Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, co-chair of the USCCB West Coast Muslim-Catholic Dialogue, comments during a Q & A session of the dialouge. Cardinal Cupich introduced Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, during a National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue:"Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions" at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago on March 8. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich comments during the Q & A part of the dialouge. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop McElroy comments during a Q & A session of the dialouge. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop McElroy delivers the Catholic keynote during the event. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich introduces Bishop Robert McElroy on March 8. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich visits with Saleha Jabeen, a 2014 CTU graduate, and Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic Studies at CTU, following the event. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Saleha Jabeen, a 2014 CTU graduate, and Fransiskus Santoso, SVD whi is studying at CTU, listen to comments during a Q & A session. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sherman Jackson, King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture and professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California delivers the Muslim keynote during the event. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sherman Jackson talks with Rev. Sidney Griffith, from the Department of Semitics at Catholic Theological Union. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Thomas Baima, vicar for ecumenical and interreligious affairs in the Archdiocese of Chicago, moderates a panel discussion during a National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue:"Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions" at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago on March 8. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Zeki Saritoprak, professor of Islamic Studies at John Carroll University, and Sandra Keating, associate professor of Theology at Providence College, share laughs during a panel discussion at a National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue:"Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions" at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago on March 8. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Alexei Smith from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Orange County, share comments during a panel discussion at a National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue:"Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions" at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago on March 8. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Leaders in Muslim-Catholic dialogue called on members of both communities to find ways to accompany one another and work together at a moment when all religion is under threat from an increasingly secular and even anti-religious society.
San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops West Coast Muslim-Catholic Dialogue and Sherman Jackson, a professor of religion and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California Dornsife, both offered comments at a March 8 public session of the first national Muslim-Catholic Dialogue session.
The national dialogue is chaired by Cardinal Cupich and Sayyid Syeed, director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances. It was held March 8 and 9 at Catholic Theological Union, 5416 S. Cornell Ave.
Bishop McElroy said that theological dialogue and reflection is important, but the relationship between Catholics and Muslims in the United States must extend beyond theologians and take on a pastoral aspect.
“It is not enough to clarify our commonalities and differences on a deep theological level or even to publish these findings, if we do not take steps to broadly convey this deepened level of friendship and truth to Muslims and Catholics within our nation,” he said.
At the moment, Catholic and Muslim communities simply do not know one another well enough, he said.
“It is ignorance which leads to problems between our two communities, but it is not merely or even primarily theological ignorance,” Bishop McElroy said. “It is the ignorance of not knowing one another as brother and sister precisely in our religious identities. It is the ignorance of not having worked together as people of faith to confront secularism, not having joined with one another to pass on religious faith to our children in a youth culture so hostile to faith, not working together to establish greater spheres for religious liberty within our nation so that we can live in fidelity to our traditions of faith and prayer and morality, not collaborating to bring the sacred understanding of sin and redemption into the heart of our society’s understanding of the human condition and human development.”
Jackson said the obstacle to greater friendship and cooperation goes beyond ignorance to fear.
“Part of what undermines the relationship between Muslims and anybody else in America – not just Catholics – is that it’s so easy to scare people about Islam,” he said. “Because of that fear, you can never get to the point of trust, and without trust there is no friendship, and without friendship, there is no real cooperation.”
Catholics faced similar suspicions in the United States of the 19th and early 20th centuries because they were believed to have a higher allegiance to Rome than to the country. “The Jewish Question,” the phrase coined by German philosopher Bruno Bauer in the 19th century, was based on the idea that Judaism was a religion of laws that governed private and public conduct, and as such, was incompatible with the modern secular state, Jackson said.
“The present moment has prompted many of us to ponder whether America might be staggering towards a dreaded yet entirely avoidable ‘Muslim Question,’” he said,
Religion – whether Christianity or Islam – can be seen as opposed to the European enlightenment liberalism that American founding fathers relied on. That liberalism “calls into question all forms of authority outside the individual self, especially religion,” Jackson said. “It insists that individuals must be free to choose their way of life, with the only restrictions being the extent to which their choices encroach upon the freely made choices of others.”
Religious traditions, including Islam and Christianity, set a much higher value on the common good, Jackson said, and call on their members to contribute to it. Muslims who embrace sharia – Islam’s religious law – can contribute to and benefit from the common good in any number of ways, from following speed limits to keeping public spaces safe for all.
“While such Islamic virtues as fairness, mercy or hospitality may inform the spirit of these deliberations, concrete conclusions would draw upon such principles as efficiency, safety, economic cost, long term resource management and the like,” Jackson said. “And in none of this would Islam, shariah or Muslim ‘God-consciousness’ pose an impediment to engaging with non-Muslims on a completely equal footing.”
The challenges of the current moment – including climate change, corporate greed, mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color, among others – could offer an opportunity, he said.
“In fact, given these contemporary challenges, now might be the time when religion in America, including Islam, is best positioned to demonstrate its value as a contributor to the common good,” Jackson said. “For religion can stand up to the state, the market and the dominant culture, by equipping its followers with an independent moral identity with which to analyze and assess the activities of government, 'the economy' and the dominant culture, instead of looking upon the state as essentially the god of the nation, the economy as a divinely predestined order, or the dominant culture as the ultimate, supreme value that is too lofty to be subjected to critical examination.”
Bishop McElroy called on Catholics to take a more vocal stand against anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States and elsewhere.
“If the Catholic-Muslim dialogue is to mean anything at this current moment in our nation's history, the Catholic community must in the context of this dialogue condemn unequivocally the anti-Muslim prejudice which is present in our midst, and more sadly, present within our own Catholic community,’ he said. “Our nation does face a threat from extremists who have distorted the tradition of Islam and bring violence against innocent victims, and we must be vigilant in identifying and combatting that threat. But in linking the Muslim community to that threat in a discriminatory manner, we undermine our national security and dishonor our national heritage.”
Bishop McElroy also called on Muslims to condemn the persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries, which, he acknowledged, many have already done.
“I have spoken at length with many Muslim leaders within the United States who have pressed for authentic religious toleration throughout the Middle East, and I know many who have placed their own lives and reputations at risk in this effort,” he said. “But it is a work of the entire Muslim community within our nation, for building a society founded upon the principle of inclusion and religious liberty is a labor which will never be fully accomplished and will always have enemies.”