It’s easy enough to find examples today of tensions and divides between the predominantly Islamic East and Christian West despite their ancient, interwoven origins.
But the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, a widely known interfaith speaker and author, is venturing to Charleston on Nov. 3 and 4 to explore ways that the world’s two largest religions can coexist and even enrich one another.
The divide remains deeply personal to him.
Chandler, an Episcopal priest and son of a Protestant pastor, grew up in the mostly Muslim West Africa country of Senegal.
He has spent all but about 14 of his 49 years working in Muslim environments.
“It formed the foundation of my own journey,” he said.
Chandler encourages Christians to look beyond violence perpetuated by narrow groups of Islamists to see the beauty of the larger Muslim world where he has long lived and worked.
From the Christian West, “Islamaphobia” hampers this appreciation. It spiked after Sept. 11, then ebbed and has resurged recently, Chandler said.
“The fundamental thing is fear of the ‘other’ and the idea that Islam has a propensity toward violence,” he says. “It looks so strange, so different. It’s this foreign faith.”
Yet, Christianity was born in the same ancient Middle East as Islam. They share theological roots and commonalities that could bridge their differences if the faithful among both are willing see them, he said.
Chandler has entitled his upcoming visit to Charleston’s First (Scots) Presbyterian Church “Six Pillars Builds a Bridge.” He will discuss Muslim practices of faith, including the five Islamic pillars and a “true” understanding of jihad, and offer practical ways for Muslims and Christians to build friendships to better understand each other.
“What seems strange really is not,” he said.
Chandler recently ended a decade of serving as rector of the Church of St. John the Baptist/Maadi, an international English-speaking church in Cairo, Egypt. He also is a past president and CEO of Partners International, an ecumenical nonprofit that works with indigenous faith-based nongovernmental organizations in more than 70 countries.
In addition, he has written three books including the most recent, “Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths.”
Next, he is working on two new books. One will take a practical look at interfaith friendships. The second will examine the spirituality of Kahlil Gibran, the early 20th-century Lebanese writer and mystic revered for his book “The Prophet.”
Chandler also promotes the arts as a bridge between people of different faiths and cultures. To this end, he founded an arts initiative called Caravan that promotes interfaith visual arts, literature, film and music.
To jump into the feature film world, he created Nisibis Arts LLC and is founding producer of an upcoming film called “Ports of Call,” based on the best-selling novel by the Lebanese-French novelist Amin Maalouf about an interfaith romance.
“It is a powerful catalyst to bringing people together,” he said. “I have seen remarkable partnerships and friendships come about.”
For more, go to www.paulgordonchandler.com.