Murids, a Muslim renewal movement, and Mennonites met in Paris, France, to promote Muslim-Christian peacemaking. This article first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of Anabaptist World.
People of the Murid and Mennonite faiths gathered at the Centre Islamique de Taverny (Islamic Center of Taverny, CIT), located west of Paris, France, for a first-of-its-kind meeting, Nov. 25, 2023. The event was the fruit of three years of planning by a committee of Murid and Mennonite leaders, after many years of relationship building between the two faith traditions, which each have a rich history and extensive experience in living out their commitment to peace.
In 1883, Shaykh Amadu Bamba Mbakke (Amadu Bamba) founded the Muridiyya (a renewal movement of Islam with a Sufi tendency) in Senegal. It has since spread throughout the world. In addition to following the five pillars of Islam — declaration of faith, prayer, giving to the poor, fasting and pilgrimage — Murids are committed to living in peace. They follow the example of their founder, whose childhood experience with violent jihad (struggle) turned him toward nonviolence.
"I wage my jihad through knowledge and ethical values, as a humble subject of God and a servant of his Prophet. While others bear weapons to be feared, my sole 'arms' are knowledge and worship. The true warrior in God's path is not he who kills his enemies, but he who combats his ego to achieve spiritual perfection," Bamba wrote in a 1903 poem, addressed to Christians, "O ye People of the Trinity."
According to Jonathan Bornman, one of organizers of Murid-Mennonite encounter, Bamba was also influenced by the ancient Suwarian pacifist traditions of West Africa, first articulated by Al-Hajj Salim Suwari.
Bornman, previously worked in Senegal through Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, and now, leads Eastern Mennonite Mission's Christian-Muslim Relations Team. Participants in the Murid-Mennonite encounter came from seven countries: France, Italy, Morocco, Senegal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Three Mission Network scholars and members of the local Murid community and the French Mennonite Church were present.
The event was an attempt to bring together peacemakers from two world religions, so that, as neighbors, they could take the first step in overcoming the global animosity between Muslims and Christians.
"We believe that both [Murids and Mennonites] have a lot in common and that their peacemaking traditions have much to contribute to the fabric of the societies in which they find themselves," said Matthew Krabill, one of the event organizers. Krabill and his wife, Toni, serve with Mission Network and represented the Paris Mennonite Center at the gathering.
Bornman had a dream about this kind of a Murid-Mennonite encounter three years ago, when animosity and violence between Muslims and Christians in France was making global news.
"I awoke thinking, 'If I could introduce Macron [the French president] to the Murid and Mennonite communities, [and if he would consult with them,] they could help make the country a better place," Bornman said.
Bornman shared his vision with Krabill, and together, they laid the groundwork for the encounter. They shared in writing the conference proposal that named some of the commonalities between the faith communities. Both Murids and Mennonites:
Other conference organizers included Mame Gora Diop, a CIT leader and director of a research institute — Institut Abdoulahi wa Khadim Rassoulihi; Djiby Diagne, of MICA; and Max Wiedmer, who represented the Swiss Mennonites and the Comité de mission mennonite français (French Mennonite Mission Committee).Diop, a sociologist, whose area of interest is education and training, embraced the Muridiyya when he came to France from Senegal more than 30 years ago.
- Practice nonviolence, which grows out of a belief that all people are children of God and are called to forgive their enemies rather than take revenge.
- Have histories of migration and establishing self-supporting faith communities wherever they go.
- Tend to be inwardly focused on sustaining religious life and practice, yet they have made positive contributions to the societies in which they have settled. For example, each unaware of the other's work, Infinity Mennonite Church and the Murid Islamic Community in America (MICA) both contributed to the revitalization of Harlem [a neighborhood in New York City] in the 1990s and early 2000s.
"For the past 30 years, I have immersed myself in my Murid faith — intellectually, in the practical ways that I live my life, and institutionally, in my work at the Islamic center," Diop said. "My faith is my life."
