United Methodists and Muslims in Northern Illinois, part of the mid-west of the USA, have officially created a covenant relationship between the two faith groups – as witness towards _peace among the religions’, especially in the midst of difference. More than 100 leaders of the greater Chicago Islamic community and the United Methodist Northern Illinois Conference celebrated that covenant at an interfaith banquet at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park earlier this month. The idea is not to ignore religious disagreements within and between the two faiths, but to stress common ground and to seek better community and public understanding. United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung and Abdul Malik Mujahid, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, signed a Declaration of Relationship committing the two groups to a relationship grounded in our mutual love for God and dedication to the ethical core of our faiths. The covenant includes an agreement that the two groups will continue in dialogue with each other and expand the dialogue to include other local faith communities; to work together on issues of social justice; to inform one another of situations that may affect each other’s faith community; and to gather annually to celebrate, reflect on the relationship and reaffirm the commitment. We had talked about the idea of bringing together Bishop Jung and Malik just to meet, explained the Rev Charles Emery, chairperson of the Northern Illinois programme council. Out of that conversation, Bishop Jung said, _Why don’t we work on a covenant together?’ So we spent the last year working on this declaration of relationship. In Europe, cooperation among Christian and Muslim faith communities has been growing over the years, though not without opposition from hardliners in each. In the USA, links between Jewish and Christian groups are widespread, but in the wake of 9/11 there has been hostility and suspicion towards Islam – thus the significance of the Illinois initiative. The banquet provided an opportunity for leaders or imams of Muslim institutions and United Methodist clergy in local churches in the same geographic areas to meet and begin to establish relationships, according to the Rev Ed Hiestand, the UMC conference’s ecumenical and interreligious officer. As he prepared to address those attending the banquet, the bishop removed his shoes and walked to the podium. I took off my shoes, Jung said, to honour all of you and to honour God in this moment. I believe I am standing on holy ground. Jung said his personal journey as a Christian leader has convinced him that he needs to build bridges by affirming the dignity and belovedness of people in other parts of the globe and in different traditions in the universe. There are many people excluded by human narrowness and prejudice toward each other, the bishop said. This exclusion is, of course, a gross violation of the principles that govern us. Jung noted that the theological charcter of God’s love is that it is unconditional. This transcendent love changes people’s lives and encourages them to learn about and love one another. In our declaration of relationship, it is imperative that people of faith commit together to a spirit of peace and cooperation, Jung said. We are in a spirit of humility and truth tonight. We are here to respect each other in an atmosphere of reconciliation, unconcerned about winning a victory over one another or bringing the other over to our own position. Jung said failure to connect with each other would be failure to honour God. And he said he believes the covenant between the two groups will make him a better Christian. God is seeing us together tonight, Jung said, and is pleased. Saleem Sheikh, board member of the Islamic Foundation and the council, called the declaration an historic agreement between two faith communities. We are honoured and we are grateful, Sheikh said. We are delighted to share with you our commitment to justice and fairness for all God’s creation. Mujahid called the signing of the covenant an extraordinary event. He added: In a world of fear and warfare, people of faith must continue to work together for a peaceful and just world. He invited the United Methodists to apply their methodical practices to the only racism still considered acceptable in America, _Islamaphobia,’ the new racism of our time. Mohammed Kaiseruddin, past chair of the Islamic council, said it was his hope and our prayer that the new relationship will flourish and grow and bring results. Kaiseruddin saluted the diversity of the United Methodists at the banquet. We as Muslims take pride in the diversity we have among us, he said. We have all colours and ethnicities among us. I was so pleasantly surprised to see the same diversity among the United Methodists here tonight. That is one of the reasons that I have hope that the association established tonight will flourish.