Salim Faraji received the M.Div. from CST and Ph.D. from CGU. He's both an A.M.E. Minister (at Christ Our Redeemer AME in Irvine) and a practicing and licensed African Traditional Priest. He's a professor, frequent radio personality, and a scholar of the African diaspora. Moreover, his work reveals the diversity, hybridity and interreligious nature of the world in which we live. I hope you enjoy his brief essay.
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The decision made by the Claremont School of Theology to expand its vision by launching the Claremont Lincoln University is a major affirmation of the church’s and academia's willingness to embrace ecumenism and religious pluralism while not relinquishing its own Christian identity and mission. I am a proud alumnus of Claremont School of Theology and the school has always been a place that encourages conversation and interaction with diverse religious traditions. I’m elated to witness the institutionalization of a theological and ministerial model that has always been informally acknowledged as important for theological leadership at Claremont School of Theology. As a professor of Africana Studies and Religious History and an interfaith religious practitioner (licensed AME Clergy & Initiated Akan Traditional Healer-[Okomfo]) I have long argued that religious leaders that serve in Africa and the African Diaspora must be conversant in Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religions to be effective in that context–Claremont has paved the way for this new global, multi-ethnic, transnational model of religious leadership.
Let us consider for a moment the significance of Africa and the African Diaspora (which includes U.S. African American communities) for how we conceive of our vision to facilitate intercultural and interfaith understanding among the world's religious traditions. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life of the nearly 40 million people in the United States who identify as African American 87% claim religious affiliation with either one religious tradition on another and 79% of this group identify as belonging to Christian churches. Although Christianity is the predominant religion among African Americans a significant number especially in the major metropolitan centers of the country claim religious affiliation with Islam, Judaism, African Traditional or African-derived religions and in smaller numbers, the popular religions of East Asia. In recent years our national consciousness has been shaped by images and perceptions of Islam both constructive and pejorative because of the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001. The study of Islam and the engagement with the primary Islamic-Arab world has gained greater currency in our public consciousness and discourse especially as it relates to dispelling myths and caricatures concerning this historic, global Abrahamic faith. Yet in the context of the African Diaspora in the United States Islam was always an influential religion among African American communities, beginning with the early colonial period of American history when a significant number of enslaved Africans were brought to this country from the African Islamic societies of West Africa. Even during more recent history, for instance, the past fifty years or so it was African American Islam in the tradition of the Nation of Islam that first brought national attention to the presence of Islam in American religious culture. Of course this would culminate in 1995 when Minister Louis Farrakhan the leader of the Nation of Islam led the Million Man March the largest assembly of people on our nation's capital in the history of the United States. It is noteworthy for understanding the diversity of African American religious culture that this march was an ecumenical, interfaith movement. Not all African American Muslims are members of the Nation of Islam however--I was raised in a neighborhood in West Philadelphia where three African American Islamic communities thrived and none of them were the Nation of Islam! In fact they were practitioners of Orthodox Sunni Islam. A common greeting in my community for both Muslim and non-Muslim African Americans alike was the salutation As Salaam Alaikum which suggests the influence of Islam on African American culture.
Again using my own experience as a prism to understand the religious diversity of the African Diaspora in general and African Americans in particular, I could devote hours upon hours talking about the Rastafarian, Santeria, Vodun, Yoruba, Neo-Egyptian and Akan religious communities that were scattered throughout the African American religious landscape in Philadelphia as well as the strong presence of African American Judaism/Hebrew-Israelite traditions in the cities of Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. Interfaith and intercultural interaction is at the heart of African Diaspora and this is no less true for the continent of Africa--a region of the globe that the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found to be the "most religious" of all continents with nearly a half-billion Christians and 234 million Muslims! According to the Pew Study, Africa in 1900 had possibly 7 million Christians and in just 100 years the population has grown to 470 million making this region the world's fastest growing Christian population and the new center of global Christianity. This tremendous spurt in church growth in large was part due the rise of African independent churches and the Pentecostal movement. Many of the followers of these African churches have immigrated to the U.S. over the past few decades and they make up the "new" African American population in many of the major cities of the nation. In Los Angeles they have over the past 10 years represented the fastest growing group of "Blacks" in the city while the numbers of historic African Americans has declined because of families relocating to the Inland Empire or Palmdale/Lancaster.
Despite the strong presence of Christianity in Africa Islam has been entrenched in Africa since its inception and the Islamic cultures of the Horn of Africa, West Africa and East Africa's Swahili's coast, boast centuries-old traditions that emerged symbiotically within diverse African cultures. Christianity and Islam are the two most populous religions in Africa, but the historic enduring heritage of African Traditional Religions continue to persist in Africa and often underlies the practice of African Christianity and African Islam. The three traditions co-exist in Africa and represent what the Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui calls Africa's Triple Heritage. This diverse religious heritage is prevalent throughout Africa and the African Diaspora and therefore presents for Claremont Lincoln University and excellent opportunity to develop, train and prepare religious leaders for this unique multi-religious, multicultural terrain that is ripe for new models of religious leadership.