Winter  2002
Volume 6 Number 2



Muslim Imam Leads Chapel Service

by Barbara A. Chaapel

"The only way forward is the way of reconciliation and trust," said Richard Young, PTS professor of the history of religions, speaking in Miller Chapel two weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. "Salaam and Shalom must include all people. We must open ourselves to each other and in so doing, we open ourselves to God."

Attempting to enact those commitments, the Seminary invited Imam Hamad Chebli, the leader of the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey, to speak in the daily chapel service on September 28. It was the first time a non-Christian has led a chapel service at the Seminary in at least twenty years, and perhaps ever.

Refusing Young's offer to remove the Bible from the pulpit before he spoke, Chebli told worshipers that the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qur'an all reveal the same God, and were all given to the human community for edification. "None of them teaches violence or gives permission to take up the sword," the imam said, urging students to read all three with open hearts and minds.

At the end of his remarks, Imam Chebli presented PTS president Thomas W. Gillespie with a copy of the Qur'an.

Following the chapel service, Chebli, a native of Lebanon who was educated in Cairo, addressed Young's class on comparative missiology. 

He began by defining terms: The word Allah means God, but a God beyond symbolism or gender or the capacity of the human mind to know. The word Islam means peace. The word jihad, which most English-speaking people translate as "holy war," in fact means "struggle"-not in the sense of fighting, but in the sense of struggling against ignorance and injustice. "We are waging jihad right now in this classroom against ignorance," he told the students. He also said that there is no verse in the Qur'an that gives a Muslim permission to kill or to destroy property under the concept of jihad.

He corrected other misconceptions about Islam and about Arabs. Arabs make up less than two percent of Muslims, he said. Eight million Muslims live in the United States, four million of whom were born here. These citizens, he said, are proud to be Americans. "Muslims not only were here before Christopher Columbus arrived, many also came with Christopher Columbus," he said. He urged students not to generalize about all Muslims, just as one cannot generalize about all Jews or all Christians. "Among people of all faiths there are infidels and fanatics," he said. "Just as there were people of all faiths, including Muslims, killed in the World Trade Center."

In response to questions about why Muslim fundamentalists consider America the enemy, Chebli explained that there are five basic elements in Islam that must be protected. They are the soul ("pornography would threaten the soul"), the mind ("alcohol and drugs impose on the mind"), property ("invasion of people's property by authorities is a threat"), religion ("one cannot destroy either churches or mosques"), and community ("the ability to live within one's tradition is essential"). While he said that the terrorists were not motivated by the ideals of Islam, nor did he justify the violence, he did suggest that there were reasons for it. "We must look for the roots of the violence and ask why these fanatics and terrorists believe their lives are worth nothing," he said. "There is a reason. If we find it, we will be safe."

Chebli urged the PTS community to continue dialogue with Muslims and people of other faiths and to learn more about Islam. Young and his faculty colleagues Nancy Duff, Paul Rorem, Mark Taylor, and student Kiran Young attended a Friday prayer service at Chebli's mosque the week of the attacks. Young himself had traveled there on September 11, "when things were falling apart, to express my concern."


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Copyright 2001 Princeton Theological Seminary
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In This Issue


Renewing a Right Spirit

For Such a Time As This: PTS Campus Community Responds to September 11

Windows on a Shattered World

"A Witness to the Truth": Martin Luther King Jr.'s Eulogy for PTS Alum James J. Reeb


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