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United Methodists, Muslims, form pact in Northern Illinois

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A UMNS photo by Linda Rhodes

United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung (right) watches as Abdul Malik Mujahid signs the “Declaration of Relationship.”
April 20, 2006

By Linda S. Rhodes*

CHICAGO (UMNS) — United Methodists and Muslims in Northern Illinois have officially created a covenant relationship between the two faith groups.

More than 100 leaders of the greater Chicago Islamic community and the United Methodist Northern Illinois Conference celebrated that covenant at an April 6 interfaith banquet at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park.

United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung and Abdul Malik Mujahid, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, signed a “Declaration of Relationship” committing the two groups to “a relationship grounded in our mutual love for God and dedication to the ethical core of our faiths.”

The covenant includes an agreement that the two groups will continue in dialogue with each other and expand the dialogue to include local faith communities; work together on issues of social justice; inform one another of situations that may affect each other’s faith community; and gather annually to celebrate, reflect on the relationship and reaffirm the commitment.

Also attending the banquet was the Rev. Larry Pickens, a Northern Illinois clergy member who serves as chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

The covenant was the result of a dialogue that began a year ago as an introduction between Jung, who started serving as the episocopal leader in September 2004, and Malik Mujahid.

“We had talked about the idea of bringing together Bishop Jung and Malik just to meet,” explained the Rev. Charles Emery, chairperson of the Northern Illinois program council. “Out of that conversation, Bishop Jung said, ‘Why don’t we work on a covenant together?’ So we spent the last year working on this declaration of relationship.”

The banquet provided an opportunity for leaders or imams of Muslim institutions and United Methodist clergy in local churches in the same geographic areas to meet and begin to establish relationships, according to the Rev. Ed Hiestand, the conference’s ecumenical and interreligious officer.

“It is hoped that this initiative will result in further interfaith activity at the local level,” Hiestand said. “This may include dialogues, hospitality, community projects, as well as children and youth programs.”

Holy ground

As he prepared to address those attending the banquet, the bishop removed his shoes and walked to the podium. “I took off my shoes,” Jung said,” to honor all of you and to honor God in this moment. I believe I am standing on holy ground.”

Jung said his personal journey as a Christian leader has convinced him that he needs to build bridges by affirming the dignity and “belovedness” of people in other parts of the globe and in “different traditions in the universe.”

“There are many people excluded by human narrowness and prejudice toward each other,” the bishop said. “This exclusion is, of course, a gross violation of the principles that govern us.”

Jung noted that God’s love is unconditional, and this love encourages people to learn about and love one another.

“In our declaration of relationship, it is imperative that people of faith commit together to a spirit of peace and cooperation,” Jung said. “We are in a spirit of humility and truth tonight. We are here to respect each other in an atmosphere of reconciliation, unconcerned about winning a victory over one another or bringing the other over to our own position. We come together as friends, as family members, as siblings.”

Jung said failure to connect with each other would be failure to honor God. And he said he believes the covenant between the two groups will make him a better Christian. “God is seeing us together tonight,” Jung said, “and is pleased.”

‘An extraordinary event’

Saleem Sheikh, board member of the Islamic Foundation and the council, called the declaration “an historic agreement between two faith communities.”

“We are honored and we are grateful,” Sheikh said. “We are delighted to share with you our commitment to justice and fairness for all God’s creation.”

Mujahid called the signing of the covenant “an extraordinary event.”

“In a world of fear and warfare, people of faith must continue to work together for a peaceful and just world,” he added.

He invited the United Methodists to apply their “methodical practices to the only racism still considered acceptable in America, ‘Islamaphobia,’ the new racism of our time.”

Mohammed Kaiseruddin, past chairman of the Islamic council, said it was his “hope and our prayer” that the new relationship “will flourish and grow and bring results.”

Kaiseruddin saluted the diversity of the United Methodists at the banquet. “We as Muslims take pride in the diversity we have among us,” he said. “We have all colors and ethnicities among us. I was so pleasantly surprised to see the same diversity among the United Methodists here tonight. That is one of the reasons that I have hope that the association established tonight will flourish.”

The full text of the statement can be read at

*Rhodes is director of communications for the United Methodist Northern Illinois Annual Conference.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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Declaration of Relationship

Our Muslim Neighbors (Book of Resolutions)

Northern Illinois Annual Conference

Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago

General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns