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Author traces a
New York, September 24, 2009 -- A member of the National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Commission -- a convert from Islam to Christianity -- has concluded that a personal encounter with God can be powerful enough to transcend any one faith tradition.
"It's not really about any one religion or belief system," writes Dr. Samir Selmanovic, co-founder of Faith House Manhattan and author of It's Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian (Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, $24.95) published this month. "It's really all about God, who is about all of us and cannot be owned by any of us."
Selmanovic, who grew up in Croatia where he says he was "culturally Muslim, though atheist in practice," found Jesus almost as an act of rebellion during his years as a conscript in the Communist army of Yugoslavia. His conversion infuriated his parents, who threw him out of the house, and he found himself in the midst of an intellectual and spiritual struggle to understand the relationship between world views and faith.
After coming to the United States and completing graduate degrees in theology, psychology, and religious education, Selmanovic pastored a multi-ethnic church in Manhattan for six years. This ministry experience provided him with an understanding of professional urban America, Western attitudes towards religion and how monotheistic religions and their critics can work together for the good of the world.
The intellectual journey led to his book. Although passionate about his Christian faith, he began to question whether Christianity is really superior to other faiths. "I became convinced that a God who favors me over others would not be worth worshipping," he concluded. "To truly care for me, God also has to care for you. I would rather sacrifice the way I interpret the Bible than sacrifice people."
His declaration will be controversial among many of his fellow Christians as well as members of other faiths. But Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, says Selmanovic is asking the right questions. "(He is) refusing the consolations of certainty at a time when strident orthodoxies -- atheist as well as religious -- are perilously dividing us," Armstrong says.
"Even if one does not agree with all of his conclusions," says Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, Senior Program Director of the National Council of Churches for Interfaith Relations and Faith & Order, "one can appreciate the invitation to go along on this journey as part of one's own journey to deeper religious -- and inter-religious -- understanding."
"I have adopted a simple question that helps me navigate the journey," writes Selmanovic. "Is a God who favors anyone over anyone else worth worshipping? To truly care for me, my God also has to care for those who differ from me."
Selmanovic's experience in Manhattan includes the
terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and a number of projects helping the
city in its aftermath, including interfaith efforts in assisting the public
in their understanding of Islam. Aspects of his work were reported in an
article in San Francisco Chronicle. In 2002, he was honored by the
organization, Muslims Against Terrorism, for his contribution to
interfaith understanding and cooperation.
Selmanovic hopes It's Really All About God will move the inter-religious dialogue taking place in many faith groups to a higher level. "It goes beyond usual calls to peaceful coexistence and tolerance to actual appreciation and acknowledgment of the need we have for each other."
And many of his readers from various religious traditions welcome the book with ringing endorsements. Marcus Borg, author of Meeting Jesus for the First Time, calls it "a remarkable book that combines memoir, insight, wisdom, passion and compassion."
"Prepare to have your world expanded," warns Rabbi Justus Baird of Auburn Seminary in New York. "Samir Selmanovic is like that voice in your head that causes you to reflect on the bigger questions. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike will grow from this exploration of an unmanaged God."
With his wife Vesna and their two daughters Ena and Leta, Samir lives in New York City.
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