Muslim-Catholic dialogue opens eyes, hearts
About 75 Catholics and Muslims began an effort to develop friendships based on mutual understanding and respect while gathered at Our Lady of Grace Church in Castro Valley in mid-June.
Members of Pax Christi Northern California and the Maryknoll Lay Associates hosted the Ramadan event. Ramadan is the penitential season in the Muslim faith. Both Muslims and Catholics prayed together at sunset and shared an Iftar, a traditional simple meal at sunset breaking the day-long Ramadan fast.
A panel discussion with Rev. William O'Neil, SJ, professor of social ethics at the Jesuit School of Theology; Sister Martha Ann Kirk, IHM ,who teaches religious studies during the academic year at Incarnate Word University in Texas; Dr. Ejaz Naqvi, a physician and Muslim scholar; and Dr. Koya Sahab shared insights about the value of peacemaking.
Father O'Neill based his remarks on Matthew 5 to highlight Jesus' teachings on nonviolence. Properly understood Jesus encouraged his disciples under the throes of 1st century Roman military occupation to not be passive but rather take active forms of resistance. "Turn[ing] the other cheek" "giving your opponent your cloak" or "walking an extra mile" are meant as acts of non-cooperation with evil — not meek submission.
Father O'Neill also commented on the just war tradition, which is often misunderstood by most Catholics. War is only a last resort and only when it may guarantee an end to violence.
Sister Martha offered a pastoral perspective on violence and peacemaking. She called to mind Jesus' word of encouragement to his disciples not to fear, not to close doors nor hearts to those perceived rightly or wrongly as "the enemy." She noted St. Francis of Assisi's efforts to convert the 13th century Muslim sultan to Christianity. Though he was not successful there is evidence the sultan held Francis in great regard.
Naqvi, a self-described "born-again Muslim," observed he had done some studies comparing New Testament and Quranic texts and saw a number of similar themes. The Golden Rule has parallels in Sura 4:36 where one is encouraged to good to all including one's neighbors and strangers. This principle is the foundation of Sharia law, he said.
To his understanding, ISIS adherents don't read or study the Quran as it is intended. Naqvi's studies also led him to believe parts of the Quran are antiquated and need to be reexamined and reinterpreted to make sense in the 21st century.
Sahab emphasized the importance of peacemaking in the Quran. He attributed the present conflicts in the Muslim world in the Middle East especially to what may be described as a Muslim "identity crisis."
Following the opening panel the audience broke into small groups for discussion exploring what could be done to address the rising tide of fear and intolerance.
(Tom Webb is the regional coordinator of Pax Christi Northern California. For more information about Pax Christi email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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