Before Boko Haram abducted some 300 Nigerian schoolgirls, drawing global condemnation, Baptist and Islamic colleagues met in Washington, D.C., in October 2012 to explore a collaborative response to this Islamic terrorist group.
David Kerrigan and Lynn Green at the British Baptist Assembly display the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls that has gone viral. (Photo: Baptist Union of Great Britain)
That meeting grew out of the deep anxiety among Nigerian Baptists at the Baptist World Alliance gathering in Santiago, Chile. They spoke with passion—fear and anger.
During one of the public forums, I shared about our documentary, "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims."
I said that we had good friends at the Islamic Society of North America and had worked well together on a number of occasions.
I said I thought a meeting between BWA and ISNA leaders would be helpful to explore what Muslims and Baptists in the United States could do together to address the situation in Nigeria.
To show support for the Nigerian Baptist family, the BWA adopted a resolution that expressed "concern about the discriminatory bombing of places of worship," the slaughtering of Nigerian people and the "abuse of human rights in the name of religion."
After calling for peacemaking efforts and advocating for religious liberty, the resolution urged global Baptists to voice their concerns to "their governments, religious leaders and persons of influence."
I immediately emailed my friend, Sayyid M. Syeed, ISNA's national director of the Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances, about a meeting.
He immediately responded that ISNA was "intensely aware" of the problem and "would love to have a meeting."
I was not surprised about ISNA's concern about Boko Haram and eagerness at collaboration.
ISNA had condemned the Boko Haram Christmas Day bombings in Nigeria in late 2011.
"It is a sad day for all people when a simple act of worship or community celebration is marked by violence and innocent deaths," said Imam Mohamed Magid, ISNA's president.
Magid underscored ISNA's commitment to the right of Nigerian Christians "to worship freely."
ISNA also forthrightly condemned the abduction of schoolgirls in early May.
"We condemn wholeheartedly, the disgusting and un-Islamic actions that the terrorist group known as Boko Haram has committed. Kidnapping and threatening to sell the over 200 Nigerian school girls has no validation in the religious tradition of Islam and we urge the Nigerian authorities to find the missing school girls and bring their captors to justice," ISNA Vice President Azhar Azeez said.
ISNA was not alone among Islamic organizations and leaders in condemning Boko Haram.
Saudi Arabia's grand mufti called their actions "misguided."
"These groups are not on the right path because Islam is against kidnapping, killing and aggression," said the top religious authority in Saudi Arabia. "Marrying kidnapped girls is not permitted."
Globally, Islamic leaders have criticized Boko Haram, according to Associated Press.
Out of the Baptist-Muslim meeting in October 2012 came a Baptist delegation that traveled to Nigeria and engaged Islamic leaders and government officials.
The Nigerian Baptist Convention later issued a letter of appreciation for the BWA delegation's visit.
The Nigerian Baptist Convention has a reported membership of 3.5 million members and is the largest Baptist fellowship in Africa.
Boko Haram's terrorism campaign has continued to escalate, killing indiscriminately Christians and Muslims.
In the Hausa language, the name translates "Western education is forbidden." And the group is determined to punish both Christians and Muslims who take a different civic path than their own fanaticism.
While the global community is now awakening to Boko Haram's increasing terrorism in the name of religion, religious leaders had long sought to address such extremism.
Such efforts may appear meager—unsuccessful. But such efforts do build needed collaboration between two faith groups that have different sacred books, but share a common word to love neighbor.
And in the long-term, constructive collaboration will bear fruit for the common good.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
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