I need to be willing to make some changes in how I think about “them.” It’s time for us to say “we,” not “we” and “them.”‘
Father Thomas Ryan,
The third annual National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue took place March 6-8 at the University of St. Mary of the Lake outside Chicago, and focused on the theme of “One God, One Humanity: Confronting Religious Prejudice.” In his opening remarks, the Muslim co-chair Dr. Sayyid Syeed observed how historically Catholics have ruled Muslims in different countries, or vice versa, but that “today, in North America, being neighbors is a reality, and it’s critical for us to develop a vision so that people in other countries can find hope for their future.”
In her opening address, Muslim educator Maria Khani from Orange County, California, said “We can do more than just have a meal together and talk. I need to be willing to make some changes in how I think about ‘them.’ It’s time for us to say ‘we,’ not ‘we’ and ‘them.'”
Khani observed that a statement of Dr. Martin Luther King fits Christians and Muslims today: “People fail to get along because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
She noted that ignorance often leads to a deadly cycle: Ignorance to fear. Fear to hate. Hate to violence. Violence to war. War to isolation. “It all starts from ignorance,” she said; “let’s get to know one another. Peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of harmony.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the next few postings we will be publishing articles written for Fuller Theological Seminary’s ground breaking initiative on bringing Muslims and American Evangelicals together in dialogue. This first installment was written by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and author of several books on Islam. It first appeared in the 2016 edition of Fuller’s Journal.
I appreciate the invitation to this important gathering of Evangelical and Muslim leaders who are committed to combatting human hatred and Islamophobia in particular. In the name of the one God that we both—Christians and Muslims—worship, recognize, and submit to, we beseech God to bless and guide us and to inspire us with God’s wisdom, compassion, love, mercy, and the ability to overcome the satanic or demonic forces that have created so many problems both within and between our faith communities.
To begin, I first say that, unless we understand a problem and fully fathom it, there is no way we can solve it. One of the most important lessons I have learned came from a teacher who said, “Understanding a problem is 90 percent of solving it.” Part of the problem that I believe has happened in this country, certainly before 9/11 and in its immediate aftermath, is that many of the people who are responsible for shaping American policy did not fully understand the problem that they were dealing with. This is particularly an issue for numerous members of our leadership, including many members of Congress, which has been most frustrating to me and others who are trying to help the situation.
As we all know, the prime reason for hostility in much of the Muslim world toward America has nothing to do with American values or American business—much of which is very popular throughout the Muslim world and in the majority of Muslim countries. The hostility is completely due to the very heavy footprint of American foreign policy, including its military power that the United States has in various parts of the Muslim world.
“It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God,” Pope Francis said early in his pontificate. “But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people.”
Many U.S. Catholics have not only ignored their Muslim brothers and sisters but harbor discriminatory views about Muslims at alarming rates.
Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, “a multi-year research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square,” released a report in 2016 that documented how U.S. Catholics view Muslims. America’s national correspondent, Michael O’Loughlin, reported then:
When asked, “What is your overall impression of Muslims?” 30 percent of those Catholics polled said they held unfavorable views, 14 percent said favorable and 45 percent said they held neither favorable nor unfavorable views… Forty-five percent of Catholics said that Islam encourages violence more than other religions while 24 percent said it encourages violence as much as other religions.
A nine-point declaration emerged from an international gathering of Catholic and Muslim leaders in Berkeley Nov. 6-8.
Finding common ground between the faith traditions, emphasizing human dignity, rights and protection of others, the fourth Catholic-Muslim Forum ended on an optimistic note.
“We assert the equal dignity and value of all persons irrespective of their race, gender, religion or social status, and we categorically condemn any attempts to stereotype any people or attribute collective guilt to them for the actions of individuals among them,” was one of the nine points the participants made.
The Catholic-Muslim Forum was established in 2008 by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Signatories of the “Open Letter” (A Common Word) to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders. This gathering was hosted by Zaytuna College, the Muslim liberal arts college founded in 2009 in Berkeley.
This year’s topic was “Integral Human Development: Growing in Dignity, Catholic and Muslim Perspectives.” Participants included 12 delegates each from the Catholic and Muslim traditions. Additionally, there were six observers from each side. They came from as far away as Rome and Jordan; Argentina and Zambia.
Courage is facing fear head on. One does not have to go through heroic situations to show courage; it can be found in the simple everyday actions. In this day and age, when the words “Islam” and “terrorism” have unfortunately become synonymous, I had a unique opportunity to talk to a group of women who wanted to learn about the truth of Islam directly from a Muslim.
Despite their understandable reservations and possible fear, they took the first step of starting a dialogue instead of being passive and believing in what they were told. I am thankful to them — not only for making me feel welcomed, but allowing me to feel as an equal part of the society.
I am an immigrant from Pakistan and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a sect of Islam that has faced religious persecution for decades by its own countrymen. I grew up with fear of being judged and verbally abused because of my religious beliefs. In recent years, all those feelings have become all too familiar again as the media focuses only on the actions of some Muslim countries’ unjustifiable political agendas and label it as the Islamic way of life.
By receiving the invitation from St. John’s Presbyterian Church bible study group, I was not only honored, but my faith in the general American public was restored. I was treated with utmost respect and love and was asked genuine questions to help remove the misconceptions regarding Islam. I was given the chance to explain various aspects of our lives, which follow the true teachings of Islam.
We talked about jihad, which now is commonly perceived as the license to kill in the name of spreading the religion. The literal meaning of jihad is “struggle,” which is first applied in self-reformation. Only after that, when one becomes a portrayal of a true Muslim, he or she can spread the teachings of Islamic faith through his or her way of life and dialogue. I had the opportunity to discuss the rights of women, education, marriage and many other aspects of life as per Islamic teachings. It was no surprise that we found our religions to be quite similar. We follow the same guidelines to live a meaningful life in love and peace, which eventually lead us to finding God.
Before we get into what the interfaith dialogue entails, let me start by making it clear what interfaith dialogue is NOT about. Interfaith dialogue is not intended for converting people to your faith!
This is a question that so many people, Muslims, and people of other faiths have asked me when I invite them to be part of the interfaith dialogue in their communities. They sometimes ask, “how many people have you converted to Islam in your years of working on interfaith issues?
My answer surprises some while disappointing others. I have converted exactly zero people to Islam as an interfaith worker. I have very likely changed the perception of Islam and Muslims for thousands of people, but have not ‘converted’ anyone. Would you consider this a ‘failure’? I certainly don’t feel it that way, simply because that is not the objective of interfaith dialogue.
What else is interfaith dialogue NOT about?
It is not about telling who is right and who is wrong.
It is not about agreeing or accepting everything about the other faith traditions (but it does involve respecting others’ views despite the disagreements. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree but in a civil manner)