Mid-Atlantic Dialogue of Catholics, Muslims Holds Sixth Annual Meeting

April 16, 2003 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON (April 16, 2003) -- The Mid-Atlantic Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims held its sixth annual meeting April 8-9. Focusing the first afternoon on current events, participants shared their thoughts and feelings on the impact of the war in Iraq and the overall war on terrorism on their lives. Muslims in the United States, whether U. S. citizens or not, experience numerous difficulties in their day-to-day lives, such as harassment, suspicion, security checks on their persons and their institutions. Thousands have been detained without charges or information about their future. Left alone or without support, their spouses and children have appealed to U.S. Muslim organizations, like Islamic Relief, for travel funds to return home or to their families.

Islamic Relief reports that, with some assets of Muslim charities frozen and all under heightened scrutiny, donations have dwindled to half of what they were before September 11, 2001. Giving to the poor and needy is an annual, set requirement of Muslims (zakat), but U. S. Muslims feel an additional burden meeting this requirement of their faith, fearful of themselves being suspected of links with terrorists and that any of their charities could be shut down and the zakat undelivered.

Continuing their discussion on religion and violence, initiated at last year's meeting, members of the dialogue listened to a presentation by Dr. Ibrahim Negm (Islamic Center of South Shore) on Islamic perspectives on violence, particularly killing and other heinous crimes, war, and punishment. Last year, Father Leo Lefebure (Fordham University) gave two presentations on the Christian Bible and violence and violence in the history of Christianity. Both religions have histories of reflections on the circumstances justifying war and share such criteria as just cause, for example self-defense or the defense of the innocent, protection of noncombatants, anticipated success, a declaration by a legitimate authority, and proportionality or appropriate use of force. Dr. Negm surveyed key passages in the Qur'an, noting verses received during certain circumstances in Prophet Muhammad's life. Several members of the Mid-Atlantic dialogue participate regularly in the Metropolitan New York Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which meets six times a year and is discussing some of the same issues regarding religion and violence. They will consider preparing a list of points of consensus between Catholics and Muslims perspectives on violence.

The long-range work of this dialogue which has extended over all of its meetings is preparation of materials on marriage and family life. This year the Mid-Atlantic Dialogue reviewed a booklet on Muslim-Christian marriages prepared by the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism. While Muslims and Catholics generally recommend marriages within their faith traditions, interfaith marriages do take place and a few Muslim-Catholic couples are seeking marriage preparation and celebration and recognition of their marriages within their communities. The Mid-Atlantic Dialogue is making a special effort to draft a resource for Muslim-Catholic couples.

Muslim participants asked this year about the impact within the Catholic Church in the United States of the reporting on cases of sexual abuse by clergy and on placement of accused clergy in pastoral assignments. Two bishops are members of this dialogue, Bishop Ignatius A. Catanello, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, and Bishop Joseph F. Martino, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. They each spoke at some length about developments in the past year regarding the handling of cases of sexual abuse by clergy and how they sense the Catholic community is faring under the circumstances.

Muslims also asked the Catholic members about their response to Christian Fundamentalism. Muslims have particular concerns because of the negative comments by some leaders among these Christians about Muhammad, the Qur'an, and Islam and because one of the fundamentals which these Christians hold is dispensationalism, or a systematic interpretation of the whole of human history into a sequence of eras on the basis of the Bible. Their view of the final dispensation, the features of which they derive from the Bible and particularly from the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, involves a series of wars. Fundamentalist Christians are interpreting current events in the Middle East according to this belief in dispensations assigning a demonic role to Muslims. Catholics do not share such a view and interpretation of the Book of Revelation with Fundamentalist Christians, nor do they interpret the Bible always in the same ways. Catholics are open to genuine ecumenical dialogue with all Christians seeking reconciliation and the restoration of unity, but dialogue opportunities with Fundamentalist Christians are limited. One difference of Catholics from Fundamentalist Christians is the Catholic Church's respect for Muslims and many of their beliefs stated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and elsewhere.

Co-sponsors of the dialogue are the Islamic Circle of North America, headquartered in Jamaica, Queens, New York, and the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with offices in Washington. Bishop Catanello and Dr. Khurshid Khan, representing ICNA, serve as co-chairs of the dialogue. As in the past four years, the Mid-Atlantic Dialogue met at the Immaculate Conception Center, a conference and office facility for the Diocese of Brooklyn.

There were 18 participants in this year's meeting, coming from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington. They included Bishop Catanello, Bishop Martino, Dr. Khan, Dr. Negm, Fr. Lefebure, Mr. Salman Yusuff (New Jersey State Prison Chaplaincy), Sister Josephine Kase (Archdiocese of Philadelphia), Naim Baig (ICNA Secretary General), Brother David Carroll, FSC (Catholic Near East Welfare Association), Muhammad Tariq Rahman (ICNA Relief), Father Gregory C. Wielunski (Diocese of Brooklyn), Father Philip Latronico (Archdiocese of Newark), Father Francis X. Mazur (Diocese of Buffalo), Dr. Esmet Kamil (Pratt Institute), Father. Wil Tyrrell, SA (Archdiocese of New York), Msgr. Donald Beckmann (Diocese of Rockville Centre), Paulist Father Thomas Ryan, and Dr. John Borelli (USCCB).