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Must understand roots of another’s faith tradition before teaching about it
Agree to root out religious stereotypes that permeate media
WASHINGTON—Interreligious education and the danger of stereotypes were discussed at the 14th annual meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Dialogue between Catholics and Muslims, in Somerset, NJ, May 5-6.
The meeting began with remarks by the Bishop Denis Madden, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore, who spoke on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Dr. Talat Sultan of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
Bishop Madden in remarks entitled, “Religious Education as a Path to Mutual Respect and Understanding among Catholics and Muslims,” said Catholic education’s emphasis on the integral formation of the whole person whose final destiny is heaven, and toward the common good of societies.
Dr. Sultan noted Islamic teaching that all humanity springs from a single source and stressed that mutual respect is imperative. He noted that before people teach about other religions, they should use primary sources to correctly understand other faiths.
Christian Brother David Carroll, the Aquinas Chair of Catholic Studies, St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, N.Y., Brooklyn, spoke on “The Educational Mission of the Church.” He explained how principles in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Redemptoris Missio” are lived out in the work of the Brothers of Christian Schools in Africa and Asia. Even though the original Christian populations for which the schools were founded have moved on, he said, the schools continue to serve the local population and provide a unique opportunity for promoting interreligious dialogue and understanding. This thought was echoed by two of the imams, Shaykh Abdur Rahman Khan from Guyana and Imam Zafeer Ali Hafiz from India, who had attended Catholic schools in their home countries. Both noted what they gained from the Catholic Church through their education, and Rahman Khan recalled that “at no time was I ever asked to convert. I think I am a better Muslim because of my education in Catholic schools.”
On the first evening, the area ICNA chapter and the USCCB co-hosted a dinner for local religious and political leaders, where they explained the work of the dialogue and highlighted the charitable works of ICNA in the United States and abroad through the Helping Hands and ICNA Relief USA.
During the dialogue members voiced concern about negative stereotypes and misrepresentations of Catholics and Muslims found in textbooks, films, internet and print media. Both groups said that the proliferation of negative stereotypes, distorted information and caricatures of both traditions needed to be addressed. They adopted a statement committing themselves to work for mutual understanding between their two faith traditions, to support one another in confronting negative stereotypes in all media, to work with the leaders of their congregations in this effort, and to continue to review educational materials used by their congregations and educational institutions to ensure that each are presenting materials that accurately represent what the other believes.
In addition to the co-chairs, the Muslim representatives at the meeting included ICNA President Dr. Zahid Bukhari; Imam Hamad Ahmad Chebli, Islamic Society of Central New Jersey; Dr. Safaa Zarzour, President of the Islamic Society of North America; Shaykh Abdur Rahman Khan, Resident Scholar, Islamic Foundation Villa Park, Chicago; Imam Zafeer Ali Hafiz, ICNA Headquarters; Dr. Naeem Baig,Vice President, ICNA; Moein Khawaja, Council on American-Islamic Relations; and Imam Sohaib Sultan, Muslim Chaplain, Princeton University. Additional Catholic representatives included Al Grindon, Institute on Religion and Civic Values; Rev. Sidney Griffith, Chairman of the Institute of Christian Oriental Research, Catholic University of America: Dr. Pim Valkenberg, PhD, Loyola University, Maryland: Dr. Sandra Keating, PhD, Providence College; Rev. Tom Ryan, CSP, Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer, Paulist Fathers; and Rev. Leo Walsh, USCCB staff.
The Mid-Atlantic Dialogue between Catholics and Muslims has been sponsored jointly by the USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and ICNA since 1996. Its latest statement, Marriage: Roman Catholic and Sunni Muslim Perspectives, is due to be published shortly. More information is available on the USCCB Website at http://www.usccb.org/seia/ and at www.whyislam.org.
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