Each religious tradition honors a rich list of leaders who shaped its beliefs and practices. Many lived exemplary lives and are role models to this day. But, some of these religious leaders inspire us because they were peacemakers who dared to cross beyond their traditional boundaries to link with people from other faiths.
Some of these Interfaith Heroes are well known to us; others you’ll learn about for the first time in these stories. Some were religious leaders; others were lay people whose faith shaped their lives in the secular world. Some were rulers and people of worldly power; others were ordinary people who exhibited their power through their extraordinary character.
In this 31-day collection of biographical sketches, you’ll meet people who wound up deepening their own understanding of God and what it means to be human, because of the other spiritual perspectives they encountered.
Often, they took risks, working cooperatively with people of other faiths in the midst of fear and violence. Some even gave their lives to assist people from other religious communities.
Each of these heroes from the many religious traditions you will encounter in this book has something profound to teach us.
They continue to reach out across the centuries. Their lives pose a timeless question to us about whether our own faith divides or unites. Do we welcome diversity in the heroic tradition of the 31 people we will meet this month? Or do we fear it? Do we knit together lives? Or do we enable conflict?
There are many ways that this book can inspire, stimulate learning and encourage fresh commitments to building communities with interfaith partners. You can read these stories for personal reflection, asking yourself the questions for reflection at the end of each short biography. Or, you can use the book with a group from your place of worship or in an interfaith study or discussion group. Toward the end of this book, we’ll offer more specific suggestions for study and action.
If you are a teacher in public or private schools, it may be possible to present some of these biographies as a diverse historical collection of figures who fall into the civil rights tradition of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If you’re reading this book along with men and women during Interfaith Heroes Month in January 2008, then King’s well-known story will fall on his national holiday.
You are free to duplicate these stories in newsletters produced by your religious community, noting that the source is Interfaith Partners of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion (MRDI).
However you use this book, these examples of interfaith partnership stand as a heroic witness to peacemaking at a time of great violence in our history. Religiously fueled conflict rages in many parts of our world. The great question of the 21st Century is: How can we live with each other, when our backgrounds are so different? Will we learn from each other? Will we work together to shape a better world?
The “Next Steps” section at the end of this book provides some guidance for follow-up action with others in your community. Religion – and religious difference – is the leading issue as all of us around the world find our way into this new millennium.
May these 31 bright lights guide us.
May we be found worthy to be counted among them by the generations to come.
Daniel L. Buttry, writing in Michigan, Autumn 2007