Midwest Muslim-Catholic Dialogue Explores Religious Freedom

November 4, 2008 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON—The Midwest Muslim-Catholic Dialogue met in Northwest Indiana, October 26-28, at Calumet College of St. Joseph, the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Gary, Indiana and the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center. Participants discussed "In the Public Square: Muslims and Catholics on Religious Freedom."

Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary and Shayk Mongy El-Quesny of the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center welcomed participants to a public session, October 26. The dialogue session October 27 opened with a message from Dennis Rittenmeyer, Ph.D., President of Calumet College, who described the programs of this small, diverse Catholic college.

Father Thomas Baima, Provost of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois, presented a paper titled "The Logic of Why: What the Declaration on Religious Freedom Contributes to the Idea of Religion in the Public Square." Basing observations on the Second Vatican Council document, Dignitatis Humanae, and on AmericanConstitutional law, Father Baima illustrated how the development of Catholic thought on natural law and revelation refocused attention on persons and their inalienable rights, among which is religious freedom.In U.S. history when there has been a conflict between religious practice and civil law, the principle of accommodation has been appliedso that "some people may be exempted from generally applicable laws for reasons of conscience," he said.

Mohamed Elsanousi, Director of Communications and Community Outreach of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), discussed accommodationand religious freedom in a paper titled "Comparative Analysis of the American Legal Structure as it Relates to Integration and Religious Accommodation with Islamic Law." Elsanousi examined some recent controversial cases in which the courts and the U.S. Congress have viedeither to extend or restrain the principle of accommodation for religious minorities. The dialogue discussed some of the perennially challenging themes of U.S. law, such as whether rights are inherent to persons or conferred by consent of the governed.

Daniel Lowery, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs of Calumet College, compared the immigration experience of Catholics and Muslims in the United States in his paper, "Can the Immigration of Catholics from Europe Be Instructive for Muslim-Americans?" He described relevantsociological factors such as demographics, work ethic, degree of religious observance, willingness to impart one's cultural heritage to one's children, and degree of assimilation into U.S. social norms. Thediscussion of immigration revealed that sometimes a religious community's resistance to assimilation unpredictably contributes valuesto a host society over long periods of time.

Sayyid M. Syeed, Ph.D., National Director of ISNA, addressed a publicsession October 27 on the document "A Common Word," a recent, broad-based Muslim outreach to Christian leadership on the theme of loveof God and neighbor. Syeed urged the audience to use this document tostimulate interreligious conversation at all levels.

The next dialogue is slated for Milwaukee, October 25-27, and will focus on "The Nature of the Human Person." The public session will highlight a presentation on "Faithful Citizenship: Catholic and Muslim engagement in civic life."

Participants in the 2008 meeting included Syeed; Bishop Melczek; Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny, Archdiocese of Detroit; Rittenmeyer; El-Quesny; Lowery; Father Baima; Elsanousi; Father David Bruning, Diocese of Toledo; Donald W. Mitchell, Ph.D., Purdue University; FatherRaymond Webb, University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary; Dominican Sister Joan McGuire, Archdiocese of Chicago; Benedictine Sister Barbara Austin, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue; Judith Longdin, Archdiocese of Milwaukee; Inshirah Farhoud, Islamic Society ofMilwaukee; Joan Crist, Diocese of Gary; Gulam Haider Aasi, Ph.D., American Islamic College, Chicago; and Father Francis Tiso, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.