our own nose and noise, and our self-enclosed notion of ourselves. To see what others are doing can empower us to see possibilities within this country. In fact, it can challenge us to go see what are the real sacred shared sites we have in this country. This alternative religious narrative can help us move with and beyond our own senses of identities, be it religious or not, so we can see signs of life beyond of what we know and what we call our own.
So, besides these effects and offerings of real possibilities of living together, I see this exhibition and books like “Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution” Edited by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey. helping us also in the following ways:
* As communities who have everything and almost nothing in common.
We are all part of the same planet and share the same DNA. We are not only each other but we are also the earth, the soil, the seeds, the animals, the sun, the moon. And yet, we love our own niches and from our cultural, religious and social places we see each other as having nothing in common. These communities marked in this exhibition show us that we have everything and nothing in common and yet, living together is possible.
* I see these communities living in proximities and distances.
The internet has approximated us too much and turned us into a global community where everyone wants to speak, giving rise to all sorts of hatred and forms of domination. Our times have rarely real approximations where we can actually know deeply one another as there are rarely real distancing from one another where we can somewhat forge the living with the other by ways of accepting our utter differences.
* And I wish to think they live as life is only possible if living with one another.
My idealistic self hopes to see that they cannot live themselves away from each other, that it is only the present of the other that makes life itself possible.
Where do we go now?
This exhibition reminded of this fantastic movie I saw few years ago. It is called Where do we go now? A comedy directed by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. The movie shows a group of Lebanese women trying to ease religious tensions between Christians and Muslims in “a tiny, isolated Lebanese village and conspire to bring about peace. The local Christians and Muslims have co-existed since time immemorial. Members of the two religious groups are virtually identical in culture. They do the same jobs, eat the same food, like the same music, speak the same language. Recently the men, inflamed by the introduction of TV and its outside news, have decided the two groups are enemies. When two crowds get into a shoving match, it’s always the insecure hotheads who take the lead.”
The men of the village become ready to kill each other. Both religious groups led by men can only see strife and contention between them now. Not even the priest and the Iman can help in their fury against each other. When the women of the village see the potential of them losing their own families they decide to convert into the other religion. One day they wake up and Muslim men see their wives praying with the crucifix and the Bible. The Christian men wake up to their wives wearing the hijab and reciting Muslim prayers. They get so confused! Not only that, the movie shows an expansive amount of ideas they have in order to debunk the violence in their village. Religion becomes only a name for a hatred that is not of their faith. At the end, and here comes the spoiler, be prepared, is that when they go bury some of their own families: they have on the one side Christians buried and on the other side Muslims buried. But now they have changed so much that they don’t know which part of the cemetery they will bury their beloved ones. Whence the question: Where do we go now?
I think this is the question for us all to consider. I am writing a book on this very question: Where do we go now?
Since we are asked to wrestle with this exhibition, my issues with this project are the following:
1) I have difficulties with the notion of tolerance.
“toleration, from the Latin tolerare: to put up with, countenance or suffer—generally refers to the conditional acceptance of or non-interference with beliefs, actions or practices that one considers to be wrong but still “tolerable,” such that they should not be prohibited or constrained.” By giving us the concept of tolerance, we are still feeding on the dynamics of the powerful who holds the power and deciding whether they want give a conditional acceptance to somebody else or not. We should however, start from the fact that we all have the right to land, to natural sources of life and born with the same dignity. In Christian terms, we call it Imago Dei, we are all the image of God. Based on that, we are left to negotiate how we can honor each other and give each other the gift of our radical love and hospitality. An impossible gift that must be given.
2) Other religions
I so wish this project would expand its religious scope. While the sharing between the three Abrahamic religions are fundamental and so important to our time, we must expand the possibility of religious shared sites. Other religions can in fact break the self-enclosed locked terms of the Abrahamic religions. We need more wisdom than that! To start, we need the wisdom of Buddhism, African and Native religions.
Buddhism can help the Abrahamic religions to undo their own notions of transcendence and immanence.
African Religions can help us see the vital force of Axe as that which unites us all. They are often religions of addition of other gods and not of subtraction.
indigenous religions can help us move beyond multiculturalisms and think our lives, like African religions, deeply connected with the natural world. indigenous religions call us into multi-humanisms, that sees humans, nature and animals as shades of the same form of humanity.
I believe that only with the presence of other religions, the three Abrahamic religions can expand their own sense of the divine, of self, and of love and hospitality. At the end, we are all occupying the earth as a shared sacred site.
I finish saying that this fantastic exhibition and larger project are showing us something new, something powerful, a narrative that a different world is possible! They carry a frail hope and mighty presence that we can in fact live together, that the value of life itself comes before, during and after our own beliefs.
Thank you for letting me part of this conversation.
Shared Sacred Sites: A Conversation with Faith Leaders
In celebration of the Shared Sacred Sites project, The New York Public Library invites you to a conversation between three faith leaders from each of the Abrahamic religions. Cheik Khaled Bentounès, Rabbi Rolando Matalon, and Minister and Theologian Cláudio Carvalhaes will discuss the issues of mutual tolerance, universal understandings of hospitality that come from the tradition of Abraham, as well as how each religious tradition has within itself the capacity to reach out to others and promote “living together in peace.” They will discuss their participation and their view of the tradition of sharing sacred sites between the three Abrahamic faiths.They will question the relationship between humanitarianism and the three religions, and explore the limits of religion as a full advocate of humanitarianism. The event will be moderated by Anisa Mehdi, acclaimed journalist and filmmaker and director of the Abraham’s Path Initiative.
Shared Sacred Sites puts forward a powerful story of cross-faith and cross-cultural co-existence. For centuries Christians, Jews and Muslims have visited and prayed at sanctuaries belonging to their fellow Abrahamic religions, revealing the permeability of the frontiers between religious communities. Despite theological differences, the three religions share a number of features – from beliefs, to rites, to holy figures and to places – which have formed a fertile ground for the sharing of sacred sites. The Shared Sacred Sites project is a contemporary “pilgrimage” in Manhattan, which celebrates the history of tolerance and cross-cultural exchange, with exhibitions and programs in three venues: The New York Public Library, the Morgan Library and Museum, and the James Gallery at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Be sure to visit the the exhibition at the Library following the conversation, and to check out the other happenings and exhibitions related to the project at The Morgan Library and Museum and the CUNY Grad Center. For more information, please visit sharedsacredsites.net.
Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman.
Additional support for Shared Sacred Sites at NYPL is provided by The Achelis and Bodman Foundation and the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation, Inc. in memory of Ruth and Seymour Klein. Support for the Shared Sacred Sites project is provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges Program, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and Nicholas J. and Anna K. Bouras Foundation.