|United Methodists, Muslims partner to ease suffering|
British government minister Stephen Timms
signs the partnership agreement between the United Methodist Committee
on Relief and Muslim Aid at the House of Commons in London. UMNS photos
by Ginny Underwood.
By Kathleen LaCamera*
June 27, 2007 | LONDON (UMNS)
"We are responding as partners to human need, not proselytizing," says Farooq Murad of Muslim Aid.
Religious leaders, diplomats, British government ministers and
members of Parliament are praising the new partnership between United
Methodist and Muslim relief agencies as "bold," "significant" and one
that "confounds stereotypes."
The New York-based United Methodist Committee on Relief signed a
partnership agreement with the London-based global relief and
development agency Muslim Aid on June 26 at the House of Commons.
Stephen Timms, the British government minister who hosted the event,
said UMCOR and Muslim Aid both were formed out of an "ambition to
Referring to joint projects already under way, Timms said the
partnership is special because the two faith groups have worked together
across a divide thought to be "unbridgeable."
UMCOR and Muslim Aid already have put $9.8 million into joint
projects in Sri Lanka to provide tsunami recovery and support to
displaced civilians affected by renewed fighting between Tamil Tigers
and government military forces. The new partnership agreement could
result in as much as $15 million more to combat the effects of disaster,
war and poverty around the world.
"No one should underestimate the potential for good that Christians
and Muslims (working together) can do in the UK and in the rest of the
world," said Timms. "This shows what distinctive faiths can achieve when
the focus is on shared values."
'Only a beginning'
Signing the agreement on behalf of UMCOR, United Methodist Bishop
Edward Paup said "responding to human need will make this partnership
succeed." Paup, who is the agency’s president, said the coming together
of two organizations from different religions is "only a beginning."
"We hope we have set the table, and we are now inviting others to join us," he added.
United Methodist Bishop Edward Paup signed the agreement on behalf of UMCOR.
The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of UMCOR's parent
organization, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said that
"while we come from different theological positions, we have the same
humanitarian values to relieve the suffering of those in need, no matter
who they are or what they believe."
UMCOR is part of the 11.5 million-member United Methodist Church and is active in more than 80 countries.
Farooq Murad signed the agreement on behalf of Muslim Aid, an
organization with a 20-year history of relief work in more than 60
countries with 500 local partners. As Muslim Aid’s chairman, Murad
believes that practical cooperative work across religious traditions
reduces people’s suspicions of faith-based organizations.
"We are responding as partners to human need, not proselytizing," he said.
Guy Hovey, UMCOR’s Sri Lanka director, has seen the powerful
difference interfaith cooperation makes in that nation. In 2006, when
fighting broke out between Tamil rebels and government troops in Mutur,
UMCOR workers met with a level of violence and threats that made it
impossible to deliver much-needed aid and support to displaced
Turning to their Muslim Aid partners—who had proved so valuable in
tsunami relief and recovery efforts—the two groups joined forces and
reached out to Buddhist leaders as well. Together through grassroots
community faith groups, they addressed crucial local needs such as
irrigation, health care, education and security.
"We were able to walk through villages where before people would have
thrown stones at us. Now they were smiling at us," Hovey told United
Methodist News Service. "We built unique relationships with faith
leaders. Seeing us trusting and working with each other, people felt
they could trust local faith communities.
"We didn’t look at it as a Muslim/Christian project," he said. "First
it was a desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with those working with
displaced people. It started on the ground as an effort to bring relief
and development to more than 50,000 people."
Improved credibility and effectiveness
Faith-based organizations gain credibility and effectiveness when
they work across faith boundaries, said British Methodist Relief and
Development Fund representatives attending the UMCOR/Muslim Aid launch.
"Government officials as well as individual people can be suspicious of
faith-based organizations. They worry about proselytizing. They have an
assumption that these groups will only be interested in looking after
their own," said Kirsty Smith, the fund’s director.
Day and Murad shake hands as Bishop Paup applauds the signing.
In the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Sri Lankan
Methodist Church, one of the fund’s partners, has worked closely with
local Buddhists. Like Hovey, Smith said interfaith cooperation has been
crucial in identifying and addressing key local needs.
While Muslim Aid and UMCOR don’t have all the answers, Day said that
working in partnership allows them to deliver aid more effectively
without leaving aside the particularities and distinctiveness of their
individual faiths. He hopes other non-proselytizing, faith-based
organizations will join with UMCOR and Muslim Aid to work for peace and
against poverty and suffering.
"Doing this work together we have seen that we can relieve the
effects of conflict without being a part of it," Day told those gathered
for the launch.
"We are two communities looking at the same problem: the outbreak of
global poverty and inequality," explained Murad of Muslim Aid. "We want
to increase our effectiveness together. We can do a great deal more. …
The Koran says to cooperate in what is right and what is just."
*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Timms: “They can achieve things governments can’t.”
The Rev. R. Randy Day: “Different faiths can work to relieve the effects of conflict.”
Farooq Murad: “This…is about two communities looking at the same problem…poverty.”
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United Methodist Committee on Relief