Save One Life, Save the World

I’m writing from Lumbumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo where this afternoon I sat in on a very remarkable conversation. A UN special envoy for malaria was addressing a group of religious leaders from several Protestant traditions and two imams. The meeting was held outdoors at the edge of a stand of towering bamboo at a Roman Catholic retreat center. It was late afternoon. All the participants had already put in a long day working on planning for a World Malaria Day event that will feature a distribution of insecticide-treated bednets.

The meeting was significant because Christians and Muslims have come together here to combat a common enemy, as one said today. The enemy is malaria.

Second, it’s notable that when the coalition is fully formed they hope to have additional members from other religious traditions. They’ve extended invitations.

One speaker explained the group’s mission by referring to past experiences which were more spiritual and less practical. He said they have come together for interfaith religious observances, for example. Tackling malaria is a move from the spiritual to the practical.

But the grand imam for the district said he differed with the statement. It sounded as the newly forming group was about to have its first disagreement.

That was not the case, however. The imam said, “The work we are about to begin is not less spiritual, but more deeply spiritual. The Quran says when you save one life, you save the world. What we are doing is not merely practical, it is more spiritual.”

The thought caused a hush of appreciation to fall over the meeting as the members reflected on his words. It was a statement that was not only interesting, it was an important moment of spiritual teaching. This did not escape the members of the group.

Another person spoke saying that, in fact, the three religions of Abraham all affirm a similar claim about the sanctity of human life. And the group seemed to be finding a deeper commitment to the fight against malaria by affirming life, which is, after all, good theology whether you find it in the Quran, the Talmud, or the Bible.

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