Saturday, October 27, 2007

Midwest Catholic-Muslim dialogue

There's a few official interfaith dialogues between Muslims and Catholics in the United States. (A list appears at the SEIA page at the USCCB website. The April 2007 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic dialogue was devoted to completing a text on marriage and interfaith marriages, including a suggestion that interfaith marriages between Catholics and Sunnis should be discouraged.) The latest meeting of the Midwest dialogue was held last week, at the largest mosque in the United States, in Dearborn, MI.
A few dozen leaders of both faiths met for three days this week at the largest mosque in the country, the Islamic Center of America. They worshipped together and contemplated their ongoing collaboration, emerging Tuesday with a "mission statement" that will help guide the dialogue and relations between Muslims and Catholics well into the future.
This line was most interesting:
The leaders make clear that they do not duck difficult issues. On Monday, they explored guidelines to govern attempts to convert Muslims to Catholicism and Catholics to Islam.
That will be most helpful, especially if there is actually an acknowledgment that in many places in the Islamic world, would-be converts are routinely threatened with death if they convert to Christianity. In 2005, this dialogue produced a joint declaration on Revelation. I'm looking around for a copy now. One member of the dialogue thought that the relationship between Catholics and Muslims is that of big brother - little brother.
"Catholics are 60 million in the U.S. We are hardly eight to 10 million, and we are still exploring ways of establishing our community and gaining the recognition and respect that we deserve as American Muslims," Syeed said. "And so, we truly appreciate this big brother relationship."
Interestingly, at last night's Halloween party at TC (Theological College) up the street, at one point we were talking about Islam. One of the interlocutors was a Maronite seminarian. I am always struck just how much more apprehensive and negative Eastern Christians are about Islam. Perhaps there is something to their experiences that arise from having lived under Islamic regimes for centuries?

I'm all for dialogue, yes. But not for pollyannish attitudes either. [For instance, check this out: a newly installed Imam in Cleveland, who wants to promote dialogue and peace, but is embarrassed when a 4-year old sermon is publicized on the Internet where he calls for the killing of Jews?] Bi-polar on Islam is how I described it last year.
I guess, I'm bi-polar. There's parts of the first pole that I'm sympathetic towards. And, of course, I don't see the other end as simply ignorantly bigoted. In my talk I described this as "dialogue and vigilance." Another way of putting it would be "cautious dialogue." It seems to me that one should be open to the other -- to dialogue, with our neighbors here in the West (at a local level that's all one can do, I guess!), and encourage movements and actions that build bridges of understanding and reconciliation. Yet, one shouldn't have such a roseate view of things that one is blind to other threatening forces in Islam, forces that seem to, at least right now, be the loudest, and also the ones with strong backing, and wider sympathy than one might realize.
But all for Muslims too, ya know! :)

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