May 19, 2009 By Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON—The Mid-Atlantic Muslim Catholic Dialogue met May 6-7 in Washington to draft a joint statement, “Developing a Strategic Plan on Interreligious Education in the United States.”
The meeting was convened by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and Catholic representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. It explored the fundamental principles of interreligious education articulated in a document prepared by the Chicago Coalition for Interreligious Learning as part of a Muslim-Catholic educational exchange by the Council of Islamic Societies of Greater Chicago and the Archdiocese of Chicago in the 1990s.  
Wilhelmus (Pim) Valkenberg, Ph.D., of Loyola University, Baltimore, compared the European and U.S. experiences with inter-religious education within the Catholic school system. He outlined three operative models. The first is the mono-religious model, in which one central religious tradition is the point of reference for describing other religions, and whose purpose is to widen awareness without weakening the students’ growing attachment to their own faith. The second is the multi-religious model, in which the teacher presents the religions on an equal footing, with the kind of objectivity typical of a university “religious studies” course. The third model is the inter-religious model, which takes religious plurality as an opportunity for mutual enrichment both in terms of content and in terms of socialization.
Imam Ahmed Nezar Kobeisy offered sociologically-based reflections on the current profile of Muslim schools in the U.S. He highlighted the sensitivities of parents about maintaining Muslim identity in these schools and noted that when educators find effective methods, such as exchange programs, their work is appreciated by Muslim families. Imam Kobeisy affirmed the consensus that teaching about other religions is best done by being conscious of the presence of persons of other faiths.

Bishop Denis Madden, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore and Catholic co-chair, noted the need for work in overcoming misunderstandings in the way we teach about other faiths and in reducing the impact of violence on our images of other religions.

The next meeting will be hosted by ICNA May 5-6, 2010. The dialogue will focus on completing the statement and disseminating it to Muslim and Catholic educators.

In the coming months, the 2009 survey on interreligious education will be sent to additional Muslim and Catholic educators and leaders will analyze data already gathered. Four teams were organized to work on accurate historical chronology, to re-draft the statement of pedagogical recommendations, to annotate a list of resources, and to find ways to approach problematic materials currently in use.

Catholic participants of the meeting included Bishop Madden, co-chair; Christian Brother David Carroll, Wilhelmus (Pim) Valkenberg, Ph.D., Sidney Griffith, Ph.D., Sandra Keating, Ph.D., Paulist Father Thomas Ryan, Al Grindon from Marist School in Atlanta, and Father Francis Tiso. Barbara Hughes, interreligious officer of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, attended as an observer.

Muslim participants include Zahid Bukhari, Ph.D., newly-elected President of ICNA; and Imam Kobeisy, who assisted as Muslim co-chair. Other participants included Shabbir Mansuri of the Institute on Religion and Civic Values and Imam Zafeer Ali Hafiz from ICNA headquarters.