Diop added to Bornman and Krabill's list of commonalities between the Murid and Mennonite faiths:
The most compelling shared belief, however, is that peace, rather than violence, is the best way to address disputes, Diop said. This is what motivated him to help organize the event."We are in a world that is shaken by conflicts and violence on all sides, so peace is of the utmost importance," Diop said. "We learned a lot [in conversation with the Mennonites] that gave us new tools with which we can dig more deeply into our own understanding of peace."
- The importance of community.
- Love for all people, including enemies.
- Respecting the value of each person's life.
Romain Ehrismann, pastor of the Châtenay-Malabry-Mennonite Church in Paris, also participated in the Murid-Mennonite encounter because of the focus on peace and because he was curious to know more about his Murid neighbors. He said that talking with people who don't have the same beliefs, as happened at Taverny, is a powerful demonstration that such conversations are possible."Dialogue and openness are important, so we aren't limited to our own tunnel vision," Ehrismann said. "Listening to each other is essential in our fragmented and polarized society. However, just because we are talking together doesn't mean we agree on everything. I think it is important to not confuse listening attentively to others with endorsing what is being said." Ehrismann cautioned against centering interreligious conversations on polite commonalities."We must also talk respectfully about what separates us, otherwise we risk falling into squishy dialogue that isn't fruitful." he said. "We must talk about points of agreement and points of disagreement. In doing this in an atmosphere of confidence and trust, we build something wholesome and solid that we can offer our religious communities and the societies in which we live."
While stressing the importance of being authentic and rigorous in interreligious dialogue, Ehrismann agrees with Diop that, on the societal level, communities should resist emphasizing differences, a practice that leads to segregation.
According to Diop, Islam is poorly understood and often intentionally deformed.
"How can we become known by our virtues, our principles?" he asked. "How can we be seen as contributors to society? When our neighbors learn to know us and we are respected locally, then, the media stereotypes will be seen as false depictions. The Murid-Mennonite encounter was the first step in this direction of learning to know one another better."
Diop described Islam as a growing and constantly evolving force in France and around world, and thus, it must be taken into account as an integral part of modern societies.
"When I arrived in France, 30 years ago, we prayed in basements. Now, there are more than 2,000 mosques in France," Diop said. "We are becoming more educated than in the past because of young people joining our faith community. They can better communicate with people outside the faith. Now, we are explaining our own texts, rather than having people outside the faith explain them. In this way, our identity is gradually crystalizing, and people are becoming more aware of who we really are."
Just spending a whole day together and beginning to feel comfortable enough to share openly was significant, he said. He also appreciated the resources made available through scholars, who have dedicated their lives to working toward Muslim-Christian relationships.
"We were able to get beyond the barriers that we put up when we weren't sure about others," Diop said. "We also got beyond theory and into practical application. We began to answer the question: 'How are we going to move forward in a way that is sustainable and that will make a difference in people's lives?'"
According to Diop, the next step would be a conference on the practical aspects of living together in solidarity and with respect for one another.
"When we have strong and beautiful values, it is necessary to share them, to put them on display," Diop said. "When we have a powerful message, we cannot keep it to ourselves."
He suggested some concrete examples of how to promote the values that Murids and Mennonites share:
Diop also encouraged Mennonites to engage in a deep self-examination to enter into true dialogue that would be deeply rooted and, thus, capable of growth. Where are the Mennonite's practices inconsistent with their beliefs? What historic wrongs need to be righted?
- Creating alliances and, perhaps, institutionalizing them.
- Sharing audio-visual presentations.
- Organizing public demonstrations.
- Presenting university colloquia/conferences.
- Being present where decisions are made and being prepared to speak coherently and forcefully.
Bornman knows, from a lifetime experience, that building trust between Christians and Muslims is a slow process that must overcome centuries of violence. He began this journey in 1999, when he and his family lived and worked among the Wolof people for a decade. Christian-Muslim relationship building has been his passion ever since. He hopes that this encounter will be a first step in breaking down the mistrust between the Murid and Mennonite communities and that future gatherings will involve even more people.
Diop summarized his experience of the day by saying that the results of the Murid-Mennonite encounter were "over and beyond what I had hoped for. I arrived with a smile, and I left with so much joy."