Engaging Religion for the Common Good in a Fast-Changing World

Author: Ansari Institute

Recently, Ansari Institute Executive Director Mahan Mirza visited Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio to present its third annual Lecture on Faith & Civic Life.

In his Sept. 25 talk, “A Life of Faith Beyond Individual Worship—To Work for the Common Good,” Mirza made the case (drawing on his recent work exploring interreligious dialogue, peacebuilding, and the need for religious and scientific literacy) that Muslim scripture and tradition envisions a kind of individual faith that translates personal piety into public action.

While speaking from an Islamic perspective, Mirza noted that all religions offer conceptions of the good that extend into the public sphere. Now, at a time when the world is changing more quickly than ever, our diverse belief systems need to contend with shifts in human understanding, and the most important shift must be in forging a new identity, a new “we” that includes all of us.

Following his talk, participants further explored these ideas in a multifaith panel discussion featuring Rabbi Judy Chessin of Temple Beth Or in Dayton, Ohio; Tom Roberts, President of the Ohio State Conference NAACP; and Mohamed Al-Hamdani, a member of the Dayton School Board and an immigration lawyer at Larson, Lyons, & Al-Hamdani in Dayton.

The Rev. Dr. Richard Baker, Senior Pastor and Head of Staff at Westminster Presbyterian Church, reflected further on the idea of promoting the common good in his sermon. He based it on a Qur’anic verse central to Mirza’s remarks, which speaks of a difference of opinion between God and the angels on the creation of Adam as a “Caliph on Earth.”

Rev. Baker seamlessly wove the Qur’an, the Bible, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost together in an inspiring sermon. God created human beings with free will, which they can use for either good or harm, Baker said. Globalization provides greater opportunities for doing more good and greater risks of doing more harm than ever before. What will be our collective choice as a human family?

Together, these conversations can serve as examples of faiths in dialogue, together grappling with the uncertainties of the present moment.