Fight for fellowship: Dialogue emphasizes need for inter-faith relationships
Elisabeth Smith | Asst. News Editor
Many Muslim and Catholic leaders packed the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre last Wednesday evening for an Inter-Religious dialogue. As the audience prepared for the dialogue people of all ages, ethnicities, and faiths mixed together in the seats.
This event, the Deepening Inter-Religious Dialogue and Community Alliances, was held IPJ in an effort to build networks of collaboration, understanding, and mutual esteem between the Catholic and Muslim communities.
The Most Reverend Bishop Robert W. McElroy of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, and Sayyid M. Syeed, PhD., of the Islamic Society of North America gave keynote addresses discussing the need for Catholic and Muslim alliances to combat extremists and prejudices at home and globally.
University of San Diego President James T. Harris III opened the forum recognizing the timeliness of this discussion, considering global conflicts including Muslim extremists like the Iraq and Syria Islamic State (ISIS).
“We are fulfilling the mission of our founders, the Bishop Charles Francis Buddy and Mother Rosalie Hill,” Harris said. “Throughout history Catholic universities have valued knowledge through both reason and faith. Those values allow us to raise honest questions and search out valid truth.”
The discussion centered around starting a long-term national dialogue between both schools of faith, and having both Catholics and Muslims working to understand each other as humans, and not just people of faith.
Mariah Bryne, a residential minister at USD, attended the event with her colleagues.
“I’m always looking for ways to engage in ministry with different parts of the community,” Byrne said. “[The event] was a great opportunity to hear from people who are prominent and doing work on both a community and national level.”
Bryne did not have a lot of personal experience with the subject matter, but she noted that University Ministry hopes to be open and inclusive to all cultures. She expressed that this event was a great example of this inclusivity.
McElroy serves as the vice president of the California Catholic Conference and focused on the need for Catholics to see through Muslim stereotypes.
“Catholics should see the stereotypes that Muslims equal violence and Muslim immigration equals danger, and understand and reject the bigotry,” McElroy said.
McElroy recognized that Catholics faced similar bigotry in the nineteenth century. He claimed that the distortions of Muslim teachings today is just as devastating as it was to Catholics.
“I’m very aware that Christianity is the foundation of terror that sullied the name of Christians,” McElroy said. “Now extremists have hijacked Islam, and we have given creed to that image in the U.S.”
To combat the Muslim stereotypes in America, McElroy challenged the Catholic community to befriend the Muslim men and women in their community. He stated that understanding different cultures and faiths is enrichment of individual lives and of society.
“Catholics should seek deeper friendships with their Muslim coworkers and neighbors,” McElroy said. “It is the most important antidote to bigotry and segregation.
McElroy’s last challenge to the Catholic community was to walk in solidarity to fight for a future in the Middle East so there can be freedom for the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities.
“Let us as Catholics and Muslims advance the Middle East and the World to see all people of the earth in the vision of the God who is the father of the world,” McElroy said.
He encouraged the audience to stand in solidarity and advance policies for a new future in the world.
Syeed, the Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances Director of the Islamic Society of North America, sang a similar tune in his keynote address. Citing an ancient friendship between Christians and Muslims, Syeed emphasized the need to reconcile that mutual respect from the ancient times.
“Muslims and Catholics have had a long stretch of confrontation that divided the world and developed a lot of negative attitudes and stereotypes,” Syeed said. “Everything reflected the divide between these two faiths.”
Syeed noted that the best change in this divide came with the reform of the Catholic church, which led to a more understanding and accepting nature toward the Muslim and Jewish communities.
Despite this change, Syeed noticed that the world has entered a new era of Muslim hate.
“With the emergence of ISIS, the terminology of the crusades has come back,” Syeed said. “This new situation appropriated that language, and it’s scary because young people respond to the crusading language.”
Syeed’s solution to this spread of ISIS is to continue dialogues like they are having across the nation. He ended his speech on a lighter note, challenging the Catholics in the audience.
“Many years ago Catholics thought the world was flat, but you all convinced them that it’s not,” Syeed said. “But nowadays you can’t find a Catholic who doesn’t know that the world is round. Now we have a similar task on our hands. We must make sure every Catholic knows that Muslims are the best allies fighting here and overseas.”
“The real challenge is changing all the ideologies and philosophies,” Syeed said. “Now that global extremism is available for everyone, the fight against extremism is a global fight. It does not rest on any individual group.”
Ami Carpenter, PhD, of the IPJ, helped to facilitate the discussion portion of the dialogue. Carpenter is a USD professor, and her research focuses on community resilience to violence and the criminal dimensions of political conflicts.
Talking about the importance of grassroots campaigns for interfaith cooperation, both McElroy and Syeed agreed that the most important change happens at the small community level.
Carpenter ended the night with an insight into change.
“Evolutions take place without deviating from traditions, just diving deeper within those traditions,” Carpenter said.
Hosting an event of this social and political importance at USD shows that the IPJ is a leader for social justice and change. As these dialogues continue across the nation, Catholic communities like USD’s will be encouraged to band together with the Muslim communities to fight social injustices across the globe.